Detox Made Difficult

James Shearer
Spare Change News

A couple of weeks ago I spent the better part of two days trying to get a friend into a detox program. For those of you who have no idea what that is, it’s a place where people who are looking to get off of drugs and/or alcohol go first, to deal with the effects of withdrawal from those types of substances.

But this is not about my friend’s addiction or the symptoms of withdrawal, which, by the way, can be painful, both mentally and physically.

This is about my frustration with a system that seems to leave folks twisting in the wind.

The substance abuse treatment system is almost as antiquated as the shelter system. The transition from going to get help to actually getting into a detox should be an easy one, right? You would think so, but no.

There are two ways to get into a detox. One is through an agency such as a shelter or a day program. The other is through a hospital, which is good because most detoxes require a physical or mental health exam before admission. The only problem is there may not be any beds or you may not have the proper insurance.

That’s right, not all detoxes take the same kind of insurance. What a crock! People who are trying to get help for themselves can’t, because they don’t have the proper HMO. And here I was thinking Obamacare covered everybody. Well it does, except for substance abusers who are trying to help themselves.

In most cases, those folks will have to detox themselves, or just keep using until a bed opens up or their insurance coverage gets lucky.

But some of those folks may not make it back — the next pill or needle or drink, could very well be their last. Not to mention the fact that detoxing oneself could lead to death.

But so what, who cares? They’re only addicts. I hear my old friend Ebenezer Scrooge in the background: “Well, if they’re going to die, they should, and decrease the surplus population.”

Even more frustrating than the insurance problem is the location of several of the detoxes. It might just be me, but some of the better ones seem to be in a part of the state where it is almost impossible to get to, with the exception of Ad Care in Worcester. They pick you up, without a referral from an agency or a hospital, and they usually provide transportation, if you call and get a bed on your own.

Otherwise, you’re on your own. There were two separate instances that proved my point.

We called a nearby detox and yet there was no public transportation. Still, my friend did the intake over the phone. He was told that we could take a bus that stopped close to where they were, and we asked if my friend could get picked up. We were told that they couldn’t do that, so we would have to take a cab, which costs $30. So what was the point of the interview?

The second instance was even more maddening. We called a place in Worcester (not Ad Care). They had a bed and my friend did the interview. We just had to catch the commuter rail and they would pick him up at the station — seems easy, right? Then he was told that if, in the time it would take for him to get from Boston to Worcester (two hours), if someone else showed up, they would get the bed, because they don’t hold beds. Again, what was the point of the interview?

My friend did get into a detox by the end of the day. Not the best place, mind you, as we both witnessed the admissions person get into a shouting match with two of her friends, who neither lived nor worked there.

So what to do about detoxes? Like the shelter system, there needs to be a major shakeup. When people are trying to get help for substance abuse, every courtesy should be allotted to them. Whether that may be insurance, transportation or professionalism, everyone, regardless of their lot in life, should be treated with dignity and respect.

JAMES SHEARER is a co-founder and board president of Spare Change News.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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