Over 21 million Americans struggle with addiction, but only ten percent of them seek help. Despite drug and alcohol addiction costing the U.S. economy over $600 billion each year, there are many barriers to treatment including transportation issues, work and family responsibilities, lack of insurance, and more. The most significant, however, is the limited number of beds which often results in long waiting periods before treatment becomes available. Seeking help takes an incredible amount of courage, and a lot of factors come together the moment an individual is finally ready. If turned away, that moment all too often simply passes. The need for immediate access to addiction treatment is growing as we see a rise in overdose deaths across the country.
Two years ago, Spectrum established the Collaborative and Transitional Treatment program which offers rapid access to medications for opioid use disorders with funding from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS). Michael DePalo is just one of the many clients who has utilized our “hub and spoke” model of care, when he sought treatment at our hub in Worcester, Mass. After clients like Michael are stabilized, we transition them to one of our outpatient centers closer to home to continue treatment.
Michael’s story began over 20 years ago. At 16 years old, Michael began misusing a variety of substances and, what started as something fun, quickly turned into something that Michael had to consistently do in order to have fun and feel happy. “I hated who I was when I wasn’t high and I used substances to deal with my depression and anxiety from it,” said Michael. Michael already knew that he didn’t want to continue living his life exhausted, feeling down and constantly chasing the next high. Even at that young age, he realized he needed help. Over the years, Michael tried to quit on his own several times, but did not enroll in a treatment program until he was introduced to Spectrum at age 37.
How does someone with a substance use disorder act on the realization that enough is enough?
An Opportunity to Seek Help
Sometimes all it takes is for a friend to speak up. “I had no idea how I was going to quit, but I was tired of living my life exhausted, lying and hiding who I really was to my wife and everyone else,” said Michael. If it wasn’t for his friend, Michael may not have known about Spectrum Health Systems. “My friend who had experiences with Spectrum offered to drive me. When you want help, you want it now and if that short window of time passes, you may not want it later. To have instant access and receive the help I needed with open arms was so important.”
When Michael first entered our rapid access treatment program in Worcester, he was depressed and anxious. Once he got to know the staff at Spectrum however, he immediately felt at ease and cared for. “The staff at Spectrum took good care of me. Dr. Baxter was the nicest guy I have ever met, and he put up with me as I was in a really dark place. I was able to walk into Spectrum and be surrounded by people who genuinely cared about me and would be with me through my whole recovery journey. Most of all, they treated me like I was a human being, that I mattered, and that made me feel like my life was something worth saving.”
It’s important when seeking treatment for addiction to trust the process. “It was extremely hard to push myself to do things that I didn’t want to do, didn’t understand and thought were not worth doing at the time. You have to swallow your pride and stop thinking you can do it yourself. I had to accept that I did not know what was best for me and to give into the program. I began to realize why the staff and medical professionals did what they did for me. Today, I could not be happier that I stuck with it,” said Michael.
During the pandemic, we moved a lot of our services to telehealth. While this was vital in providing clients with access to treatment and services while mitigating the spread of COVID-19, some clients missed the in-person connection when you walk into our centers. “I am looking forward to going back to in-person treatment when I can. I didn’t really have anyone when I was at home, but when I was at Spectrum, I would run into so many people, hear their stories and I’d feel like I wasn’t alone anymore.”
“I chased a high for 20 years and I only really began to feel that high once I got sober. Once I finally got sober, I fell back in love with my passions again and what I liked to do,” shared Michael. He decided to continue his education and began looking for jobs where he could help people like himself through their recovery journey. He began as a member of the direct care staff and then went on to become a case manager at a residential recovery program. Michael decided to work in this field because he knows how lonely it can be for someone going through addiction and recovery and wanted to be there for others who are struggling.
“Everyone’s journey is different, but it all starts the same. You just need to ask for help and be willing to accept it on the program’s terms, follow through, trust the process and don’t give up, no matter how hard it gets – there is always a light at the end of the tunnel even if you cannot see it yet,” shared Michael.
Michael will be two years sober in just a few weeks and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in substance use disorder counseling shortly thereafter. “I love my life now and could not be happier that I no longer need drugs to make things better. “It is impossible to express how amazing it feels to finally be able to say that in full confidence. I now get to wake up every day, and take pride in being a good husband, brother, friend, son, and coworker. My smiles and laughter are real again, and I have things I enjoy doing. I believe everyone deserves to feel this way,” said Michael.
When asked if he had any last words to give us, he left us with this: “There is help out there if you want it. No matter how low or unfixable you think you may be, I can assure you that you can absolutely turn your life around. I know what it is like to feel alone in the fight, and no one should ever feel they are alone. There is help out there.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with an alcohol or other drug addiction, call Spectrum Health Systems today at 1-877-MyRehab. If you are a caregiver, friend or family member of someone struggling with addiction, join our free virtual family support meeting series every Tuesday evening.