Addiction treatment can save lives, but getting patients in the door is still an issue | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Addiction treatment can save lives, but getting patients in the door is still an issue

“Recovery is possible and we’re proof of that.”

click to enlarge Tommee Morrow at Recovery United’s Hill District facility - CP PHOTO BY RENEE ROSENSTEEL
CP photo by Renee Rosensteel
Tommee Morrow at Recovery United’s Hill District facility

Twenty-four-year-old Tommee Morrow lost both her parents at a young age. She started smoking marijuana at age 12 and, along with other members of her family, later turned to heroin.

“I was sad all the time and depressed, and I didn’t see having anything else in my life,” Morrow says. “Since I lost them, everything else in my life was not good; I didn’t see any good.”

But after years struggling with her addiction, this past September Morrow graduated from Recovery United’s outpatient treatment program.

“My problem wasn’t just drugs. I had a problem with myself that I needed to work on,” Morrow says. “But in here, I learned that there is hope; there are good things I can work toward.”

Recovery United’s Administrative Director Ali Bradley says Morrow is just one of many success stories to emerge from addiction-treatment programs. Last week, she met with another recovering addict who had also come in for help. 

“When the woman first came to us, she was crying about where her addiction has taken her,” Bradley says. “I just saw her a few days ago. She now has custody of her 2-year-old daughter and was just this smiling ray of light in my office. Just to see the transformation in people is amazing, and knowing we played a role in their journey makes all the horrific things we see worth it. 

“Recovery is possible and we’re proof of that.”

But ensuring addicts have access to the kind of life-saving treatment provided at Recovery United and other addiction programs can be difficult. In many cases, people are resistant to seek treatment; other times they simply can’t afford it; and overall there remains a shortage of addiction-recovery programs and counselors.

Pennsylvania state Sen. Jay Costa (D-Forest Hills) is working to tackle two of these problems with two pieces of legislation that ensure addicts have access to the resources they need. But despite the improvements on the horizon, the ability of many addicts to pay for such treatment is in jeopardy, as tens of thousands are at risk for losing insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

“A little under 125,000 people accessed drug and alcohol services through the Medicaid expansion across Pennsylvania. It has been the biggest expansion of drug-and-alcohol-services access. If the Medicaid expansion is repealed, they face the possibility of losing coverage or losing insurance to get treatment,” says Kait Gillis, communications director for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. “That’s obviously bad for anyone who’s trying to get to recovery. It’s particularly bad in that if your treatment is interrupted, the potential that you’ll relapse or overdose goes up dramatically.”

As the largest single provider of recovery housing in Pittsburgh, Recovery United offers both inpatient and outpatient addiction-treatment services in Carrick, Brookline and the Hill District. (These areas are among the neighborhoods that have been identified by the Allegheny County Health Department as having some of the highest rates of drug-overdose deaths.) And last week, it announced it would be adding Suboxone treatment to its services. Suboxone is a drug used to relieve symptoms of opiate withdrawal and can be used in conjunction with counseling and psychological treatment.

Morrow says her experience with the organization was so successful because of the family environment the program provides. Originally from Huntington County, she says her peers in the program helped her become more familiar with Pittsburgh and gave her moral support.

“I felt like I was more at home,” says Morrow, whose family helped her pay for treatment until she was able to secure a job to pay for it herself. “It was more safe in here, and I could talk to the people here.”

But the program wasn’t without its challenges. Morrow says she struggled to adjust to the structure of the program and had trouble opening up. She originally entered the program because she was court-ordered to do so, but says she ultimately came back on her own after relapsing. Prior to her time with Recovery United, she says, she tried to get clean on her own, but it “didn’t work out very well.” 

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