SOUTHEASTERN NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - The opioid crisis was years in the making — and it will take years to reach the other side.
“Just as addiction usually takes place as a process, it doesn’t take place overnight, that process, the recovery process, doesn’t take place overnight either,” explained Kenny House, Vice President of Clinical Services at Coastal Horizons.
Efforts to push back against the opioid crisis have seen some success, but House said he believes there is still a long road ahead — one that, like the recovery road of an individual struggling against substance abuse, will require a variety of remedies and a shift in perspective.
According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 1 in 13 people in the United States can be classified as having a “Substance Use Disorder" (SUD), meaning they have exhibited abusive or dependent behaviors with drugs or alcohol in the last year.
While it may be called “the opioid crisis,” House said it’s important to look at the overall picture of addiction.
“This opioid crisis is going hand-in-hand with cocaine increasing, benzodiazepine [anxiety medication] use increasing,” he said.
Former Wilmington resident Brent Botros said he personally experienced how a variety of substances can lead someone down the path to addiction.
Botros tried prescription opioids around the age of 15, and then began using cocaine and benzodiazepine frequently, continuing for the next five years despite an overdose and several arrests.
Eventually, that led to heroin.
“I had a few friends over, one of which had some with him," Botros said. "My guard was down, again, that night, I was on Xanax [benzodiazepine]. I didn’t really have any concerns, or awareness of consequences, or anything like that.”
Botros struggled with addiction for years, and said he tried several different treatment pathways with no success.
“I remember being in treatment a handful of times, and people telling me like, ‘Oh, now you can’t drink anymore. You can’t do that,’ and then trying that and thinking that I didn’t have a problem. Eventually never thinking that I could get out of it."
Of the estimated 21.2 million people with an SUD, only 3.7 million received any type of treatment, and only 2.4 million received specialized treatments that result in higher success rates.
Those percentages are down from where they were in 2017, though they are similar to 2015-2016, according to the NSDUH report.
For opioids, 19.7 percent of those identified as having an Opioid Use Disorder received the treatment they needed, down from 28.6 percent in 2017.
The reasons people don’t seek treatment vary.
According to the NSDUH, 1 in 3 people who didn’t seek treatment said it was because they didn’t have health insurance or didn’t think they could afford it.
Finances aside, 1 in 5 said they didn’t seek treatment because they had no idea where to go, and another roughly 30 percent said they were afraid of losing their job or being judged by family and friends.
“That we need to pay attention to all of that, make sure there are adequate resources for people to get help, encourage people to get help earlier,” House said, “and the way that happens is by decreasing stigma. The more we can get the message out that this is not because you’re bad, this is not because you’re a failure, this is because this is a brain illness. It’s treatable, and the earlier that you get treatment the better. Without judgment about the pathway you need for your recovery or your treatment."
Botros, who now works for the same treatment center where he saw success, Tree House Recovery, said the need for different pathways is one area he thinks can be greatly improved when it comes to fighting addiction.
“I think that society and the entire nation needs to understand ... how addiction will affect the entire organism, the entire person, biologically, socially, psychologically,” he said, “and then redefine what we need to do to treat those components that we feel like aren’t being treated enough.”
He said it’s important to view treatment with that three-dimensional approach.
At Tree House, Botros said his day would begin with yoga or another type of breath-work, and he and his team would spend significant time in the gym.
Then, they’d move into a classroom setting, where they learned the mechanics of their brains and the influence of addiction.
“You have to treat the whole person by helping them to redefine with their lifestyle looks like,” he said. “Adopt new healthy habits, such as exercise, better eating habits, actually taking care of their bodies and getting the most out of their bodies that they can.”
Otherwise, he said, when presented with emotional situations or the challenges that come with fighting addiction, relapse is nearly inevitable.
House said that’s why addiction needs to be treated the same way as any other ongoing illness.
“It’s not that different from other chronic conditions, where sometimes you need a physical therapist to take with the doctor did and told you and put it into action. Where you need to learn how to do these exercises, these different things,” House said. “People in recovery are in some ways similar because addiction is a chronic condition where they need reinforcement, they need good advice, they need to know what they’re learning and some help in applying what they’re learning.”
North Carolina’s attorney general is partnering with WECT to host a town hall meeting on the opioid crisis. The open discussion will take place on Thursday, October 24 in the Wilmington City Council chambers from noon to 1 p.m.
WECT will live stream the one-hour long conversation on wect.com and will carry it live on Facebook. The meeting is open to the public.