Heroin epidemic means longer wait for addicts seeking help

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Imagine a loved one who is hooked on heroin but finally ready for rehab, only to be told they have to wait.

“They tell me to come back in two weeks,” said Luis Quintero, who was a heroin addict. He left New York to try and get help in Chesterfield County, only to be told, “you’ll have to come back later.”

Determined to get clean, Quintero detoxed on his own.

f4eced3346164ed0a067c5790f595c59“The withdrawals, the no sleeping, the anxiety, the kicking … It took me 31 days,” Quintero explained.

He eventually got into a treatment program and got clean. But 8News has learned that many others, however, end up falling off the wagon waiting for help.

“The waiting period just to get in the front door, which is what we call the assessment period, has been ranging between two to three months,” Dr. Jim May with the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority said.

May says after that initial assessment, it can take another month or two to get into a residential treatment program or methadone clinic.

“It frustrates everybody who works here that there is this much of a backlog,” May said. “I don’t think anyone could have ever predicted there were be this many people addicted to heroin and opioids at this day and age in America.”

Part of the problem is that as heroin addiction has soared, state funding for substance abuse has remained stable.

“I think that in a lot of ways we are being asked to do more than we are funded to do,”May suggested.

Even if there was more money for treatment, Virginia law makes is difficult to open up additional methadone clinics in an urban environment. State code says they can’t be located within a half-mile of a public or private daycare or school.

Knowing the wait for help could be a matter or life or death, recovering addict Shannon Rivera leads a pre-treatment class for those on the wait list at Richmond Behavioral Health Authority.


“Even a week, even a day, I don’t think I make it,” Rivera said.

.Rivera says the pre-treatment sessions are a way she and others at RBHA can keep those looking for help engaged.

“I feel like that is my job to let them know there is hope at the end of the tunnel,” Rivera said.

Luis Quintero is living proof of that.

“I got honest with myself, I had to humble myself and learned to how to ask for help,” Quintero said.

There is an exception to the wait list:  pregnant women do get priority. Since they are carrying a child, they try to get them into care within 48 hours.

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