In Recovery: The Opiate Epidemic and the Young Addict

As recently as the 1990s men and women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s represented the primary clients at substance abuse rehab centers across America. These baby boomers had an affinity for traditional drugs like alcohol, cocaine, and speed. Many of these individuals were working class people seeking a reprieve from the grip of their addiction. Today, however, the nation’s substance abuse rehab centers differ vastly; enter a typical rehab and you will find a younger clientele – anywhere from 16 to 27 years old. You will also find that this younger generation of addicts has acquired a taste for designer drugs that are less traditional in scope – like Oxycodone, Xanax, and Heroin.

“It’s a totally different world out there today,” said Allison Dean, program director at Chandler Valley Hope, a rehab center in Chandler. ”We are in an era where prescription drugs are readily available to young boys and girls right in their bathroom’s medicine cabinet or at their friend’s home. This younger generation of addicts doesn’t have to work hard to get their hands on opiates or scripts; and when these drugs become too expensive for them to handle… they turn to something much cheaper and deadlier – heroin.”

The opiate epidemic that has swept America the past 10 years has led recovery entities like Chandler Valley Hope and Carla Vista Sober Living to ramp up their drug screening efforts and implement more stringent restrictions in order to keep clientele safe.

According to Gonzalo Ardavin, President and CEO of Carla Vista Sober Living in Gilbert, it’s mind-boggling to see the number of young people who are hooked on opiates today. “The average age in Carla Vista Sober Living is 24 years old,” he said. “It’s rare to see someone older than 30 in any of our sober living homes.”

Dean, who is pursuing her doctorate degree in the substance abuse field, says that opiate addiction among young people has become so widespread that researchers studying addiction can hardly keep up with this phenomenon. “The epidemic now borders on pandemic,” Dean said. “It’s getting to the point where we are stumped in trying to come up with ways to stem the opiate addiction tide among this new wave of young addicts.”

As rehabs across Arizona and beyond seek to help this generation of addicts restore their lives and reconnect with their families, they are challenged by the managed health care system in which insurance companies are permitted to determine the number of days an addict with coverage can stay in treatment.

“We shouldn’t be allowed to put a cap on treatment when it’s a life or death matter,” Dean said. “Ten or 20 days of treatment is hardly enough time to help the sick and suffering addict who typically returns to using after short-term treatment.”

As a follow up to Dean’s comments, Ardavin says that one of the primary reasons for launching Carla Vista Sober Living seven years ago was to provide a safe environment for young people who didn’t have enough money to pay out of pocket once their insurance provider stopped paying for their treatment. “We offer an economical sober living outlet for these young men and women to develop their life skills so they may eventually re-enter society as sober and productive citizens,” he said. “Let me underscore that Carla Vista Sober Living is not a treatment center but a recovery residence that helps its clients to gain the discipline needed to become a part of the Fellowship of Recovery – through attending 12-Step Meetings and getting introduced to the principles behind each step that highlight an effective design for living a better life.”

Tom Fay, Vice President of Carla Vista Sober Living, is proof that sober living is a feasible alternative for those who are unable to pay for extended rehab treatment. Upon completing treatment at the River Source, Fay knew he needed more time to build on his recovery foundation. With a shortage of funds to continue at The River Source he and his counselor determined that his best opportunity to stay sober was to check into a sober living environment; he entered Carla Vista.

Today, as he approaches four years of continuous sobriety, Fay looks back at where he was prior to treatment and where he is now – a leader in the recovery field. “I can honestly say that for me the difference was my willingness to shed 16 years of popping pills and using heroin in order to get sober and stay sober,” said the 32-year-old. “I got sober at The River Source where I went to rehab; but I stayed sober because I took the suggestion of my counselor there and checked into Carla Vista Sober Living where I was able to build on my recovery foundation. At Carla Vista I learned about responsibility, accountability, and interacting positively with others. I haven’t looked since and am blessed to be a part of this sober living organization today.”

*Key Facts from Rehab International:

  • Opiates make up 83 percent of rehab admissions for intravenous drug addictions. Second in line is methamphetamine, followed by cocaine.
  • A National Institute of Drug Abuse survey shows that a decade ago (2001), an estimated 16 million Americans ages 12 or older were using illicit drugs at the time, i.e., had ingested drugs within a month of taking the survey. Such a figure does not take into account survey responses that were untruthful (a proportion of respondents are inevitably inclined to lie about the scope of their drug use).
  • Young adults ages 12 to 17 report that the number one way in which they access opiate drugs (in this case, prescription drugs) is through family members or friends, either directly or indirectly. An indirect example is a teenager who may steal prescription pills from his mother’s medicine cabinet, unbeknownst to his mother.
  • Young adults perceive prescription pills, such as opioid pain relievers, to be less dangerous than illicit drugs, primarily because they are available by legal prescription within the US. The stigma attached to drugs purchased on the black market keeps young adults thinking that they are choosing the “safe” alternative to illicit drugs when they opt for prescription drugs.

 Source: Rehab International – Drug & Alcohol Rehab Guides.

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