Though it may be easy to categorize or write off a drug addict, it’s harder to ignore a problem that affects every taxpayer and every citizen in Kansas and across the country.
The problem is what a lack of drug treatment availability does to those who need help, those who want help and those who want a better community to call home.
FactFinder 12 Investigator Devon Fasbinder dives deep into the world of drug addicts and how their addictions can destroy families, crowd jails and increase crime. She looks at how Kansas isn’t providing the solutions so many say are necessary to stop this growing drug problem.
HOW IT STARTS
One wouldn’t consider Maize, Kansas to be a town plagued with crime and drugs. Located in the suburbs of Wichita in Sedgwick County, Maize is home to several thousand people. The Evans family lives among them.
Sharyl Evans is a working mother of two and said from early on, she thought she and her now ex-husband Troy, were raising good kids.
“She was a very smart kid, everybody couldn’t believe how easily she figured things out and she just excelled in school always. She loved to read. She could go through a stack of books in no time. She was just a very, brilliant kid,” Sharyl Evans said about her daughter who is now in her 20’s.
Her daughter’s father, Troy Evans, said, “We were real close growing up.”
Though it wasn’t always perfection in the Evans home, Sharyl and Troy’s son Austin said he and his sister got along for the most part growing up.
“We used to play a lot of games on the N-64 especially. Legends of Zelda. I always remember she needed my help to fight bosses. But she was a good girl,” Austin said.
Sharyl and Troy didn’t want to name their daughter for this story as to not put a label on her that would stick with her in the future. But they were open to talk about what happened and how their little girl changed.
Neither parent had a clear idea of what flipped a switch in their daughter’s life. Maybe it was a new boyfriend who they considered to be in with the “wrong crowd” or maybe it was just a phase or part of growing up. Regardless of the reason, the realization she was changing was hard to ignore.
“When I started noticing the change is when I started noticing my consoles gone,” Austin said.
It started with theft and didn’t stop. Attitude changes, personality changes, unpaid bills, confusing stories, police involvement and all around drama were just a few of the signs Sharyl said she saw. The girl Austin, Sharyl and Troy once knew, for whatever reason, had turned to drugs.
“It’s just like a knife to the chest. You can’t believe it, you can’t,” Sharyl said. “And then the fear just hit me. Just the terror of when am I going to get that call from the police or the hospital that something has happened? It’s very helpless and very hopeless.”
For a while, Sharyl said she tried to fix it. After realizing her daughter was homeless and using drugs, she said she wanted to do something to help so she invited her daughter and her daughter’s boyfriend to come live with her. She said she thought providing a safe environment would help.
“One day I come home and she used to steal like one console at a time, but when I came home this day, she stole all my consoles, all my games, everything was gone,” Austin said. “So I just had enough and the next time I saw her I just called the police, called 911.”
Austin called the police on his sister.
LIVING WITH AN ADDICT
Scott Clark, 31, was a hopeless romantic. That’s how his mother, Marietta Clark, would describe him. She said he worked hard, was giving and loved his family.
“Everybody loves him,” Marietta said.
Scott moved around with her several times because of her career. Sometimes it was different towns and other times it was different states. She said he always seemed to have an easy time getting involved with new friends and joining sports teams to feel comfortable in a new place.
But moving to Wichita when he was in high school may have been the time that changed.
“He got in with that wrong crowd and I think by 17, he was pretty well hooked,” she said.
At first, Marietta said she didn’t know what was going on with her son until she got a call from him one day while she was at work. The call, she said, was one of the scariest ones she’s ever had.
”He said I think my heart is going to blow up. I think something’s going on really bad and he was freaking out. Now I understand he was very high and coming down.”
She rushed home and found responders wheeling him out of their home on a stretcher. She said at that point, he admitted he was on methamphetamine and apologized to her.
“I was so scared,” she said. But that moment didn’t change her son’s behavior.
