Kicking People out of Drug Addiction Programs – A Travesty!

Kicking%20ImageMy son was recently kicked out of a drug treatment program.  I can’t tell you how long and hard we had to work to even get him into the program.  But only two months after entering, they kicked him out, apparently for a relapse.

He begged them not to kick him out. “Give me any other kind of punishment to make me pay for my relapse, but please don’t kick me out!”

But out he went. He had no place to go, and the shame and fear and depression of having been kicked out overwhelmed him and he went downhill, losing his job. Soon he was living on the streets again.

They said he could come back in a week–if he tested clean!  How crazy is that!

By then he’d had two overdoses. Finally he was arrested–thank God!  He’s “safe” for a little while longer.

But I am so angry at those who claim to provide drug addiction “treatment.”  How could they do this to him? They kick him out for having the very condition he went there to get help for?

I don’t understand this system of “treatment.” They were supposed to treat his addiction, not kick him out for being being an addict! If he hadn’t wanted to be there, I could understand that. Maybe. But when he was still desperate to recover, when he still wanted “treatment,” how could they do that?

Am I crazy to think this was wrong???

I don’t think so.

Here’s a great article at on this very point, “Stop Kicking People Out of Addiction Programs.”

18% (288,000) of all persons admitted to specialized addiction treatment in the U.S. were administratively discharged (“kicked out”) prior to treatment completion.  Those persons whose treatment was terminated in this manner were often those with the most severe and complex addictions and the least natural recovery support resources–in short, those most in need of professional treatment.

The most frequent cause for administrative discharge (AD) over the past half century has been continued use of alcohol or other drugs during treatment in spite of threatened consequences, e.g., the central symptom of the disorder.  In our 2005 article, we argued that AD practices were flawed on both theoretical and practical grounds.

They go on to say:

AD practices in addiction treatment are unprecedented in the health care system.  For other chronic health care problems, symptom manifestation during treatment confirms or disconfirms the working diagnosis and provides feedback on the degree of effectiveness of the treatment methods being used.  In marked contrast, symptom manifestation in the addictions field results in blaming and expelling the patient.  It is contradictory to argue that addiction is a primary health care problem while we continue to treat its symptoms as bad behavior warranting punishment.

Expelling a client from addiction treatment for AOD use–a process that often involves thrusting the client back into drug-saturated social environments without provision for alternate care–makes as little sense as suspending adolescents from high school as a punishment for truancy.

The strategy should not be to destroy the last connecting tissue between the individual and pro-recovery social networks, but to further disengage the person from the culture of addiction and to work through the physiological, emotional, behavioral and characterological obstacles to recovery initiation, engagement, and maintenance.

You can read the rest of this excellent article HERE

This was not the first time my son was kicked out of a rehab or sober living home for relapse, and sometimes just for minor infractions, missing meetings, etc.  I understand the need for consequences for “bad behavior,” and the need to protect others in the program. But there’s got to be a better way to work through these set-backs than throwing them out on the street.

No wonder jails and prisons have become revolving doors for addicts.

I realize now that my sense of hopelessness for my son rests mostly on the fact that there is no real help out there for him, for the chronic addict. There is no structured, systematic support and treatment program for addicts, period.

And most of what is available–the sketchy, seriously flawed programs–are either too expensive, or have long, waiting lists for beds, or require patients to subscribe to a particular religion.

I feel like we live in the dark ages when it comes to treating drug addition. Everyone recognizes that addiction is a major health epidemic, and a national tragedy. But nothing is being done to help those who need it most–the chronic addict.

What’s wrong with us?

Homeless, or Houseless?

800px-OIC_jindalee_sand_dunes_2 Creative Commons

Once when I was part of an effort to end homelessness in our community, one of the participants who had himself been homeless objected to the term. “We’re houseless, not homeless,” he insisted. Unfortunately his preferred term never caught on. I understood what he meant though. It was more than the fact that many people without housing live in cars or campers, or take up residence in empty buildings, or crude shacks built in remote areas.

It was the realization that all of us share a home on Mother Earth that may or may not include four walls and a roof. I remembered how Jesus once lamented that birds have nests, and squirrels have burrows, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. Yet we never think of Jesus as having been homeless. Nor do we think of our nomadic ancestors as having been homeless. There was always a sense that people were at “home” in their own bodies, in their natural environment, and in the communities of those they identified with.

This realization struck me on a deeper level years later when my own son suffered from long bouts of “houselessness,” living on the streets, or in cars, or in this case in the sand dunes, when he could not find nor afford a drug treatment program that could take him in– or he was too strung out to seek to recovery.  After living that way all summer and most of the fall, he contacted me. He wanted to get clean, and needed a place where it would be safer and warmer to wait for a bed to open up.

Sand_dunes_-_Oceano_CA wikipediaWe met in a parking lot and he had me drive him to the beach so he could hike back into the sand dunes to collect his gear.

I offered to go with him and help carry it back, but he said no. It was too far, and the most direct route would have us climbing up and sliding down huge dunes. So I took a walk along the beach while awaiting his return.

The weather had been stormy for the last few days and the morning sky was a molten sheen of silver as the sun tried to burst through. The tide was out and tiny rivulets of water had formed between the ripples of wet sand, reflecting the bright sky. Dozens of sand dollars in all sizes had been washed up on the beach, most of them perfectly whole, and I collected my share. Hundreds of tiny sea birds hunted among the puddles and shallow waves. Among them gulls flew in and out, and one long-legged white heron tip-toed among its cousins.

IMG_3297It was breathtakingly beautiful and peaceful. I imagined him up there, all alone among the sand dunes at night, peeking up at the bright expanse of stars, hearing the hum of the breaking waves, breathing in its salty breath.

Camping out it might have been called–once upon a time in a land far away.

But when he returned with his gear I found out it wasn’t that way at all. The dunes where he slept were full of fellow travelers. As we were driving away he had me pull over so he could hail down a man on a bicycle packed tight with tent poles and back packs and what looked to be a small camp stove.

“Tell Josh I left the tent and blankets he loaned me out there for him.”

Kelli pic 2Josh was a young man living in the dunes with his girlfriend. They had grown up “houseless” and now were living a ”houseless” life together.

Many people like them and the bike rider lived back there, and the place where he had slept would not remain empty long. The secure burrow deep beneath a sage bush had been dug by another, inhabited and abandoned time and time again.

But that’s not the half of it, he told me. Many have lived out there so long and had become so adept at doing so, they had tapped into the electric grid and had TV, computers, and electric lights.

This was true back in the canyons far from the beach as well. There a whole community of “homeless” residents lived, having dug caves and elaborate tunnels into the hillsides, and built tree houses for lookouts to guard against intruders. Hundreds lived back there, he said, in relative luxury, since they too had found ways to plug into the electric grid. The homeless 1%, I suppose.

This is not to make light of, nor to romanticize the plight of people who lack mainstream housing. There is no question that for some this is a lifestyle choice.

DCF 1.0But for the vast majority who live on the streets or in the dunes and canyons, they do so because they have no other options. They are there because poor health and medical bills left them bankrupt and houseless. They are there because a lost job, a string of bad luck, addiction, mental illness, and an array of other similar calamities left them no choice but to try to find a way to exist without a house to live in.

Sadly, we’ve make outcasts and outlaws of the poor and sick and struggling. We’ve banished them to live outside the norms of society and forced them to create counter communities at the fringes of society.

We call them homeless, when in truth we all share one home. We’ve simply failed to provide for our own. We’ve failed to create the kind of safeguards and services that would keep all of us safely housed.