This is the true story of a man who has struggled with opioid addiction for decades, and who the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center turned away recently, despite his desperate pleas for help in his recovery.
We will call him “Juan,” in order to protect his medical privacy. Two decades ago Juan got into an accident. In order to deal with the pain during his recovery, doctors prescribed him OxyContin. That is a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act, as OxyContin is the narcotic oxycodone hydrochloride, an opiate. Among its street names is “Hillbilly heroin,” according to the National Drug Intelligence Center of the U.S. Department of Justice.
OxyContin is linked to the resurfacing of the heroin epidemic that washes across every urban area of the country. The rising numbers of illegal opiate use on Guam, including the discovery of heroin itself on criminal defendants recently, has led way to a multi-agency effort to use class action settlement money in Guam to prevent an epidemic from starting here.
Not everything that is sent to Kandit becomes a news story. In fact, I’d guesstimate that only about two percent of source information becomes a news story. The vast majority of complaints or concerns that come to us, we deal with on a personal level. So, when Juan came to us about 10 days ago with his concern that the government-run drug and alcohol treatment program at GBHWC had cut off his treatment, our primary and first concern was to get Juan back into the program.
But Juan isn’t the first Guamanian to tell us he had been turned away for drug rehabilitation treatment by the government. Scores of others – mainly meth addicts – have complained to Kandit over the past few years about the GBHWC’s New Beginnings Drug & Alcohol Treatment program turning away people who make the decision on their own to quit using drugs and to get help.
“The majority of clients seeking services at GBHWC, either volun-tarily or referred by others require education and treatment for substance abuse,” the program’s website information states. “Following intake, consumers are assessed to determine the extent of their problems and may be referred to our New Beginnings Program or an outpatient group needed to begin a drug-free lifestyle.”
Juan has been through these services, just as hundreds of others. And just like hundreds of others who have been through this program, Juan has slipped. But he belongs to a separate category within those who have relapsed: he always goes back for rehabilitation. Many do not, as many if not most of the consumers within the rehabilitation programs in Guam are court ordered to be there. Juan seeks services because he wants to be well.
It’s not like he chose to be addicted to opiates. He literally was prescribed his now-lifelong addiction.
Juan’s addiction led to a cornucopia of physiological and mental health issues that has brought him to a dependency on his primary care doctor and care under the New Beginnings program specific to opioid addiction. Among his medications for a physiological issues is a prescription for Lasix, which he takes under orders from his primary care doctor.
Under the New Beginnings program, Juan has been prescribed Suboxone and Klonopin. Suboxone relieves cravings to abuse opioids, and also deals with withdrawal symptoms. The Klonopin is for his anxiety.
The program’s manager requires Juan to periodically drug test. A few weeks ago, when his drug tests came back positive for Suboxone but negative for Klonopin, the government kicked him out of the program for not following instructions.
“I was taking my Klonopin,” he said. “I didn’t know why I was coming up negative for it so I asked my primary doctor what could be happening. I have a letter from my doctor to the program about my Lasix prescription and how taking Lasix can cause the Klonopin not to show in the drug test.”
The New Beginnings opioid program manager, however, did not want to entertain Juan even with the letter from his doctor. She also refused to take his calls, he said. Three weeks ago, the program called Juan to tell him that his appointment with his New Beginnings doctor was canceled.
That also meant Juan would not be able to get prescription refills on either the Suboxone or the Klonopin.
Worried primarily that the Suboxone would run out and his cravings for opiates would return, Juan began to halve his dosage. Then he halved it again.
He ran out of his medication this past Monday. The government’s very well-funded program has refused to communicate with him.
As I write this story, there is a strong possibility Juan has relapsed. My hope is that even as he struggles through this, he sees his purpose as helping others through his advocacy. Seeing this purpose is important. I don’t want Juan to take his life, as so many have after despairing for years through drug abuse.
I’ve called the GBHWC director to see if she can help Juan, but alas she cannot discuss Juan’s situation with me due to medical privacy. What I do know is that Juan isn’t getting help despite his seeming determination to not abuse opioids.
I also know that Juan is just the latest of scores who have tried – on their own and without getting arrested and told by a court to do so – to get help.
Juan told me he wanted me to tell this story even though it may be too late for him.
“If this is happening to me, if this is how they’re treating me, maybe other people are being treated this way,” he said.
So here we are, exposing this story in order to pressure change, as it so often comes to with the government of Guam.