Rising prescription addiction presents treatment challenges

10:46 PM, May 23, 2012   |    comments
Rising prescription addiction presents treatment challenges.
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Prescription addiction is an epidemic, but people who need treatment often can't get help. Recent numbers show prescription addiction certainly has a hold on our region.

Both law enforcement and the courts say they're overwhelmed with pill-related cases. 10News talked with two of only a handful of treatment providers in Knoxville about how they're handling the epidemic.

Many local treatment centers want to provide help, but they're up against different challenges when it comes to caring for a dramatic rise in patients.

"We believe that treatment is discovery and then life beyond is recovery," said Hilde Phipps, director of addiction services for the Helen Ross McNabb Center.

"This is a whole different ball game. Addiction always cuts across all socioeconomic lines and all community barriers, but this one has changed the population," explained Phipps.

Phipps has seen the faces of addiction shift over the past five years away from alcohol abuse.

"It's a surprise at how quickly it's happened. Anecdotally, I can tell you now, it's above 90 percent of who calls and who comes in for treatment are here for prescription drug abuse, specifically opiates," Phipps said.

But, Phipps also said available resources don't match the number of people reaching out for help.

"If you called today in need of medical detoxification, you'd be getting a bed date of probably February 2013."

There are 34 beds for in-patient treatment at Helen Ross McNabb's Centerpoint facility. Phipps says all of them are full at any given time.

"We, on a given day, do about six admissions. So, people come in at all points and leave at all points," said Phipps.

Residential stays at Centerpoint often last around a month. Treatment costs can add up to thousands of dollars. Phipps said most of Centerpoint's clients struggle to pay.  

"We also accept Tenn Care and some private insurance and private pay, but by and large our population is made up of folks who don't have insurance," said Phipps.

It's a different situation across town at Cornerstone of Recovery where there are twice as many beds and no waiting list.

"10 to 15 percent maybe are private pay individuals. People who are coming in with no insurance coverage, but they're paying for treatment out of pocket," said Clinical Outreach Manager Webster Bailey.

Bailey said most of Cornerstone's clients rely on insurance, and getting reimbursed and not jeopardizing patients' treatment is often a challenge.

"It is very difficult, in our experience to get the insurance company to authorize a residential level of care, medical detoxification, those types of services because they use medical necessity criteria, and they don't view prescription pain withdrawal, prescription pain medication withdrawal as a life threatening issue," explained Bailey.

If pill addicts can not get adequate treatment, Phipps said addiction can kill. "The saddest and most horrible thing to think about is they die or switch addictions or end up doing extra drugs."

While potential patients wait nine to 10 months to get treatment at Centerpoint, staff make an effort to let them know they matter.

"We believe if they see a friendly face and know where they're coming, they're more likely to hang on," said Phipps.

Since the need is so great, Bailey said Cornerstone is considering opening up its services to those who can't pay, "The uninsured folks, certainly they're on long waiting lists. So, we're looking at ways that we can help the community and alleviate some of that pressure."

Cornerstone and Centerpoint believe community support can help reduce the pressure too, by getting involved in the lives of those addicted to pills as they wait for treatment.

"For our patients, our clients, we'd like recovery to be a life-long process for them," said Phipps."

If you or someone you know needs help with prescription pill addiction, experts say the best thing to do is to contact a doctor or a board certified addiction specialist.

Here's contact information for the two treatment centers featured in this story:

Helen Ross McNabb Center

(865) 523-4704


Cornerstone of Recovery

(865) 970-7747


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