WWAY INVESTIGATES: The challenges addicts face trying to get help


NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — A lot of people know opioid abuse is a huge problem across the Cape Fear. While there are task forces, quick response teams health organizations and other various efforts being made to combat the epidemic, another large issue is actually getting into rehab.

WWAY’s Kirsten Gutierrez digs deeper to break down the challenges those seeking help face.

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There are numerous rules and restrictions that keep people who want and need help from getting it. Ranging from mental health issues to a criminal record, a slight hiccup could make you not eligible for treatment.

Not to mention there is a shortage of beds, lack of transportation to rehab facilities and knowledge of what other forms of resources are out there.

“I remember like begging the nurse like in tears,” recovering addict, Michael Page said. “Like saying please. It’s Friday night you can’t do this to me. I’m not gonna make it ya know? I’m not going to stay sober.”

It took Page three tries to finally get the help he was seeking. The first challenge he faced was health insurance. It was something page did not have which left him with state funded options like the Harbor.

“There’s too much of a need,” Page said.

The Harbor is a rehab facility with a limited number of beds in the midst of an epidemic. Which NC HARM Reduction Coalition Executive Director Robert Childs says is yet another challenge.

“What we see is a massively long waiting lists for the ones that are free or severely discounted,” Childs said. “And so some people are waiting 6 months. That’s 6 months to get in there. That’s 6 months you’re trying to keep your kid alive. Until that place has a bed.”

Another challenge Childs says is whether you qualify for treatment.

“So there’s all these barriers being thrown at folks. And they want to get care but they can’t because of a criminal record, because of a mental health diagnoses, because they don’t have health care. And then we as a society are screaming at them to get care and they’re disqualified from all our care services so that is a major problem,” Childs said.

It is a problem Page faced over several months.

“That window I’d say you’ve got at maximum like 72 hours. From when somebody says I want to get help where you need to jump on it. And get them help. Otherwise ya know, they fall back into the grips of that addiction,” Page said.

Falling back into addiction, which is exactly what Page did after he was turned away multiple times.

“From the first time to when I actually got into the Harbor and got detox. I got four felonies. I was committing crimes. I was hurting the community,” Page said.

Page also overdosed and was revived by naloxone several times while waiting to get into rehab which took him nine months.

“It takes a lot for someone to reach out and ask for help,” Page said.

And when addicts do ask for help and do not get what they are looking for it only makes trying to get clean more difficult.

“I held up my end of the deal and did what I had to do. And you know I just wanted to give up,” Page said.

Leaving those unable to get help with the feeling of rejection and like Page, back to addiction.

“And since they can’t get into drug treatment they continue to have drug use. Potentially overdose. Potentially hurt people they love. Potentially commit crimes. Because they have no other option. And that’s where we as a society have failed a lot of our civilians. And to me, that’s heartbreaking,” Childs said.

Page says another challenge in the system of getting and remaining clean is the lack of knowledge about resources available in the community.

“It took several times to get in and then while I was there again the connection with the next piece wasn’t really in place,” Page said. “And that’s an important component because yeah you detox somebody. But then what?”

Pages says follow up care may have helped him get clean sooner than he did.

“You know why can’t someone then follow up with them? Ya know and say hey are you familiar with the fact that there’s some support groups in your community that you could go to tonight. Or tomorrow. Here’s another type of resource that you can utilize until this bed opens up. Versus just call back tomorrow between 8:00 and 8:30. Click,” Page said.

Aside from the lack of health insurance, beds, transportation to and from the limited rehab centers in the area and eligibility requirements to even get help, there is also a lack of centers for women. It is another problem Page says needs to be addressed.

“People again they will say things like well women are more resourceful. They don’t tend to seek help. They don’t ask for treatment. And I feel like that’s unjust and incorrect,” Page said.

While community members, leaders and organizations are coming together to fight the growing epidemic, Page says getting people the help they need is the first step in making a real difference.

“Ya know, today I pay taxes. I’m a father. I’m a brother. I’m a good citizen. I do a lot of outreach work. You’d never know,” Page said.

To emphasize how serious of a problem the opioid epidemic is, Wednesday Judge Ola Lewis and three others hand delivered a letter to Gov. Roy Cooper asking him to declare a public health emergency.

It is a move that would bring more awareness to the community. Trillium Health Resources is also planning to open a new rehab facility in Wilmington called the Healing Place with more than 100 beds. However, the new facility will be just for men.