By Nick Glunt
Beacon Journal staff writer
There’s one inpatient drug rehab bed available for every 87 opiate addicts in Summit County, according to conservative estimates of the county’s drug addiction treatment options.
Only 107 beds are available at inpatient rehab centers in the county to treat an estimated 9,340 opiate addicts, a Beacon Journal analysis found. With each inpatient bed occupied up to three months, families in the region must fight to place addicted loved ones in close-to-home facilities where they’ll be under strict supervision.
There are other rehab beds in the county, but they’re reserved for addicts in the criminal justice system and therefore off-limits to many seeking recovery.
Traversing the path to recovery can be a struggle, with long waitlists, technical jargon and financial woes. Combine that with the emotional toll of having a drug-addicted loved one, and the journey can be described as a nightmare.
Stow residents Juli and Robert Stone know the struggle firsthand.
Their son, 19-year-old Dylan Stone, died of a drug overdose in March — even after completing a monthlong inpatient program at Glenbeigh hospital of Rock Creek, in Ashtabula County.
The couple, both nurses, didn’t think a month would be long enough to help him recover, so in February they tried to move him from Glenbeigh to Akron’s IBH Addiction Recovery Center, which has a three-month inpatient program.
But they said IBH wouldn’t admit him.
“They wouldn’t put him on the waitlist,” Juli said, “because he had private insurance, he was not homeless, he had support — us — he had a driver’s license and he was already in treatment.”
Dylan died 25 days later, 11 days after his release from Glenbeigh.
High costs, long waits
IBH spokeswoman Marsha Pohlman said a majority of the facility’s clients are referred from the County of Summit Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board (ADM). Of IBH’s 63 inpatient beds, 53 are reserved for ADM referrals. Although Dylan went through detox at the ADM Crisis Center in 2015, he was offered only outpatient treatment afterward. His parents had to make calls on their own to find him a bed at Glenbeigh.
Pohlman said half the non-ADM beds at IBH are reserved by other agencies. The remaining five beds can be occupied by anyone — but they’re in high demand and “self-pay” only, meaning insurance isn’t accepted. Each day of self-pay care costs $220, Pohlman said, so the total bill after three months could approach $20,000.
“And that’s low,” Pohlman said. “Other providers charge more.”
A similar situation can be found at Community Health Center, the only other Summit County provider that offers inpatient rehab. A vast majority of its services, however, are outpatient. Twenty-four of the center’s 44 inpatient beds are reserved for ADM referrals. But unlike IBH, CHC accepts private insurance and Medicaid to fill the remaining 20 beds.
Stories of struggles
At an event earlier this month at Lock 3 Park, many of the 1,000-plus attendees told stories of their struggles to get loved ones treatment. They lamented the long waitlists, the lack of in-county treatment options and the terminology they had to learn to get help.
Chrissy Gashash, a spokeswoman with Community Health Center, said she’s noticed how hard it is for families to get accustomed to the jargon of treatment — terms like “intensive outpatient program” for daylong outpatient recovery options and “sliding fee scale” for billing based on income.
“When you’re in crisis, you have a hard time dealing with stressors,” she said. “So when you’re talking about treatment, the public might not understand the terminology we use.”
She said it’s just another difficulty to pile on for many families.
“It seems daunting to them,” she said. “These are people who are fighting the clock to save a family member’s life.”
She said providers should be aware that their clients might not understand the process as well as they do.
9,340 Summit addicts
The difficulties with drug treatment are echoed by many across the state, where the ongoing drug crisis killed 3,050 in 2015, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Fentanyl, a drug similar to heroin but much more potent, claimed more Ohioans’ lives last year than drunken driving, homicides or car crashes.
According to federal estimates, more than 200,000 Ohioans are addicted to opiates like prescription painkillers, heroin, fentanyl and the even more dangerous carfentanil.
Summit County is home to 4.67 percent of Ohio’s population, according to 2015 census estimates. Assuming there’s an even distribution of addicts in urban, suburban and rural areas, that means about 9,340 live in Summit County. In 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found drug abuse rates tend to be higher in urban areas, so the number of addicts in Summit County could be even higher than the Beacon Journal’s estimate.
Of the county’s addicts, at least 95 died of suspected overdoses in Akron alone so far this year.
When it comes to potentially life-saving treatment options for addicts, Summit County is ripe with outpatient services. A Beacon Journal survey revealed 13 outpatient providers, but just two inpatient treatment options. Other providers perform drug detoxification in both inpatient and outpatient forms.
Detox, in which addicts painfully cleanse themselves of drugs, is distinct from treatment, in which patients are given counseling, support and coping strategies to avoid relapse.
Outpatient treatment includes individual and group counseling, volunteer opportunities and medicine to help addicts stave cravings and ease withdrawal symptoms. Patients are allowed to live at home and continue to work while they attend sessions several times a week.
Inpatient treatment, on the other hand, can include all those same care options — but patients are housed at a facility, where they’re kept under supervision by nurses and other staff. Such rigorous care prompts many families, like the Stones, to seek inpatient care over outpatient treatment for their loved ones battling addiction.
Public officials recognize the need for more inpatient treatment. The ADM Board hopes to add 20 inpatient beds as soon as possible to county-funded service providers, including IBH and Community Health Center.
ADM Executive Director Jerry Craig said inpatient rehab is in high demand. As of Aug. 12, 87 people were on ADM’s waitlist to enter inpatient treatment at IBH or CHC.
Stability for patients
Craig said it makes sense that families want inpatient rehab. But he said it’s designed for addicts with unstable personal lives.
“They may not have confidence to [get sober] without a strong level of support,” he explained.
In order to be successful in recovery, Craig said addicts must essentially start a new life. They must distance themselves from addict friends who aren’t in recovery and live in a place that’s stable and supportive. Going through detox and moving back in with friends who shoot heroin everyday will likely lead to relapse, he said.
For some, inpatient treatment is the only way to succeed. For others, outpatient care is ideal.
But even succeeding in treatment doesn’t guarantee sobriety.
For Dylan Stone, a month of sobriety made him a target for dealers. After his release from Glenbeigh, Dylan began outpatient rehab. But his parents said the temptation remained. A drug dealer called him almost nonstop in the days leading to his death. Eventually, he succumbed.
His mother said it’s frustrating because Dylan never refused help when it was offered to him.
“I hear all the time that addicts can’t get help until they’re ready,” she said. “But that was never the case for him. He never refused treatment.”
She and her husband said many of his peers in recovery viewed him as one of the most likely to succeed. He would even guilt his new friends when they considered relapsing.
“He seemed so strong,” his mother said. “It’s really hard for us to understand. It just shows what addiction does to a person.”
Nick Glunt can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NickGluntABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ngfalcon.