Path to Recovery from Addiction at
Connecticut Counseling Center
By LESLIE LAKE
Hour Staff Writer | Posted: Sunday, April 27, 2014 2:15 pm
Editor's note: This is part of an ongoing Hour Newspapers series on drug addiction in our community. You can find previous stories by visiting www.thehour.com and looking at the left column of this story.
NORWALK -- One has only to look at the statistics from national health agencies to see a dramatic upward trend in opiate abuse over the past decade. In a 2002 report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) it was estimated that 980,000 people in the United States were addicted to heroin and other opioids, but a 2013 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report stated that 2 million people in the United States are dependent upon, or abuse, heroin and prescription opoids.
The surge in abuse and the stigma surrounding addiction and treatment was discussed recently by Robert Lambert, MA, LADC, CCS, CCDP, program director at Norwalk's Connecticut Counseling Centers, one of 1,200 federally-approved opiate treatment programs in the United States.
"When I started in the field in the mid-80's heroin was between five to seven percent pure," Lambert said. "Nowadays it can be more than 60 percent pure. Because of the higher purity level, users don't need to use needles, which has made usage more acceptable and widespread. What we're seeing is younger and younger people in treatment, and it's not unusual to see someone under 18 with a significant history."
While experts in the field of addiction have widely recognized addiction as a chronic brain disease, the paths to recovery may be as complicated and sometimes controversial as the disease itself.
"In making the initial choice, it starts as voluntary, but when the brain disease develops the person
doesn't have control anymore," Lambert said. One treatment, in use since 1964, is medication-assisted therapy with the use of methadone. Used at CCC, it carries with it a series of misunderstandings and stigma, according to Lambert.
"I've heard methadone being referred to as government-subsidized heroin. There is a profound difference between methadone and heroin," Lambert said. "Methadone is an opiate agonist which attaches to the receptor sites in the brain. It doesn't produce the same high. What it does is normalize brain chemistry."
An effective treatment for opioid dependence and addiction includes medication-assisted therapy with the opioid medications methadone or buprenorphine, the only two opioids federally approved for the treatment of these conditions, according to a SAMSHSA National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services April, 2013 report. "Methadone relieves cravings, blocks the euphoric effects associated with heroin and other opioids and prevents withdrawal."
"People need awareness to destigmatize addiction. I think the average person would be shocked to know that we treat folks from all walks of life," Lambert said. "Some of our patients are nurses, school teachers, athletes, successful stockbrokers who work on Wall Street every day. We have multi-generations in treatment here."
"There's no one common path to addiction, but very often when we see folks who abuse opioids it's usually due to one of two reasons: One is the euphoria and the other is to medicate a dysphoric state," Lambert said. "On some level, they may be self-medicating unpleasant emotions. Opioids work well on emotional pain."
Offering a wide range of substance abuse and mental health treatment services, methadone is just one facet of Connecticut Counseling programs.
"Medication isn't a cure, it's a tool," Lambert said. "Counseling helps people to think about themselves and the world differently. We give them the tools to counteract cravings and thoughts that may contribute to relapse."
Services at Connecticut Counseling include: Individual and group counseling, medical and psychiatric services; Bridge to Recovery peer support; Medication-Assisted Recovery Support; and intensive outpatient treatment programs.
Former heroin addict turned CCC peer counselor Curt, spoke recently about his path from addiction to recovery. "Nobody wakes up one morning as says 'I want to be a heroin addict,' Curt said. "It's more like 'I want to try heroin.'"
Curt said he began drinking alcohol at around 12 years old, smoked marijuana, took pills, and then eventually heroin at age 17.
"I knew only one person who used heroin. I wanted to try it and he kept telling me no," he said. "I finally broke him down. One shot and I was hooked. I remember feeling so euphoric, it seemed like the answer to all my problems."
Never able to recreate that first "high" it wasn't long before Curt said he was using more and more of the drug to simply "feel normal."
"I was making two trips a day from New Britain to the Bronx to get it just to avoid withdrawal," he said. "The withdrawal symptoms are so intense, you can't keep anything down, every fiber in your body is in pain, you're freezing and sweating at the same time, you have no control over your legs, which is why they call it 'kicking', and your head is all over the place."
In the 1980's, involved in legal trouble, he began methadone treatment which he said was 'lifesaving.'
"What some people think is that methadone is just a substitute for heroin," Curt said. "That's not true, it doesn't do the same thing."
By way of giving back, Curt trained as a counselor and is a peer mentor at CCC's Bridge to
Recovery (BTR) Program. BTR provides mentoring and support services such as: One-on-one
mentoring; advocacy to fight stigma; peer faciliated groups; and support for people who are
recovering from opioid addiction.
"I've taken so much from society, this is my chance to can give back," he said. "I see people seeking recovery and I see a lot of opportunity to help them."