CLEVELAND — More than 95,000 people lost their lives from overdoses in the U.S. in the past 12 months during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a 31% increase from the previous year.
In this “Finding a Fix” report, we examine Medication Assisted Treatment, or MAT, which has been a lifesaver for many.
Just ask Megan Thomas.
“So, my son’s father was prescribed them. He started using them,” said Thomas, 31, from Lakewood. She then started taking the pills, too.
“We were each probably doing 30 Percocets a day,” she said.
“How did it make you feel?” we asked.
“Like I could do anything,” she replied.
From pills to heroin
When doctors clamped down on prescriptions across the country and the pill supply dried up, Thomas started snorting heroin, a drug she called frightening.
“It’s scary, like where you have to go to get it and who you’re getting it from,” said Thomas.
Despite the danger, she even turned to dancing for money to afford her habit.
“That brought in a lot of money. None of that money went to bills or anything -- all to drugs,” said Thomas.
And all of this had an effect on her children.
“My older son went through a lot, and I did that to him,” Thomas said while wiping away tears.
The tipping point in her heroin use was 10 years ago. Her brother was not in the right state of mind.
“He was on drugs, like bath salts really bad, and he went crazy,” said Thomas.
He grabbed a gun and shot himself in front of her.
“That’s the first time I shot up heroin because I didn’t want to like picture any of that,” said Thomas.
MAT and Circle Health
Dave Brager is an associate director of Medication Assisted Treatment services at Circle Health in Cleveland.
“(Addiction) is a chronic relapsing brain disease, and if it’s not treated, they will die,” said Brager. “Any good treatment program in my description is someone that has treatment in conjunction with medication-assisted treatment.”
Circle Health uses opioid blockers like Vivitrol and Subutex (for pregnant women). The percentage of outpatient facilities in the U.S. offering Methadone and other opioid treatments went from 9% in 2010 to 36% in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Medication-assisted treatment is a game-changer,” said Eric Morse, the CEO of Circle Health and The Centers in Cleveland.
“The old days of having to go through really severe DTs and getting really sick…we can shorten that,” said Morse. “We can even prevent it with some of those drugs.”
'The best I’ve ever done'
Thomas was in and out of treatments, arrested several times, and then she was court ordered to go through MAT. She was skeptical at first about going on a drug called Suboxone.
“But I think if you really want to be sober, it’s a really amazing thing to do. Because this is the best I’ve ever done,” said Thomas.
“It’s not that you just get medications, but you’re also going to get some counseling, you’re going to learn some new coping skills,” said Morse. “Those changes in your life are bigger than just the change with the drugs.”
Thomas uses Circle Health services. Brager is one of the staff who helps her.
“What keeps me going every day are individuals that are raising their children and they got a job full time that are living their life,” said Brager.
“I get up and go to work. I take (my son) to daycare. I cook, clean…(without the illegal drugs),” said Thomas.
Not just drugs replacing other drugs
Some opponents of MAT have said the program is just using drugs to replace other drugs. However, for Thomas, it’s transformed her life.
“If it weren’t for that…I either wouldn’t be here, or I’d be in prison,” Thomas said.
“We really need solutions that are going to work,” said Morse.
“I’ve gone to enough funerals of individuals that I don’t want that to happen anymore,” Brager said.
There are several locations: 12201 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH 44106; 4400 Euclid Ave., Cleveland; 5955 Ridge Road, Parma; 3929 Rocky River Dr., Cleveland; 5209 Detroit Ave., Cleveland.
The phone number is: 216-325-WELL (9355)