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Rock County offers treatment referrals to heroin users

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Anna Marie Lux
May 4, 2014

JANESVILLE--Rebecca Rudolph has seen a shift in the kind of person seeking help at the Rock County Department of Human Services.

When she first started as coordinator with the alcohol and drug treatment program in 2012, many clients suffered long-term alcoholism.

“Now, the majority of our clients are addicted to heroin or other opiates and in their early 20s,” she said. “They begin with prescription drug abuse. Then, they are unable to access pills, and they turn to heroin.”

For heroin and other opiate users, the county provides assessments through a walk-in clinic and referrals to a variety of treatment programs. The county contracts with Tellurian of Madison for residential treatment.

“We determine an appropriate level of care,” Rudolph said. “We also have some funding, if clients need it.”

The county averages about $280,000 annually in federal funding to be used for clients without insurance or whose insurance does not cover the cost of treatment.

“We have not had to deny people access to treatment because of a lack of funding,” Rudolph said. “But I'm expecting more clients will be coming in as more police officers refer them to us.”

Heroin- and other opiate-addicted clients have the option of going to a detoxification facility, generally three to five days, before they go to a treatment provider. The county generally sends them to Genesis of West Allis.

After detox, “most treatment is provided on an outpatient basis, so clients can be in a home environment,” Rudolph said. “Ideally, we want people involved for six to nine months. The longer they are in treatment, the better they do.”

Opiate addiction has a high rate of relapse, and some clients are in treatment for years.

“They go for a while and do well,” Rudolph said. “Then they struggle and relapse. We are willing to help them as long as they stay engaged. It has to be their choice.”

Recovery depends on the client's willingness to stop using opiates, she explained.

Sometimes, clients need medical-assisted help to come off drugs.

One of the more popular treatment programs uses suboxone, a prescription used to treat opiate addiction.

Janesville Psychiatric Clinic began offering suboxone for treatment two years ago.

The medicine can help patients avoid withdrawal symptoms when they go through the detox process and can help curb the cravings for opiates.

“We have a waiting list for people who are opiate addicted,” said William Hollingsworth, clinic director and addictions therapist. “We try to get people in as soon as we can.”

The clinic is adding more addiction therapists in response to the increasing need.

Hollingsworth explained that the more a person uses opiates, the more he or she will become tolerant of them and need to take more to feel the same high.

Withdrawal symptoms can vary from headaches and anxiety to major reactions that require medical help.

Opiate-withdrawal symptoms and how extreme they are depend on how much of the drug a person has taken and for how long they have taken it, Hollingsworth said.

One type of treatment does not work for everyone, he explained.

DRUG COURT AIMS TO HELP

Rock County Judge Richard Werner knows addictions are tough to beat.

He presides over Rock County drug court, a court-supervised program for offenders with addictions. It began in April 2007.

“The purpose is to transform offenders into positive members of the community,” he said.

Offenders are held accountable for their actions as they try to turn themselves around.

To date, some 215 people have graduated.

“It's a wonderful thing to see individuals in the program overcome their addictions and make changes in their lives,” Werner said. “We have a high number of heroin addicts, and it is rewarding to watch them come clean.”

To be eligible for the program, participants cannot be charged with violent crimes. They must come to court weekly and appear in front of Werner while going through a treatment plan.

“One of the things that happens when people get clean is that they realize they are using substances to mask issues they are carrying around with them,” Werner said. “The people who graduate work very hard. They have to want it in order to be successful. It all really boils down to the effort a person puts into it.”

Werner urges more discussion about heroin addiction in Rock County.

“I don't think there can ever be enough conversation, especially among the people who can make a difference: the courts, law enforcement, treatment providers and those advising young people in the schools,” Werner said.

“We are at epidemic proportions here and elsewhere.”



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