On a bright sunny Friday morning, 24-year-old Jenny Lewis walked into a needle exchange program in Los Angeles. Seeking help for an addiction to meth and heroin, she had all the traits of a person ravaged by drugs. Arms disfigured by needle marks, sore wounds filled with pus, and a puffed face with scabs all over, she looked much older than her age.
After surviving a near overdose death a few days ago, Lewis approached a needle exchange program saying that she was tired and exhausted of going through the vicious circle of making money and doing drugs every single day. A near-death experience had finally put some sense in her and now she wanted to overcome her addiction and live a clean, sober life.
Homeless most vulnerable
Lewis was just one of the thousands of those who suffered from drug addiction in Los Angeles county. While drugs had a booming underground economy, the consequences of addiction could be measured by looking at the number of homeless people living in makeshift tents or on the streets. The seriousness of the problem could be measured by the amount of drug paraphernalia found lying outside these makeshift tents.
According to official records, nearly 33 percent of the homeless people in L.A. county suffered from a substance use disorder (SUD), a serious mental health illness or both. The dilemma of these people were unbearable. Richard Tilly, a dual-diagnosis patient, was sleeping inside his tent when it collapsed. Due to the injuries suffered, he is now fed via a feeding tube and a tracheostomy collar is helping him breathe.
Rita Brand, suffering from heroin addiction, was 3-months pregnant. Nowhere to go, she lived in one of the many campsites in the Los Angeles county. She twisted and tossed on the days she could not get her fix.
The sad part was that while the skyline of Los Angeles is fill with high-rise buildings portraying an affluent image of the city, the ground reality is different. Los Angeles is in fact, flawed with addiction, mental health illnesses, homelessness, and physical diseases. The opioid epidemic has been taking its toll on the city, with methamphetamine being the preferred choice of drug.
Meth: the silent killer
Talking about the effects of meth, Rick Roy, an ex-user, sober for the last 10 years said that meth, unlike heroin, helped the users overcome their feelings of depression and helplessness. The next 10 to 12 hours after a fix were a positive and appreciated period as the user is filled with hope and optimism. Echoing his thoughts, Lewis said that no matter how irritable, angry or psychotic she felt, a $5 amount of meth could fix it all. She added that most homeless people used meth at night because it kept them awake and helped them fight off thieves and other attacks.
Mark Matt, a social worker in the Los Angeles county, said that because of its cheap cost, wide usage options and long-lasting effects, meth is popular among drug users. Dr. Susan Partovi, a needle exchange program volunteer, said that she realizes the disturbing effects of meth in young people during her recent work in the county prison, and calling meth “the plague of the society.” She further added that she was shocked to see the number of 20+ and 30+year-olds who suffered heart attacks, heart failures, and needed lung transplants due to pulmonary hypertension.
Once you step in the quicksand, there is no escaping, said Michel Moore, chief of police of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). He further added that while opiates are destroying the East Coast, meth is creating havoc in the West Coast. Since it could be produced in small, temporary labs, U.S. gang leaders and cartels controll the business even from inside prisons. He further added that meth enslaved an individual completely, corroding them from inside out. A person with meth addiction could do anything and everything for the next fix.
Meth and mental health
One of the most dangerous characteristics of meth is that it can mimic the symptoms of different mental health disorders. Dr. Brian Hurley, head of addiction medicine for the Los Angeles County’s Department of Health Services, said that meth addiction was tougher to treat as there is no harmless replacement for it unlike opioid addiction. Moreover, meth addiction leads to mental illnesses because it makes the user psychotic, anxious, and depressed. Most of the time, it becomes difficult to diagnose the patient with a mental health issue due to them being high on meth.
He further added that most of the users choose meth because it offers relief from the underlying mental issue like depression, giving rise to co-occurring disorders. Therefore, when looking for a treatment plan, it is important to identify the main issues in order to provide effective treatment.
Treatment for dual-diagnosis
Since addiction to drugs and alcohol causes psychological problems, a lot of patients addicted to substance also suffer from a mental health problem which makes them a dual-diagnosis patient. The 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 8.5 million Americans above the age of 18 years suffered from dual-diagnosis in the past year.
The treatment for co-occurring disorders requires an integrated center that treats both substance abuse and mental health disorders simultaneously. If you know someone who is in need of help to overcome co-occurring disorders, direct them to a certified dual-diagnosis treatment facility. Get in touch with the Dual-Diagnosis Helpline for detailed information on treatment programs that can help the patient effectively. Call our 24/7 helpline number 855-981-6047 or chat online with our representatives from the admissions team for further assistance.