By Desirae Gostlin
CAROLINA REPORTER & NEWS
Sara Montgomery has battled opioid addiction since she was a teenager. This year marks her fifth anniversary of going daily to a methadone rehabilitation program, which she uses to try to beat her two decade addiction.
“I was definitely young,” said Montgomery, 34, of her first experimentation with drugs. “I was doing heroin at seventeen.”
For the last 17 years Montgomery has been in and out of multiple rehabilitation clinics in hopes of weaning herself off of the opioids. She has struggled with addiction to heroin, prescription pain pills, alcohol and Xanax. Montgomery is part of America's national opioid epidemic, one that President Trump has declared a national emergency.
One person in America dies every ten minutes of an opioid overdose, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. And nearly twice a day one of those victims is from South Carolina, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The use of opioids has been steadily rising in the U.S. since the year 2000, but in 2014 the number of deaths skyrocketed, mirroring Montgomery's journey. In South Carolina the number of overdoses rose from 573 in 2012 to 876 in 2016.
Montgomery started using drugs recreationally at raves, all night parties, but recounts that her troubles really began when she saw her boyfriend at the time using heroin.
“I had pretty much done every party drug there was out there, but he just looked so content and happy when he did it,” Montgomery said. “So I was like I really, really want to try that. And it was stupid for me to do that. I mean a massive mistake…And now it’s got me here.”
Like many people who struggle with opioid addiction, she tried to get clean by going to a methadone clinic and by trying to quit cold turkey. Methadone is a synthetic opioid prescribed for pain and used in addiction therapy to help lessen withdrawals. Currently, Montgomery is once again going daily to a methadone clinic.
But methadone comes with its own set of drawbacks.
In the Midlands there are two methadone clinics available to people who need treatment. Columbia Metro Treatment Center, which Montgomery uses, is located in West Columbia just off Sunset Boulevard. The other clinic, Crossroads Treatment Center of Columbia, is at 1421 Bluff Road.
Because of the limited availability of methadone clinics in the Columbia area, some people have to drive as far as fifty miles. That’s because the next closest clinic is in Darlington County.
Methadone is expensive. The clinics cost between $14 to $12 for a daily dose. One month of daily doses costs a patient $480 at Columbia Metro, for example.
Methadone is also addictive. Because it is an opioid, it bonds to the same receptors in the brain as heroin or prescription pain pills. With prolonged use, patients will become addicted to methadone.
The withdrawals from methadone are similar to other opioids, but less severe than heroin withdrawals. Symptoms include severe depression, anxiety, hallucinations and vomiting, which can last up to six months.
But methadone is not the only option for treatment. The Lexington Richland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council, or LRADAC, offers two treatment options—in-patient and out-patient services—for people struggling with opioid dependence. That program uses a different medicine called buprenorphine that is distributed under the brand name Subutex.
Allison Brumfield, LRADAC’s community relations director, said that because the treatment medicines are addictive themselves, the medical community is torn on the best way to help addicts.
“There’s a group of people who really believe that treatment and recovery means abstinence, and that if you’re using medication, it’s not true recovery,” said Brumfield. “And then there’s other people who say that there are so many people who wouldn’t be alive if they couldn’t have gone through a medication-assisted program.”
That includes Montgomery, who has no plans to leave her current methadone clinic. She hopes that by sharing her story, other people might be encouraged to stop abusing prescription pain pills and using heroin.