The nation-wide opioid epidemic is getting worse. According to Florida's Department of Law Enforcement, there were nearly 6,000 opioid-related deaths in our state in 2016--a 35 percent increase from 2015. While there is no single solution, Naples' David Lawrence Center is using a grant to use a different approach to combat the problem.
Opioids are drugs that are made up of other drugs – a cocktail of illegal and prescription drugs. They can contain heroin and pain relievers and Oxycodone.
And they’re very addictive.
“The beginning is a choice," Heather admitted. She asks that her last name not be used for this story. "Like I know I chose to do that, but I didn't realize like that it would turn into what it did. I had no idea.”
Heather is from Naples and one of the first participants in the David Lawrence Center's M.O.R.E. program - that stands for Maintenance of Opioid Recovery Everyday. It's an out-patient program that gives participants medication to suppress their drug cravings and the program provides individual and group therapy.
Heather said she comes from a family of addicts.
“It was something that everybody did," she said. "And you know when I got to my teens I wanted to experiment. And unfortunately I was one of those that once I did it I couldn't stop. I fell in love with it.”
Dominic, who also asks that his last name not be used for this story and who is also from Naples, started the M.O.R.E. program around the same time as Heather did. He said he came from a good home.
"It was more that my family was always gone. They were always working.." Dominic said. "So I was left to my own devices and a lot of the friends that I was hanging out with, they were recreationally using drugs and I thought I could too and it became my life."
Heather and Dominic said that unlike the David Lawrence Center's new M.O.R.E program, other opioid programs usually just give your medicine like methadone that try to suppress the urge to use opioids or they just do therapy with an abstinence approach.
And, they said that those programs usually cost money and aren't effective.
Heather said she used to get nightmares about opioids in those programs.
“Like using dreams," she said. "Old memories or past experiences. Your addiction comes back up and it sneaks up on you.”
Heather said that she's started this new program, she doesn't have those dreams anymore.
Maggie Baldwin, with the David Lawrence Center, said the new method took about a month to get started because of the balancing act of providing medication and therapy.
“You're dealing with medications and a medication protocol for the detox unit.And coming up with policy procedure this is was such a new program. And it was kind of a paradigm shift for us.
The M.O.R.E. program was started after the David Lawrence Center got a $320,000 grant from Florida’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Baldwin said that grant money makes the program free for participants who may not have had success with other programs.
"It means that there's now another option," she said. "I think a really good option for our folks who have opioid use disorder, who struggled for years who been in and out of treatment, who just have not been able to maintain abstinence”
People in the M.O.R.E. program take as long as they need until they get to where they need to be—with reduced feelings of withdrawal and improving daily functions without opioids.
There are seven people in the program. Two have disengaged since it started in November.
Dominic said he likes the program because it holds him accountable.
“Every week we come up here for group therapy and one on one therapy doctor visit, so you constantly have stuff that you need to do at the schedule you got to keep," he said. "And you grow fond of these people and they almost become like a second family to you and you also don't want to disappoint them.”
No one has completed the Maintenance of Opioid Recover Everyday Program. Since it’s only a few months old, it’s too soon to tell what the outcome will be.