Though Scott leaned heavily on theft so he could pawn items and get money to buy more methamphetamine, what troubled Marietta the most was how his entire personality and relationship with her changed. She said it progressively got worse.
“The thing I was sure of is we did not get along,” Marietta said, which was unusual for their relationship as it had always been a solid one. “But when he’s using meth it’s the total opposite. We can’t get along, we fight, we argue, he gets physical, there’s shoving going on between us both. Just really bad atmosphere.”
It didn’t stop there. Marietta said her son would threaten her. She said the drugs put him in such a psychosis that he thought his own mother was an imposter in his home and holding his daughter captive. Marietta said he would text her saying he was going to come after her and commit suicide in their home.
At that point, Marietta was caring for Scott’s daughter.
“I sat up all night with a knife in my hand, front door locked in case he came in,” she said. “I doubt I could have ever used it but I had it all planned, I’d run out the back door. I had it all planned out. And then I went down to get a PFA and I changed my locks on the door.”
It was a world Marietta never thought she’d find herself in.
“I had told him a lot of times, you’re breaking my heart, you’re going to die on the streets,” she said.
It reached the point where Marietta decided she better sit down and write something. It was something she never thought she’d have to write and something she never wanted to even think about. She sat down and wrote his obituary.
“Scott T. Clark died suddenly on April 2, 2016 at Via Christi, St. Joseph following a long struggle with drug addiction. He was 30 years old,” the obituary reads. His mother details his life growing up and what he was interested in before writing, “He graduated from Maize HS in 2004. It was immediately after that, that his life became unmanageable because of his new found addiction and best friend – methamphetamines.”
Though Clark didn’t die, he wasn’t the same son Marietta knew even after she wrote his obituary and told him about it. He was in and out of jail, living on the streets and leaving his daughter in his mother’s care.
It left Marietta with years of struggle and questions.
“Just stop doing it. And that was what I used to think. Just stop doing it. Why do you continue to do it? Why do you do it? You have a daughter. Why do you do this?” she would ask.
Scott Clark is friends with Michael Walker, the son of Regina Bratt. Bratt said Walker dealt with drug addiction for years spending time in and out of prison for crimes including burglary, theft, criminal damage to property, criminal possession of a firearm to name a few.
“That runs through every mom and dad’s mind, my child is going to die if I don’t get them help.”
But Bratt said she soon learned it’s not just the addicts who need help – it’s the families of addicts too. She decided to co-chair a Nar-Anon group in Wichita with Marietta Clark. The group helps families realize what they can and cannot do for the addicts, how not to blame themselves and where to focus their stress, anger and want for change.
“We learn in this group that you can’t fix the addict. You can’t cure the addict and you can’t control the addict,” Bratt said as she sat in a church room filled with a circle of chairs. “We work on sharing. Sharing is a big part because getting the hurt and the anger and everything that goes along with it out helps you to heal.”
Bratt said sharing and helping other families dealing with the same thing is one of the biggest reasons she was able to let go of the feeling of responsibility regarding her son and work to help him as well as her other children succeed.
She said she hopes she can help others too.
“That’s basically what our society does is oh, that’s a person on drugs, they’re worthless. No, that’s somebody’s brother, that’s somebody’s brother, son, daughter. It’s not them you know, the drug takes over and that’s not your child,” she said.
But it’s not just emotional support the families need. Often times, Bratt said they need help getting their children help.
AN UNLIKELY INTERVENTION
Scott Clark, Michael Walker and Sharyl and Troy Evans’ daughter have all been through the criminal justice system for the crimes they committed to feed their drug addictions. But one detective decided he wanted to do something different. It started with Austin Evans.
“Back in mid-July, had an opportunity for a young man to come up to our station to report that his sister had been taking property from him and pawning it at various pawn shops,” Maize Police Detective Jeff Piper said.
Both Austin’s sister and her boyfriend admitted to taking heroin, according to Piper. Both were young and had their whole lives ahead of them, which was part of the reason why Piper decided to take action.
