|Brian H. speaks at a CSB forum on his experiences with addiction.|
Bryan, now 33, started at age 10 with marijuana and alcohol. His heroin addiction led to several arrests and a stint in jail. He overdosed many times, including four times in one 48-hour period and another time while driving on I-95, resulting in a collision with a truck. He lost his home remodeling business and caused great pain to his family.
Soaring death rates
At the CSB forum, at the Merrifield Center, staff described the opioid/heroin epidemic and provided information on how addicts and their families can get help.
The use of these drugs has risen dramatically in recent years:
- Between 2002 and 2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nationwide nearly quadrupled, and more than 8,200 people died in 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Heroin use more than doubled among young adults ages 18-25 in the past decade.
- In Northern Virginia, heroin-related deaths increased 164 percent between 2011 and 2013.
- In just one year, 2013 to 2014, the number of deaths from heroin overdose doubled in Fairfax County. Four people died of overdose on the last two days of 2016.
- From 2011 to 2014, the CSB saw a 22 percent increase in the number of clients who reported having used heroin, non-prescription methadone, or other opiates.
- People who are addicted to alcohol are twice as likely to become addicted to heroin. People addicted to marijuana are three times as likely, people addicted to cocaine are 15 times as likely, and those addicted to opioid painkillers are 40 times as likely to become addicted to heroin.
The Fairfax County Police Department began to see “how heroin is taking over the county” in 2014, said Lt. James Cox of the narcotics department. The FCPD created a four-man task force to visit people hospitalized for overdoses and give them information on how to get help. But, because “no one wants to talk to the police,” he said, FCPD will also start sending recovering addicts to advise their peers.
“We understand it’s an addiction but we can’t say we’re not arresting users,” Cox said. If the police repeatedly see the same addicts who refuses to get help, “they can get help in jail.”
Addicts in Fairfax County are all ages, genders, and races, Cox said, and are in every corner of the county. The CSB has treated addicts in their 60s, as well as many people who’ve lost their homes and turned to prostitution to maintain their habit.
Law enforcement has become more difficult due to the growing use of synthetics that can be ordered online, usually from China, and delivered to an addict’s front door, Cox said.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. When people buy drugs off the Internet, they don’t know what they’re getting, which increases the likelihood of overdosing.
The formulas change so frequently, many of these synthetics aren’t even illegal, as the federal Drug Enforcement Agency hasn’t been able to keep up.
The CSB provides walk-in, same day service for addicts. The first point of contact is the call center, which is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday to Friday, at the Merrifield Center. The agency offers free screenings and referrals to community resources.
The cost for treatment at a CSB facility is calculated at one-third of the client’s monthly income and could be as low as a $2 copay for someone at the poverty level with no insurance, said CSB Deputy Executive Director Daryl Washington.
Fairfax County operates residential detox centers for drug addicts and alcoholics in Chantilly and Alexandria and also provides day treatment programs. There is a waiting list, and it usually takes a couple of weeks to get into a residential program, but CSB provides immediate detox help on an outpatient basis.
The CSB also offers case management; individual, group, and family therapy sessions; and continuing care services to help people in recovery transition back to the community.
The agency is adding a new program, called Core, to better meet the needs of clients who said they need a place to talk with their peers about their specific addictions and concerns.
Because so many people relapse and drop out of treatment, “we wanted to try something different,” said LuVerne Williams, a program manager at the Merrifield Center.
If someone experiences an overdose, naloxone, a drug that reverses the effect of an opioid or heroin overdose, and CPR can save their lives until paramedics arrive.
The CSB urges anyone who has a connection with an addict to take a free Revive! training session on how to administer naloxone. The next session is Feb. 7, 11:30 a.m., at the Merrifield Center.
Because many addicts steal pills from medicine cabinets, the CSB is distributing free disposal kits for unneeded or unwanted drugs to ensure they don’t get into the wrong hands.
“Addiction is a disease. It’s not a character defect nor a personality disorder,” said Dr. Deborah O’Beirne, medical director of the CSB’s Addiction Medicine Clinic.
She listed some of the signs of opioid use: changes in attitude or personality, avoiding contact with family, increased isolation, changes in activities or friends, a drop in grades or work performance, stealing pills or stealing money to pay for drugs, and wearing long-sleeved shirts out of season.
A person intoxicated due to opioid use would exhibit drowsiness, nodding, small pupils, slurred speech, altered mood, and confusion. Symptoms of overdose include pinpoint pupils, decreased respiration, non-responsiveness, and blue lips or fingertips.
A person going through opioid withdrawal, O’Bierne said, could have dilated pupils, flushing, chills sniffling, pain all over, nausea, vomiting, restlessness, and irritability.
The CSB uses a drug called suboxone to treat opioid/heroin addiction, which reduces the pain of going “cold turkey.”
“People are scared to death of withdrawal. Medications do help,” said Peggy Cook, service director of residential treatment at CSB. In addition to suboxone, treatment programs offer medications to help people sleep and calm down.
A long road to recovery
“I look back now and it’s insanity the things I did to myself,” said Bryan H., who finally quit his addiction after eight stints in detox. A resident of Merrifield, he works in a restaurant and does home remodeling projects.
What changed him forever was a heartbreaking incident that happened after he was arrested in September 2015 and the judge gave him an opportunity for treatment instead of jail. While staying at Phoenix House, he learned his younger brother, who also was an addict, never came home after a visit to his probation officer.
Brian said his failure to tell the probation officer that his brother had started using again was “the worst decision of my life.” His sister found their brother unconscious, still in his car in the parking lot, blood dripping from his arm and a needle on his lap. When Brian had to tell their mother, “I’ll never forget her crying, ‘no, my baby,’” he recalled.
“Thank God I was already sober. This put a fire under me to fight even harder,” he said. “Drug addiction hurts. If affects everybody.”