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Millions struggle, lack access to substance abuse treatment

By Jesse Muhammad -Staff Writer- | Last updated: Oct 11, 2009 - 1:56:30 PM

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According to a U.S. Health Department survey, 23.1 million Americans need specialized treatment for a substance abuse problem, but only approximately 10 percent, or just 2.3 million people, get help.
HOUSTON ( - In September, the country observed National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery month. The observance highlights the societal benefits of substance abuse treatment, the contributions of treatment providers and promotes the message that recovery from substance abuse in all its forms is not impossible.

Tim Jones once saw overcoming his addiction as insurmountable after getting addicted to cigarettes and then marijuana in the 9th grade. That was the beginning of 30 years of his life that included alcohol abuse, a divorce, unemployment, declining health and even incarceration.

“I could not beat my addiction. I went into treatment several times and relapsed every time,” says Mr. Jones, 44.

In April, he admitted himself into the Cheyenne Rehabilitation Center in Northeast Houston. This was his seventh time entering a center to receive assistance but Mr. Jones admits during the first six times he was not truly seeking reform.

“I was pretty much just letting one drug go for another drug and convincing myself that I was making progress. But I wasn't being real with myself,” says Mr. Jones.

This year marked the 20th anniversary of National Recovery Month. Significant challenges are ahead as it relates to drug reform in America, according to results from an annual survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Health Dept.

There is a vast disparity between the number of addicts needing specialized treatment for a substance abuse issue and the number who actually get the help they need. According to the 2008 administration survey, 23.1 million Americans need specialized treatment for a substance abuse problem, but only approximately 10 percent, or just 2.3 million people, get help.

“The results of this survey underscore the progress made and challenges we face as we observe the 20th anniversary of Recovery Month,” says Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services acting administrator Eric Broderick.

Misuse of prescription drugs decreased significantly between 2007 and 2008 among those aged 12 and older, including among adolescents. Non-medical use of prescription drugs declined from 3.3 percent in 2007 to 2.9 percent in 2008

“While we have made progress on many fronts, declines in marijuana use among youth have stalled out, and the rates of illicit drug use among young adults have not budged for years,” noted Mr. Broderick.

Additional Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services data shows that almost 12 percent of children under age 18 lived with at least one parent who was dependent on, or abused alcohol or an illicit drug during the past year. Historically, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health administration, young adults have the highest rates of substance abuse.

“The survey findings are important because they often point to emerging patterns of substance abuse,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the National Drug Control Policy, the federal "drug czar.”

“As we develop the Obama administration's first drug control strategy, we will emphasize a balanced approach that can respond to current and emerging drug abuse trends. Improving substance abuse prevention and treatment systems will be among our priorities.”

President Barack Obama's national drug control strategy is based on three elements: stopping use before it starts, healing America's drug users, and disrupting the market for illicit drugs. In fiscal year 2009, the president requested $14.1 billion to expand outreach programs such as the National Drug Control Policy's drug-free communities and the national youth anti-drug media campaign.

“Every day I am seeing juveniles that I was assisting years ago now entering the big prisons,” says Faye Bland, a Texas state-licensed chemical dependency counselor.

Ms. Bland oversees the Turning Point treatment program contracted inside the Lyncher State Jail in Humble, Texas, which has 2,000 inmates. The program is also operational in five other prisons throughout Texas. Her unit includes 396 beds and she says more help is needed.


“Every year there seems to be less legislative dollars. However, my staff and I are focused on telling our clients to live their lives as if they are on the outside and not inside the jail. We give them proactive skills,” says Ms. Bland.

Ms. Bland also sees the need for more mentors, widespread re-entry programs, and effective educational programs. “We have to help them become productive citizens. I tell them that God did not create them to be overcome by their addictions. Living the life they truly want is within reach.”

Overcoming addictions

According to the official National Recovery Month website, over 550 events took place in cities such as Washington, Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Anchorage, Atlanta, Greenville, and Kansas City.

September marked seven months of being clean and sober for Mr. Jones, who is married with two boys. He has been employed as a truck driver the past four months and says his second wife has endured his drug struggles the last 12 years.

“My wife has been at every treatment center to support me, which is something many would not do,” says Mr. Jones

He is quick to admit that the feeling to go back to use drugs has not completely gone away. “Every now and then that feeling jumps up in me but I fight it off by thinking about my past.”

Mr. Jones agrees that the government has a role to play in the reformation of drug and alcohol addicts. But he but wholeheartedly believes that “they can build a million treatment centers but it goes for naught if the individual does not desire to quit. People were abusing drugs and overcoming addictions long before treatment centers existed.”

Being the victim of a date rape as a virgin in college was one of the driving forces for Ms. Bland to get in her particular field.

“I did not do drugs but I engaged in compulsive behaviors to cope with it. I started shoplifting, not paying bills, running up credit cards, and more,” says Ms. Bland.

Ms. Bland entered into therapy, obtained several college degrees and years later she would found herself servicing the same man that raped her.

“I was shocked when he walked into my office. He tried to apologize, but it wasn't necessary because I knew I was already at peace. So I helped him,” explained Ms .Bland

Hundreds of miles away from Texas in the town of Peoria, Ill., 50-year-old Eileen Williams resides at New Hope transitional apartments after battling drug addiction, losing both parents, being abused by men, and bearing constant rapes by her uncle when she was a teenager, she said.

“My father died when I was 10 so I moved in with my uncle. Whenever my uncle wanted to, he would just rape me,” says Ms. Williams.

“So I dealt with it by smoking cigarettes and using marijuana at the age of 10. I was being raped for three years and nobody would help me”, says Ms. Williams, who was raised in Chicago.

She managed to always stay employed to afford her drug habits and used school as a safe haven. “I always made good grades in school. But by my 20's I started hanging with the wrong crowd and started shooting cocaine.”

After losing her mother in 1999 to a heart attack, she could be found drinking at a local bar every day. When a suicide attempt with Tylenol failed, Ms. Williams reached her turning point in 2004.

“That year I decided I was just tired. I entered the Loyola psychiatric care center and did everything required of me,” says Ms. Williams, a clean and sober mother and grandmother for four years.

“Everyone I met inside the treatment center had experienced some thing in their childhood whether it was rape, molestation, or abuse. Addiction stems from something,” she says.

Since being sober, Ms. Williams has gotten back on track to achieve her dream of being a registered nurse. She is enrolled as a full-time student at Illinois Community College and catches the bus every day to school.

“I want to be a nurse. As a result of my addictions I have asthma, arthritis, an irregular heartbeat, too overweight and I suffered from depression”, she says.

Still, she adds, “For the first time in my life my self-esteem is up, I know my self-worth and I am going to persevere.”