Every day millions of Americans wake up dealing with an addiction problem. Approximately 23.5 million people needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol abuse problem in the year 2009 alone, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
However, addiction isn’t limited to substances that are illicit. Prescription painkillers or any number of substances that impact the way the human body functions can be abused and can gain an addictive hold over the people that use them.
Each and every day many of the individuals who suffer from current substance abuse problems will attempt to kick the habit for good; they’ll go to a rehab treatment facility in the hopes that it will give them the ability to overcome their dependence on a substance. That dependence in many cases isn’t just mental, but also physical.
Detoxification, or the process by which a drug leaves the body, can be a key example of that. People who actively and habitually use opioids at the time of their check-in at a rehab facility could begin to experience agitation, anxiety and severe muscle aches among a number of other withdrawal symptoms, according to studies by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
People who suffer from addictions to alcohol also suffer from an array of symptoms that includes seizure, rapid heart rate and fever, according to officials.
Some specialists in Southwest Riverside say these withdrawal symptoms can be deadly when paired with an extenuating illness or disorder, especially in facilities where medical staff aren’t present on a regular basis.
Locally, and in California as a whole, there have been a number of deaths at rehab facilities that took in individuals trying to get themselves clean of a particular substance.
There was Brandon Jacques, a Missouri resident, who came to an Orange County rehabilitation center after developing an eating disorder and an addiction to alcohol. The facility failed to transfer him to a hospital immediately after lab testing indicated his electrolytes were out of balance. He would later die of cardiac arrest attempting to do 30 pushups.
Gary Benefield of Arizona was another out of state resident who came to California seeking treatment for his alcohol addiction. He came to the state in spite of a recent bout of pneumonia and a case of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and he flew on a plane without the oxygen he was dependent on.
Benefield complained of being in pain and being disoriented before and after his arrival to A Better Tomorrow Treatment Center (ABTTC) in Murrieta.
Staff at the treatment facility gave Benefield medication even though they didn’t have the medical authority to do so. They gave him antidepressants to calm his mood, medications known to have an inhibitory effect on one’s lung function.
The next morning, on what was supposed to be his 53rd birthday, Benefield was found slumped over on the floor dead.
Another case involving multiple individuals was that of Dr. Jerry Rand of Bay Recovery in San Diego, who frequently found himself in question before the Medical Board of California.
The board alleged that Rand was engaged in the practice of polypharmacy, prescribing multiple medications to patients without regard to how those medications might interact with one another.
In 2009, a 29-year-old female patient of Rand’s was found drowned inside a bathtub, something the medical board once again linked to Rand’s alleged practice of keeping his patients overmedicated.
All of those cases and more are documented in a California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes report from September 4, 2012. The report lists a number of cases that show a history of unusual and sometimes illegal operations at rehabilitation facilities across the state.
Sharin Safarty, a prevention specialist and owner of Addiction Recovery Center in Temecula, believes the problem is that many individuals and their families are desperate to find help; in their desperation these individuals don’t think to ask what proportion of care is provided by medical professionals as opposed to certified counselors or interns.
She said many facilities have doctors who may be on staff but these doctors are not a force present at the facilities all the time. Sometimes a doctor may be associated with the facility in some capacity or another, but that doesn’t mean he checks up on patients regularly.
This lays the ground work for undiagnosed issues and tragic results, according to Safarty.
The end result is that the counselors and interns are often left to their own devices when a patient is suffering from an illness that requires medication. They’re the ones that have to make the tough decisions about medication disbursement and the immediate management of physical or psychological emergencies, she said.
Safarty said that families of potential patients should verify that those patients are going to a 24/7 medical facility for treatment if their primary goal is detox only.
She added that only when a potential patient has detoxed and been thoroughly assessed for potential co-occurring disorders can they can make the choice between a system where there is moral support (such as one of the previously mentioned live-in facilities) or a more comprehensive treatment.
Safarty recommends the latter of the two for people who have a co-occurring condition that needs to be medicated such as bi-polar disorder or depression.
The prevention specialist said she refers all potential patients to fully-staffed medical treatment centers when they need to detox.
“We find and set patients up at appropriate certified medical facilities because that’s where they need to go find the care they need,” Safarty said.
A local drug addiction specialist, who wished to remain anonymous, said one of the problems is that many of the rehabs that aren’t based in certified medical facilities don’t refer patients when they need to. They’ll try to hold on to their patients, even when the signs indicate they shouldn’t.
They’ll accept patients when they shouldn’t and then will be reluctant to send them on to other facilities to receive more comprehensive care or care specifically geared toward their detox needs or any other medical needs they may have.
He said some local facilities even go as far as lying to potential patients to get them to check in. And when patients arrive, they find a much starker reality than the one they were promised.
“They were going into these places and making promises to people that there would be swimming pools, horses and all these things they were going to get,” he said. “And they get here and none of them are here; they were lied to.”
He said he hopes there will be reform among rehab centers that bill themselves as medical facilities when that isn’t actually the case. He said rehab centers must be prepared to represent themselves in an honest way and must be prepared to treat their clients with proper care.
However, he doesn’t think that’s going to happen without the push of the public and attorneys.
“(We need) to put pressure on the people whose responsibility it is to do something about this,” he said.