March 14, 2012

A Chance to Escape Addiction

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A second chance at Drug Court saved Marsha Patton’s life.

Patton, 51, started taking prescription pills for pain and stress and,within a period of five years, ended up a heroin junkie.

The suburban grandmother of two worked in banking and catering beforedrugs took over her life and landed her in prison. Addiction was neverpart of her life plan.

The implementation of community sentencing courts during the pastdecade have helped thousands of nonviolent Oklahoman offenders gettreatment and stay out of prison.

Patton has been clean for two and a half years now, but she struggled with addictionover the past 20 years. The five or six years before she gotsober were the worst.

She was always an addict, but it was a messy divorce that served as hertrigger.

In the past, she’d worked as an assistant vice president of a Tulsabank. But she wanted a change, so she started working in restaurants,something she had done when she was younger. Her doctor had prescribedpain pills for her, and she liked taking them.

Some of her younger co-workers at the restaurant suggested that shemight like the pills even better if she crushed them and injected them,scoring a faster, more direct high.

The pills already owned her brain. They told her: “Why not? Whatfun!”

She bartended, but alcohol was never her drug of choice. She preferredopiates and benzodiazapenes.

Recent reports by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Servicesplace Oklahoma among the top states for use of pain relievers fornonmedical purposes. For 2008-09, Oklahoma had the highest percentage ofresidents age 12 or older using pain relievers for nonmedical purposes.

Addicts who prefer to crush and inject the pain pills soon learn thatit can be an expensive habit. Prescription pills are more expensive onthe street, so over time, heroin became a cheaper option for Patton.

She was hooked.

She sold her condo and most of her possessions to fund her drug habit.

She lived in a house with a guy who dealt drugs.

She didn’t see much of her daughter, a nurse or any other familymembers. She missed the birth of one of her grandchildren.

“I stayed completely away from my family,” she said. “Pretty muchwhen you get in that world, you drop off.”

She hit bottom in 2009 when she was arrested twice in a period of a fewmonths. She was awaiting trial on one set of drug possession chargeswhen she was arrested again.

A Tulsa County judge gave her one last shot at Drug Court. Her attorneysaid she had better take it unless she wanted to spend some serious timein prison.

Oklahoma has 60 operational community sentencing courts in 73 counties,according to the Oklahoma Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

The state has 45 adult drug courts — three of those have aveteran’s docket — 10 juvenile courts and five family courts. Asof January, there are 4,090 active participants.

Counties without any alternative courts are Pawnee, Beaver, Texas andCimarron.

The cost of incarceration of a person for a year is about $19,000,compared to $5,000 per participate in a year of drug court, according tothe mental health and substance abuse agency.

Tulsa drug court secured Patton a bed at a facility called 12 & 12 fordetox and substance abuse treatment, although she had no healthinsurance. Family & Children’s Services provided her with addictioncounseling, and she now has about six months left on her pleaagreement.

She still has to take drug tests about six to eight times per month,and if she completes the program successfully, she has a chance atgetting her felony convictions expunged from her record, which wouldimprove her future job prospects.

Her family has been supportive since she entered rehab, and Patton islooking at going back to school because she’d like to considerbecoming a counselor to help other addicts.

“The hardest part has been my guilt,” she said.

She regrets hurting her daughter and not being there for hergrandchildren when they were born. She lives with them now. She’stalked about moving out on her own, but her daughter is afraid she mightstart using again.

“I don’t think you can ever earn back someone’s trust 100percent,” Patton said.

Being a junkie was actually quite lonely, she said.

“I had no friends, no social life. I had to let go of everything Ihad known for five to six years,” she said.

Public health impact of prescription drug abuse

Over the past decade in Oklahoma, the number of deaths annually due toaccidental overdose of prescription drugs has nearly tripled, accordingto state Medical Examiner’s Office records.

Since the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Controlbegan tracking nonfatal overdoses in November 2010, at least eightnonfatal overdoses have occurred per day in Oklahoma. They mostfrequently involve alprazolam (one common brand is Xanax), alcohol orthe opioid pain pill hydrocodone. Hydrocodone is the No. 1 most commonlyprescribed drug in Oklahoma and the nation.

For every one prescription drug overdose death in the United States,there are:

9 abuse treatment admissions

35 emergency room visits for misuse or abuse

161 people with abuse/dependence

461 nonmedical users

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention