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Opioid Crisis: Local resources helping the community with addiction

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David Emch Headshot

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Tucked behind MUSC and Roper Hospital at the intersection of Calhoun Street and Lockwood Drive is Charleston County Department of Drug and Alcohol Services, commonly known as “Charleston Center.“ Seemingly one of the area’s best kept secrets. It is a unique institution in that although the county provides a location and support, Charleston Center is an enterprise fund and responsible for covering its operating capital, which is substantial given there are well over 100 employees.

Today I am speaking with Dr. Chanda Brown, director of Charleston Center for nine years and employee for nearly 20. Brown earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh and her doctorate at the University of South Carolina. She has a small office tucked away in a corner of the building, a fairly quiet spot given the beehive of activity all around. Charleston Center handles many facets of the addiction plague, seeing over 3,500 clients a year. Brown is a kind woman, but for her keen eyes it is easy to miss the depth of character. Following are a few of the questions I asked her.

I hear addiction referred to as a “disease” by so many, but others think it is a choice people make. Is it a disease?

“Absolutely it is a disease. In 1956 the American Medical Association classified alcoholism as a disease that affects the brain’s reward system, memory and related circuitry. Addiction touches on biologic, environmental and behavioral issues and has a genetic component to it as well, and much like other conditions such as diabetes without treatment it is fatal. Here it is 2019 and we are still having this conversation that addiction is not a moral failure or that people with substance use disorders are not bad people. This attitude often leads to the worst outcomes.

What are the greatest needs relating to addiction in Mount Pleasant specifically?

“Mount Pleasant has a comparatively high rate of overdoses. Recognizing how to decrease access to the powerful drugs available today and to connect people to treatment is vital to the community. The third Saturday of every month the Mount Pleasant Police Department, WakeUP Carolina and Charleston Center put on an educational program for the community at town hall. (Except this month it will be held on Saturday, Feb. 23.) This program provides information on the opioid epidemic, treatment options, overdose prevention and unused prescription disposal. Further, participants may be able to receive an overdose prevention kit with two doses of the lifesaving Narcan medication. Of additional concern, transitional and recovery housing is a big challenge in Mount Pleasant. Helping people get out of an unhealthy situation or to get reestablished in the community requires affordable housing, and this is severely lacking, particularly for people who are on Medication Assisted Treatment. Lastly, it is important to remove the stigma associated with substance use disorders so that shame does not prevent those afflicted from seeking help.”

What specifically does Charleston Center do?

“Charleston Center offers the full spectrum of care from detox, residential treatment and outpatient services. One of the more unique programs is the New Life Program for women who are pregnant and/or parenting young children. Moms are able to come into the residential treatment program and bring up to two children under the age 5 with them. This gives access to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get treatment due to parenting concerns. This program greatly decrease negative impacts on the children, help mothers develop coping skills and keeps families together. We also have grants that help indigent people who need care. Our goal is to remove as many barriers as possible for someone in need of treatment.

We also provide detox services that last three to 10 days and a residential program that usually lasts 30 days. There are numerous outpatient programs, including our ADSAP program that helps those with DUI offences get their driving privileges back and our OTP clinic which provides all three FDA medications for people with Opioid Use Disorders.”

What are the biggest changes you have seen over the last five years?

“There has been a general increase in the lethality of the drugs available on the streets, and people are using opioids at younger ages. But, there is also more community outreach and coordination.

We also now have a life saving drug called Naloxone. Family members and community members in general can now get training on how to administer this drug in the event of an overdose. There is a large cooperative effort to get this training and medication out into the community.”

Why are you, as an individual, involved in this field?

“I had a brother that struggled with Substance Abuse Disorder until he ultimately died at age 45. If I can prevent just one family from having to go through that it is worth it. I know firsthand how helpless you feel and how painful it is to be caught with a loved one in this downward spiral. But every life that is saved and every family that finds healing cannot help but have a positive ripple effect for generations to come.”

What are the most effective things family members can do when confronted with this issue?

“Get yourself educated on the issue and get into a support system such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon. You learn how to approach it, speak with your loved one that is afflicted and let them know about the treatment options available. And, as a last resort, educate yourself on what you need to do to have someone legally committed for treatment.”

What is the biggest difference you see between those that achieve long-term sobriety and those that do not?

“Those that make it have solid support systems. Some have a support system coming in, but many have to develop one. The good news is that there are many people who have already recovered that are willing to help – you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There is hope and there is recovery available to you.”

I leave Chanda with a sense of hope myself – there are people and programs out there that are time proven to be effective at helping those that want help. I have a feeling as this series progresses we will find a few unique stories from among the employees and patients at Charleston Center that need to be told.

This article series, written the first and third week of each month, is meant to educate the community about addiction in general and the Opioid Crisis in specific that is affecting communities nationwide. We are hopeful that this series will make a difference. When appropriate the names will be changed of those the articles feature. Contact the author at David@PhoenixSC.org.

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