We sat down with Michael Schiks and Sherry Parker at Project Turnabout to talk about meth problems in our communities, opioides, the health insurance industry, and how American society views addiction and drug use. “It’s hard to know where to begin except to say methamphetamine is one of the most destructive drugs that we work with … It’s twice the prevalence of the use of this drug as other drugs like opiates,” Schiks said adding, “It’s very strong, it’s one of the most used drugs that come in here.” Often times meth is mixed with other drugs like alcohol, pain killers, etc. It really winds people up emotionally and causes damages to that individual and often the people around them or in their community. Most of the time people that enter treatment have been using it for years, and are already showing signs of increased aging, tooth decay, and heart issues. “What most people don’t know is that many users actually inject methamphetamines, it’s not just smoking. It’s progressed to where they’re using an IV, such as what they would do with heroin … Users have actually died as well. The death doesn’t happen as frequently as it would with an injection of an opiate, but the potential is there,” Parker added.
Schiks understands there is an opiate crisis, but also said that it’s been overshadowing the use of meth, especially in the rural areas, which could stem from the easy access and lower cost of the drug compared to opiates, etc... “What happens with opiates is that the potency is unknown, especially with heroin, which is why more people die and there is such a large risk of overdose … But meth doesn’t seem to do that,” Parker said. Schiks added “At the same time, and it’s hard to characterize how individuals act on drugs, but opiates tend to be a more laid back drug, and meth makes people more energetic, they act out and are more engaged in things, you have more consequential deaths, traffic accidents and stuff like that.” Schiks made it clear that addiction is an illness that takes good people and puts them in a hole, and those people oftentimes have trouble digging themselves out. “Most of the time it’s not the first time in treatment that works, it’s that second or third time you really have a breakthrough,” Schiks said.
Schiks also made the point that addiction and relapse are viewed so negatively by society that it makes it hard for people to remain persistent in seeking help. Parker compared it to other illnesses like diabetes, where someone who is supposed to eat right doesn’t, but then they just go to the doctor and it’s no big deal. But if you’re struggling with addiction and you have a relapse, it can feel like you’re doomed forever. Often that view discourages people from seeking further help or treatment. Schiks also criticized the health insurance industry for forcing premature releases of patients. Often times they get kicked out after 15 days. “If one of those people get released early and they go out and kill someone, it’s not on the company, it’s on us,” said Schiks. Schiks went on to say that money in politics, and the insurance companies’ power in Washington makes progress difficult. There is also the unknown future of U.S. health care which makes future funding and planning at the state and federal level difficult to predict.
The general age of patients in the facility, is mixed. 44% of patients are between the ages of 18-28. Schiks reiterated the point that most patients that come in have struggled with these problems pretty much their entire lives so he sees a lot of all age groups. Schiks said the education system that doctors go through needs a complete overhaul regarding teaching about addiction, Schiks stressed the importance of the fact 2% of patients at the facility were referred by doctors. and explained how he has been pushing for the education overhaul for years. Schiks explained that “With the money insurance companies put into politics any progress or action on health care is very unlikely.” Schiks added that any action needs to be well planned out and executed. Schiks is hopeful for his patients’ success and really believes the work they are doing has a lot of success.