Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Heroin Addicts Face Barriers to Treatment

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Heroin Addicts Face Barriers to Treatment

Article excerpt

NEW YORK * As the ranks of heroin users rise, increasing numbers of addicts are looking for help but are failing to find it because there are no beds in packed facilities, treatment is hugely expensive and insurance companies won't pay for inpatient rehab.

Some users overcome their addictions in spite of the obstacles. But many, such as Salvatore Marchese, struggle and fail.

In the course of Marchese's five-year battle with heroin, the young man, from Blackwood, N.J., was repeatedly denied admission to treatment facilities, often because his insurance company wouldn't cover the cost. After abusing marijuana and prescription painkillers as a teenager, Marchese had turned to heroin for a cheaper high.

Then one night in June 2010, Marchese, then 26, went to the emergency room, strung out and frantically seeking help. The doctors shook their heads: Heroin withdrawal is not life-threatening, they said, and we can't admit you. Doctors gave him an IV flush to clean out his system, and sent him home.

Marchese and his sister stayed up all night calling inpatient treatment centers only to be told: We have no beds. We'll put him on a waiting list. Call back in two weeks.

As Marchese grew sicker with diarrhea, body aches and shakes, his sister tried a new tack. She called one more place and told them her brother was using heroin and also drinking alcohol. That did the trick, because alcohol withdrawal can cause life-threatening seizures.

He was admitted the next morning but was released 17 days later when his funding from the county ran out. Less than three months later, Marchese was found dead of an overdose in his mother's car, a needle and a bag of heroin on the center console.

"Insurance companies need to understand that this is a disease," said his mother, Patty DiRenzo. "Heroin is life-threatening, I don't care what they say. Because we're losing kids every day from it."

Of the 23.1 million Americans who needed treatment for drugs or alcohol in 2012, only 2.5 million people received aid at a specialty facility, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Heroin addicts are a small slice of overall users, but their numbers nearly doubled from 2007 to 2012, to 669,000. …

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