The St. Louis Heroin Epidemic: Barriers to Treatment

 

In November 2013 Kari Karidis was in her office at Collinsville High School when a local hospital called to tell her that her son Chaz was in cardiac arrest. When she arrived at the emergency room she was told her son had died. All she could do was go into his room and say goodbye.

“He still had the tube — the breathing tube in,” Karidis recalled, sitting in that same office earlier this year. “I just sat there. I don’t know how long. I just remember thinking I can’t look at this but I can’t leave.”

The Metro East educator learned her son was addicted to heroin six months before he died of an overdose. She put Chaz in rehab right away, but he struggled to stay clean. He eventually landed in Madison County’s drug court — a legal recourse for addicts who have committed non-violent crimes.

Kari Karidis with her son Charles Karidis, called Chaz. CREDIT PROVIDED BY KARI KARIDIS

According to Karidis, the court recommended residential rehab, but there wasn’t a bed available so he was assigned intensive outpatient therapy instead. A few weeks later, Chaz left the outpatient center after his day’s meetings were over and ended up dead.

“I would never go so far as to say anybody’s decision directly caused (his death). But I think, yes, it contributed to it because he wasn’t in a place to exert self-control or exert the willpower because his brain was not healed, Karidis said.

“I was new to this whole process so I didn’t know what to ask and I also didn’t know how to fight for my child and what was best for him. I thought that the system was developed to do that.”

Insufficient residential care

The rise in heroin addiction in St. Louis has brought a corresponding increase in need for treatment. But obstacles can sometimes prevent St. Louisans from getting the help they need to overcome their addiction.

St. Louis Public Radio surveyed area drug treatment centers to find out what type of care they provided. The survey found that outpatient therapy is much more prevalent than residential care.

Options are especially limited for people who don’t have insurance or the means to pay. There’s a six-week-long waiting list for a bed at one of the few state-funded detox centers in St. Louis — Bridgeway Behavioral Health.

One of the rooms where people sleep while undergoing detox at Bridgeway Behavioral Health. CREDIT CAMILLE PHILLIPS

Bridgeway director Mike Morrison gave St. Louis Public Radio a tour of its detox floor on Vandeventer Avenue in St. Louis, pointing out the nurse’s center where a registered nurse is on call at all times. According to Morrison, Bridgeway is the only place in Eastern Missouri that offers state-funded medical detox.

“On certain days of the week, that waiting room out there will be full of people that just walk in saying we need help. And it’s really hard to deal with because they desperately want help and we often times just can’t give it to them,” said Morrison.

Bridgeway averages a waiting list a hundred people long. Morrison said it’s heartbreaking because when it comes to a heroin addiction they know people could die while they wait for one of their 16 detox beds.

“We try to keep engaged with them and keep them around until we can get them into treatment. But when they walk out of this door they walk out with their drug addiction and they’re going to go find some drugs,” Morrison said.

An opiate addiction creates strong cravings and excruciating withdrawal, which makes it difficult to stop using without help.

Read the full story here.

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