Methadone Clinic and Rehab Center Fail Addict

Getting sober takes more than a strong will

I first met “Diane” about eight months ago, when she’d come out of rehab. She’d been addicted to drugs since her teen years, and had no memory of a life without opiates. When my friend Janine introduced us, Diane immediately gave me a warm hug. She joked about her new post-rehab weight gain, though she was slim. Her skin was clear and bright, and her hair was a shiny protective scrim in front of her deep blue eyes.

[SIGNUP]She was beautiful and laughed easily. We chatted about our respective rehab experiences, and about the weird foxhole friendships you make there, all of them charged by desperation. Her only friend now was an old boyfriend—an addict himself—who used to pimp her for drugs. In the next few weeks, she tried to avoid him but he’d circle the block and call dozens of times in a row. He warned her she could never get away.

Diane was doing court-ordered community service every day. She attended required AA or NA meetings every night. When she wasn’t doing those things, she was trying to adjust to the pain that comes when you meet yourself for the first time. Haunted by memories, she had nightmares and flashbacks and walked in her sleep.

Still, she was sober. Some days she knew it was better that way. But most days she couldn’t see it.

When money ran low Diane felt desperate. On the old boyfriend’s advice, she made an appointment with the elderly doctor who’d been prescribing her opiates for years. She once implied she gave the doc sexual favors for the prescriptions. I don’t know if that’s true but the doctor did give her dozens of scrips in just a couple months. She filled them and sold the pills. She didn’t take the drugs herself. Until, one day, she did.

I was initially unkind about her relapse, as former addicts often are. “She shouldn’t have stayed in touch with the boyfriend,” I said to Janine. “She shouldn’t have cared about having money.” I was condescending and judgmental. It was my way of inoculating myself.

Thankfully, Janine believed in Diane—in her inherent sweetness, in her wonder at new things, in the fierce courage that had gotten her through this far. And when someone believes in you like that, you start to believe in yourself. Diane got stronger. She elected a methadone maintenance program, agreeing she’d need the monitoring and support. She cut all ties to the old boyfriend. She found an apartment and called her parole officer to clear up legal matters. She was hopeful this time, excited.

When she left rehab the second time, Diane went to a methadone maintenance clinic to enroll. She was told she couldn’t have the medication because there was a paperwork mix-up. The clinic said the rehab center didn’t send it to the right fax number. The rehab center said they did send it. They went back and forth. In Pennsylvania, it is illegal to deny someone in Diane’s situation their methadone. Yet they had to wait for the paperwork.

Diane sat as they jockeyed, going into opiate withdrawal. For those who haven’t been there, it’s pure Trainspotting hell. You feel worms crawling inside your skin. You’re agitated and afraid. Your muscles ache and twitch. You are feverish and nauseated. You tremble with cold then get sweaty and hot. You get fierce stomach cramps. You shake. You vomit. It’s the worst flu you’ve ever had, plus a biochemical inability to sit still.

I probably would have lasted in that waiting room for about a half-hour.

Diane stayed and waited for the paperwork for eight hours. She told Janine she wouldn’t leave. She wanted to make it work this time.

But when eight hours turned to nine, and it was dark outside and there was still no paperwork, she left the clinic at last.

And she never went back.