Addict's longtime struggle for peace

Prescriptions: After years of drug abuse, arrests and unsuccessful drug programs, a pregnant Havre de Grace woman is hoping for help to overcome her barriers to treatment.

March 02, 2003|By Jennifer Blenner | Jennifer Blenner,SUN STAFF

Miriam Landa doesn't sleep anymore. She lies awake thinking of ways to get help and treatment for her struggle with drugs that dates back 18 years.

"I feel hopeless," she said. "I have to push myself to take a shower, to eat and to do the normal things people do." She said she has no motivation because she knows what awaits her. At any moment, she could be sent back to jail.

Landa, a resident of Havre de Grace, is 30. She has an 8-year-old daughter and is five months pregnant. She is a prescription drug addict and could face her second jail stint on prescription fraud charges.

Right now, she said, she is in violation of her probation by not receiving outpatient or inpatient treatment from a facility.

"There is a 99 percent chance that I am going to jail," she said.

If she goes back to jail, she said, her fetus will die. "They will take me off methadone," Landa said. "I will probably lose my baby and begin using again."

Last month, she began taking methadone for the safety of her fetus. The synthetic opiate replacement is the only medication used for the treatment of pregnant and postpartum opioid addicts, said Vickie Walters, program director of the Center for Addiction and Pregnancy at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

"There is no evidence to prove that methadone is harmful as far as we know," Walters said.

Landa and her husband, Barry, are frustrated and say Maryland's system dooms recovering addicts to failure.

"I don't qualify for medical assistance because of my husband's income," she said. Barry Landa earns about $200,000 a year as a finance director for a Northern Virginia car dealership, but if the Landas' income were less than $600 a month, they would qualify for assistance. Miriam Landa said she has depleted their funds on drugs, legal fees and treatment centers.

Another problem, she said, is that she receives only 30 days of treatment at a time. "It's not enough time," she said. Landa said she needs long-term care to stay clean.

Landa began to seek help but hit many roadblocks, she said. "I would call and I say I didn't want to live anymore, and the first words out of their mouths would be, `What type of insurance do you have?'" she said.

Landa is one of many addicts seeking treatment but running into red tape, said Bonnie Wyant-Heisler, New Life Addictions Counseling Services Inc. program director of the intensive outpatient treatment center in Baltimore County. "All the Miriams out there deal with those same frustrations."

"If they have to wait, they could go back on the streets or start using again," she said. "If they have to wait, nine times out of 10 we lose them."

Wyant-Heisler said the drug detoxification process used to take seven days, but now it's three days. "That is not adequate enough time because addicts aren't even out of the fog yet, and how long someone should be in treatment depends upon the individual and the circumstances in their lives," she said.

Funds are limited in the state, Wyant-Heisler said. "I see people continuously struggling," she said. "It's a fight, and it shouldn't have to be this way."

Fewer options

In the past couple years, Wyant-Heisler said, many inpatient facilities in the state have closed. And many treatment facilities are full and have waiting lists, she said.

Ray Miller, chief of treatment services at the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, said there are limited funds for inpatient 28-day public facilities in the state. And many private centers have closed, Miller said.

"The biggest reason is due to private insurance not paying for treatment," he said. The best private facilities cost $500 a day, which most people can't afford, he said.

From 1994 to last year, the number of public and private facilities in the state has decreased from 28 to 19. "Most of the ones that have closed are in the private sector," Miller said.

In Harford County, there are four treatment facilities. Two are inpatient facilities - Father Martin's Ashley in Havre de Grace and the Phoenix Recovery Center in Edgewood. The two outpatient programs are operated countywide by the Harford County Health Department and Treatment and Recovery Works.

"There are not enough places to detox in the county," said Joe Strovel, director of addiction services for the Harford County Health Department. The Health Department is not receiving enough money to do the treatment. "Some people are going untreated," he said.

Prescription abuse up

Harford County also has seen an escalation of prescription drug abuse. In Harford, Strovel said, the most prevalent drugs are the painkiller OxyContin - because it has a longer-lasting high - heroin, and hydrocodone, a cough-suppressing opiate.

"This is an increasing problem. There are more people coming in, and there are more OxyContin patients than last year at this time," Strovel said.

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