Few options for the addicted along the Gulf coast
Alabama’s Central Data Repository says over sixteen thousand Alabama residents were treated for substance abuse in 2021. Close to two thousand of those were in Baldwin County. Limited resources also make recovery even harder in south Alabama. Most of the leaders in local recovery have been there themselves.
“Recovery is strong in Southwest Alabama, but treatment is not,” said Virginia Guy. She’s Executive Director of the Drug Education Council. “We are sadly lacking in a comprehensive continuum of care from crisis stabilization, which is detox, all the way through treatment, inpatient and outpatient, as well as transitional living. When we get to recovery support, we are in pretty good shape.
Virginia’s father was a recovering alcoholic when he was asked to lead the Committee on Alcoholism in Mobile. It later became the Drug Education Council. The group provides educational programs and services to get people into the right treatment.
“As a community, we need to offer a lot of those different avenues for treatment. The individual, their family and their healthcare provider can help select the treatment option that's best for them.”
“So, the Landing is pretty intensive and very strict and structured,” said Haley Beason, Executive Director of The Landing. That’s a long-term sober living home for women in Bay Minette. “And the reason why is because I model exactly what it took for me.”
Beason was fifteen years old and riding around with a friend in Mobile when their car was sandwiched between two 18-wheelers. Haley was thrown out of the windshield and slid along the road.
“I didn't have any skin on my body and broken bones,” said Beason. “They gave me a pain pill and within 15 minutes, my whole world came together.”
After several more car wrecks, Xanax and morphine became Beason's drugs of choice. She got hooked on pain pills in the early 2000s when prescriptions were easy to get from pill mill doctors. After multiple arrests and rehabs that didn’t work, it was time for Haley to change or go to prison.
“You don't know anything about the mental obsession factor of the disease until you sober up,” Beason observed. “We never stop using enough to realize there's a whole another facet to addiction with the mental obsession.”
Beason modeled The Landing in Bay Minette around the sober living facility in Anniston. That’s where she learned how to live and work in a controlled environment. The facility kept her away from the situations and people who pulled her back to addiction.
“We opened in 2014. I'm from the Gulf coast and always wanted to move back down here. So I had to work and save a lot of money because it isn’t cheap her,” said Beacon.
The waiting list for the Landing keeps growing. Beason says the phone rings daily with more women needing beds.
“It's like that at every women's facility in the state,” she said. “There are always people needing beds, especially women who don't have insurance and financial help. By the time most of us are ready to get sober, families are all done. And you need places that are willing to take girls in with very little and give them a chance.”
Beason says small, independent facilities like The Landing take in women that larger facilities typically turn away.
“You get people like me who have been through it. I'm willing to give anybody a chance. The truth be known, once the corporations and the big people get in this game, it loses its deal because they don't understand,” Beason claims. “The greatest places for recovery are all grassroots. Little organizations started from nothing, grown to help people. I just want to teach people how to get what I got.”
But only about one in ten people get treatment for a substance abuse use disorder in the U.S. Even fewer get the longer-term treatment they need. Again, Virginia Guy.
“I think the main reason people aren't getting the treatment that they need is because of the stigma surrounding addiction. It’s a medical condition, but sometimes we don't handle it like that. A lot of times our community looks at it as a moral failing. We need to eliminate the stigma around it. I've never met anybody who developed an addiction that meant to develop that disease.”
There is no detox center in south Alabama. The closest ones are hours away. That makes it harder to treat the disease with fewer people getting the help they need. The residential programs require the client to be detoxed before entering.
“The most dangerous part of the treatment process is the detox process,” said Guy. “That's when you're most likely to go into a medical crisis and die. When you start coming off of those drugs and your body starts detoxing off, you can go into cardiac arrest. Your respiratory system will shut down. We know that a person is very vulnerable during those first hours and days of coming off of the drugs.”
A local detox center may be on the horizon. Veterans Recovery Resources is raising the funding for a 34-bed addiction facility in Mobile.
“I came back from war from the first Gulf war back in ‘91 and dealt with everything that you've heard about veterans coming back,” said John Kilpatrick, who started the residential non-profit in 2015.
“I got sober in 1996 and made it my recovery effort to help the next veteran that I came across.
Kilpatrick went back to school to get his degree in social work as more veterans came to him seeking help. He did a community needs assessment about the mental health treatment veterans and first responders needed.
“I talked to everybody, all of the stakeholders from the VA down to individual therapists, figuring out what the gaps were, what was being done, and what needed to be done,” said Kirkpatrick.
Veterans Recovery Resources opened as an outpatient clinic in 2018 and has served 945 clients over the last four years. South Alabama is still behind the rest of the state in resources for treatment. Those in recovery who are also becoming counselors and educators, with the goal of raising awareness about the growing drug crisis and saving lives.