“I just felt compelled, there was something about these two kids,” Piper said. “The 21-year old female had been an honor student in high school, she had a great future ahead of her. The 24-year-old is an Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts and being a former scout master and a boy scout myself I just felt a strong connection to these kids.”
He decided to organize an intervention. With the help of parents of the two addicts, he arranged for them both to be brought into the station with family, police officers and former addicts ready to help.
“Detective Piper really I mean, he went above and beyond I think to care about people that were making bad choices,” Sharyl Evans said about Piper’s plan. “He said rather than seeing them get into the system and getting them into worse trouble than they had gotten, he wanted to make a difference in their life.”
The two decided they both wanted help and agreed to go to rehab centers to get their addiction problems under control. Piper said it was a moment he won’t forget.
“It was very emotional. It was an experience that I often tell people about. People have different reasons to pursue certain career paths. This is why I became a police officer, not to just lock up bad guys but to actually touch people’s lives and make a difference where I can,” Piper said.
But at the very last moment, both families realized they had a problem. Both Evans’ daughter and her boyfriend were taking methadone to try to stop their heroin addiction. That meant they couldn’t go to a rehab center that followed the 12-step program and they were stuck.
When a person is abusing opioids and becomes dependent on them, there are several ways they can get help. One is going to a methadone clinic to work with providers to get off the opioid. But it’s an option that’s drawn some controversy.
Stephen Kamau is the CEO and Clinic Director of the Matrix Clinic in Wichita and said he respects the 12-step program for getting off of drugs, but said his program of using methadone works too.
“Methadone has been the most effective treatment that I have found. That’s why I’ve stayed in it for 19 years as opposed to traditional 12 step. There is science behind the way we treat opioid addiction,” he said.
Methadone, he said, is an opioid receptor blocker and mimics endorphins. He said by switching from an opioid like heroin to methadone, a person won’t experience many of the withdrawal symptoms that come from stopping heroin altogether.
Kamau said doses for patients can range from 5mg to more than 130mg in rare cases. Federal guidelines say methadone clinics cannot prescribe more than 40mg of methadone on the first day of treatment but Kamau said often times, his clinic prescribes less based on a person’s history, weight, addiction and so forth. The idea of “too much” or “too little” when it comes to doses, he said, is all relative to the patient receiving treatment.
The state, federal government and Drug Enforcement Agency all regulate methadone distribution. Kamau’s clinic requires a patient to come in every morning and take the prescribed dosage of methadone to ensure they aren’t abusing it. The clinic also incorporates counseling and other support groups to help the patient. Yet Kamau said it’s still heavily criticized.
“Bias. It’s just bias. And lack of adequate training,” he said. “I think people just need to understand that opioid addiction is a chronic illness, it’s not acute. And as a chronic illness we need to start dealing with it as we would chronic illnesses.”
The problem with methadone is what happens when it comes into contact with the 12-step process as the Evans family quickly found out. FactFinder 12 found rehab clinics refuse patients who take what a nurse considers as too much methadone for treatment.
The Evans family had planned for their daughter to go to Valley Hope to get treatment following the intervention. But when the center learned she was on methadone, things got more complicated and they refused her and her boyfriend. Detective Piper said the girl was on 50mg of methadone and her boyfriend was on 60mg.
Assistant Program Director of Valley Hope in Moundridge Jana Hinz said that number is high for what her center likes to see walk in.
“It’s not a hard and fast rule but we listen for about 30mg daily dose. If they’re at about 30, we can pretty much move into the next steps. If they’re above 30 we need to work with them tapered down closer to that number before they’re appropriate to admit here,” Hinz said.
Hinz said medication is often necessary in the recovery process and her center uses medication to assist in the process. But that level of methadone is too much.
The center’s Director of Nursing Tammy Smith said it has to do with the withdrawals and how the center operates. If a person is coming off of methadone, she says they will experience withdrawals.
“Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramping,” she listed. “The biggest risk with all of that is dehydration. And a lot of times because they are so uncomfortable and there’s so much pain, there’s the natural anger that comes with that.”
