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Solutions elusive for drug abusers

Jim Evans of Clarkston has worked for many years, helping people fight addiction. Photo by Andrea Beaudoin (click for larger version)
May 28, 2014 - Part three in prescription drug abuse series

Joe (identity changed), a white collar worker and prescription drug abuser, is not alone. He is among millions Americans addicted to prescription medication.

"You have no idea how strong you are until you have faced something tough," said Jim Evans of Clarkston, a nationally renowned addiction expert.

Since 1999, prescription drug abuse, and overdose deaths have exploded, and is now the leading cause of death over auto accidents. Types of medication often abused include narcotic pain pills as well as stimulants, like the drug Adderal, used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder.

Reasons for getting into drug abuse are plentiful, according to experts. Lieutenant Brent Miles, commander of the Narcotics Enforcement Team, said sometimes people get into prescription abuse after injury.

"They start taking more than they should or just can't get off of them," he said.

Just like there is no one answer to why people become addicted, there is no one solution to solving a prescription drug problem. During times of a slow economy, Evans said people sometimes get into drugs when they have a lot of time on their hands or perhaps life's troubles seem too much. Dr. Tim O'Neill, from Clarkston Medical Group, said addiction should be handled as a mental health issue.

O'Neill sees it more and more everyday - people coming into the doctors office or emergency room seeking prescription drugs.

"We see it in all walks of life and all ages," he said of people who visit doctors seeking prescriptions. "It's really troubling. There are many drug seekers who come into the office and the emergency room. We assess patients. We see some of the same patients quite often. When we keep seeing the same patients who are seeking prescription drugs, we have to send them to a pain management clinic where prescriptions and pain are much better controlled."

Doctors are in a catch-22 because they do not want to let people suffer in pain, but they don't want to feed a patients addiction either.

"Doctors have to help people that need help," said O'Neill. "There are patients that are in true pain."

One of the answers, he said, comes from the states of Florida and Maryland. Those states have begun trying to prevent drug diversion, which is when a person receives a prescription but it ends up in the hands of someone else.

"Florida and Maryland test patients to make sure they are taking their prescription."

O'Neill also suggests making help more available, which he said is in the process of being worked out. O'Neill added more resources need to be allocated to fight prescription drug abuse.

"A lot of treatment is not covered by insurance which is another problem," he said. "The way society treats drug abuse is a problem, too. It should be treated as a clinical problem and treated medically."

Evans, who spent years working on trauma and addiction issues, said the best way to overcome a drug or alcohol problem is to rip someone from their environment. Take them away from everything they know.

He developed this treatment model when working with the Drug Enforcement Agency.

"What I discovered is by taking people to remote, and often exotic, locations where I completely immerse them in a foreign environment and take them out of their comfort zones I was able to induce rapid change in their thinking and how they deal with problems," he insisted.

Evans service are called adventure based counseling.

"Imagine learning how to better cope with your problems and learn more about yourself then you ever have in three weeks in Jamaica rather than three years in some stuffy therapist's office," he said.

One of his clients several years ago was the son of a wealthy couple who were suddenly killed in an accident. When his parents died the young man, who was addicted to heroin, inherited a very large and successful company worth a fortune.

Evans was scheduled to go on a fishing trip when he got the call from a group of executives. The company's board of directors called Evans in and said the young man had to be fixed.

They told him no expense should be spared. They gave Evans everything he needed including a ton of cash to pay for the trip and a car. Evans was on a mission.

"I went and found him at a hotel. The door was open. I went in and said, 'hey it's me, Jim, ya know from the party last night.' The kid asked no questions and just went along because he was so out of it. He came to a few times as we traveled, but when he really came to, we were in the middle of the ocean," he said.

There was nothing the young man could do to get back to his toxic environment. They went on a boat, they fished, they snorkeled and they talked. Evans got to know, and counsel the young man.

"Weeks later he came back happy and healthy," Evans said.

Although Evans provides adventure based counseling to clients who have the resources, what about the people who don't have the resources to just jet away one-on-one on a private trip with a counselor?

"You can't stop people from doing what they want to do," said Evans.

He added if people don't want to change, they won't. But if they do want to change, they have to change everything about their environment and everything they know. That sometimes means the place they live, their job, their friends and sometimes their partners.

"I know I have to change almost everything if I want to overcome my problem," admitted Joe.

Changing almost everything and having a good attitude is the key.

"Attitude in life is everything, but people with attitudes who are adjustable are the most likely to be helped," said Evans. "The first key is to find someone to relate to and trust. Talk to pastors at church. Pastors save lives everyday."

He added to also meet with help groups like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous. A big key is to stay away from people who bring you down.

"Get involved with healthy people," he said. "Develop a strong support system with family, friends, churches and support groups."

"There is really no one model that fits everyone," Evans admitted.

This series continues next week about prescription drug abuse

Staff writer covering Independence Township and Clarkston area.
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