Breaking down barriers to opioid detox and treatment in North Alabama

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - People are dying from opioid addiction and plenty of people want out before it`s too late. But getting out isn't easy, there are barriers to detox and treatment.

Three years ago Lori Moore's family was being crushed in addiction's grip, at times it seemed hopeless.

"When I was growing through it we didn't talk about it and I didn't know where to go. and I found myself very isolated, I found myself very alone, very angry," Moore said.

There comes a point where using is no longer a choice. Addiction consumes the body, mind, and spirit. Moore says the desire for recovery can be elusive. It's like grabbing a handful of water to drink. You can hold it for a moment, but if you wait too long, it can slip through your fingers.

"If you get them in that state where they are ready, you take them right then so that the cravings don't get so bad -  that recovery doesn't take a back seat to the craving is imperative. If you can catch them in that magic moment where they are ready to suffer a little bit through the withdrawals in order to get that bed, you've got an opportunity that you need to jump on," Moore said.

When her family member was ready to quit, he was barely hanging on. She did the only thing she knew to do.

"I called the hospital and they said sorry we don't detox at our facility," she said.

In a vulnerable position, where time was of the essence, Moore and her loved on began a journey that would be paved with roadblocks. During that call, she was told by a doctor that a hospital nearly two hours away could help. He was already going through withdrawals.

"His heart was screaming for him to stay. He could see the destruction that this disease was causing, but his mind was telling him he was going to die. He felt like he had been set on fire and every bone in his body was broken and his mind outweighed his heart," Moore explained.

When they got to the hospital in Birmingham they waited five hours in the emergency room.

"Only to be told we're sorry you were given bad information we don't admit for detox either," Moore said.

A desperate plea for help convinced the staff to let him stay one night. He was in such bad shape one day in the hospital turned to 10.

"It is extremely painful. It makes them extremely sick. A lot of people who are going through withdrawals suffer severe dehydration, that's one of the complications. Blood pressure can shoot through the roof, that was one of our complications," Moore said.

Moore wanted to get him to rehab immediately after he was discharged by the hospital. She had spent days on the phone securing a bed and dealing with insurance.

That's where families can experience yet another barrier. Cost.

"The average number of rehabs for an opioid addict is 8. If you're looking at covering the cost of the copays for detox, and for rehab, and then covering the cost of sober living, it's tens of thousands of dollars. It's not a little bit of money," she said.

Finally, they walked through the door at the facility. They drove four hours to get there. The staff performed check-in procedures, tests and then gave her some bad news.

"They came out and said we're so sorry. It's after 5 pm and your insurance doesn't admit after 5 pm. You'll need to leave for the night and come back tomorrow," she remembered.

She had to take him home.

"It's terrifying."

Home is a dangerous or even fatal place for someone in his condition if there was a relapse.

"When they're sober for an extended amount of time that they tend to use the same amount of drugs or more that they used in active addiction. That can cause an overdose. So, if you don't have Narcan available, your loved one can die from an overdose in that window of time if they access again," Moore explained.

But her family member made it through the night. Moore is happy to say he is celebrating three years clean.

Moore says access to treatment has improved some in those three years. There are more hospitals have created detox programs.

"We are in crisis mode," said Nurse Selisa Williams. She is the intake coordinator for "The Right Choice" program at Athens-Limestone Hospital.

The hospital created the medical stabilization program this year.

Nurse Williams understands that when someone is ready to quite, time is of the essence.

"Patients lose the desire for treatment. Sometimes you can be ready to seek treatment and then if you don't get them in that window where they're ready it may take another three or four days, three or four months, three of four years to come back and want to have that. I like to get them in as soon as I can,"  she said.

After a patient is admitted, doctors work to help them safely stop taking the drug they`re addicted to. Hospital staff work with the patient to create a tailor-made treatment program after they are released.

Moore is on the board of Not One More Alabama. She`s determined to help other families find help - fast. She says when it comes to improving access to detox and treatment, she says the community still has a long road ahead.

"If it can affect my family, it can affect your family, it can affect your neighbor's family," she said.

It's a cause, she says, that affects the entire community.

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