Smith said she can’t start the patients on suboxone, the medication Valley Hope uses until a patient reaches a certain level on the withdrawal spectrum. For methadone, she said the time it takes to hit that correct spot is much longer than other opioids, like heroin.
“Heroin, the half-life is very short. It’s very fast acting, it starts quick and it ends quick. With methadone it’s very, very long acting. The half-life I believe it’s all depending on the person too, it can be anywhere from eight to 56 hours before half of the medication is out of their system,” she said.
Valley Hope can only do so much, Smith said. While she can treat the symptoms, when it takes that long for a patient to feel better, it’s common they have lost any motivation to remain in the program. The big issue with that is Valley Hope does not lock people in. If they want to leave, Smith said she will encourage them to stay and even follow them outside trying to reason with them. But the facility does not lock anyone inside.
If a person suffers from withdrawals for days and decides to leave, Smith said the consequences are often deadly.
“Your biggest risk with opiates is overdose,” she said. “The biggest problem is in having to wait such a long time before we can give them any kind of real relief is that they’re going to go out there and they’re going to use and because they haven’t used in the last couple days, they’re going to use way more than what they can and then they’re going to overdose and die.”
It is a system Smith said works for them but unfortunately does not work for every drug addict who needs help.
Valley Hope said another issue it faces is insurance companies don’t want to pay for the full treatment program even if it means helping the addict.
It’s something the Evans family faced once they were finally able to get their daughter into treatment.
“You pay for insurance and you have great insurance and then all of a sudden they’re saying no,” Troy Evans said.
“The feedback that we get is that the patient doesn’t meet medical necessity to stay at this level of care,” Hinz said. “We’re having with many insurance companies now, they’ll authorize, 3, 4, 5 days and then the patient gets a denial and it’s hard for them to decide if they can afford to stay in treatment.”
HOW TO FIX THIS
In speaking with everyone throughout this story, FactFinder 12 learned the problem in Kansas isn’t the rehab centers and clinics who are working to help drug addicts, it’s the fact that there are not enough of them. There also aren’t enough places necessary for getting the process of drug rehabilitation moving like detox clinics. The result is a selective rehab society that many just can’t get into.
“Part of the starting point is us doing this conversation right here, getting the word out because I think a lot of people are just not educated to this. It’s easy to say oh they’re just a drug addict, oh they need to fix their own problems, it’s a family problem, just lock them up in jail. That’s not the answer,” Detective Piper said. “We have too many mentally ill and drug addicts that are living on our streets and in our jails or our prisons because we don’t have those type of treatment facilities.”
Regina Bratt said part of her Nar-Anon group helps families deal with the red tape in getting someone intro treatment in Kansas.
“Just the time it takes to get them into the treatment facility,” Bratt said is a problem. “We struggle with all the different lapse of time for each process to go through before they get into treatment and it would be amazing if we could you know adapt our regulations to where if there was somebody who really needs help that they could get in right away.”
Bratt said she’s had issues with treatment centers needing assessments over the phone and only with the addict. Then finding a bed, she said, has proven to be extremely difficult in Kansas. She said insurance creates an entirely different issue and can put people on long waitlists who don’t have the time to wait.
She’s looking to other states for help.
“I know in Florida they do a 15 minute assessment on the phone and then they book their flight. Here, it’s just not that way. Even if it was within a couple hours to where we could get somebody into treatment that would be awesome,” she said.
Florida is where the boyfriend of Evans’ daughter ended up because no place in Kansas would take him.
Piper said he’s hoping just talking about the lack of detox centers, the issue with methadone and 12-step program centers collaborating, how hard it is to get a person help, the stigma around drug addicts and how their crimes are affecting Kansas’ jails and prisons, it’ll help.
“When the addict finally comes to that realization that they need help and they want that help, the system, at least here in the state of Kansas that I can tell, is not designed to provide those people with that immediate help they need,” Piper said.