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San Diego facilities fight opioid addiction with other drugs

SAN DIEGO - The prescription drug abuse problem in this country has reached such epidemic portions, treatment centers around the nation, including in San Diego, now have entire facilities or programs geared specifically toward opioids.

OxyContin started to flood the market in 2000, since then 3,492 San Diegans have died of opioids, according to the most recent report from the San Diego County Medical Examiner.

When it comes to treatment of pain pills, it’s a little different than another addiction. Often times, strong opioid medication, besides methadone, is needed to curb the craving.

Brian Couey is the director of outpatient services at the new Betty Ford treatment facility in Carmel Valley. He said they are using the Core 12 program, a comprehensive opioid response with 12 steps.

“It’s really an integration of more traditional means of treatment with medication assistance medically services, kind of a holistic approach," said Couey.

In most cases, short term use is successful to cut the craving, but in some instances, drugs, like Suboxone have led to more abuse.

“Quite frankly, people are dying and so we need to use every tool at our disposal. We’re not doing replacement therapy, its assistance,” said Couey.

The McAlister Institute in El Cajon is one of the largest substance abuse treatment centers in San Diego. It’s one of just three recovery facilities in the county to take in moms and their children.

McAlister Institute uses medically assisted treatment (MAT), but has a slightly different approach.

“One of things we ask people with long term sobriety is what was important to them. I thought it would be cars, having money, clothes, a roof over their head, owning a house,” said founder Jeanne McAlister. “It was none of those things, but rather most people said it was about being part of a family again.”

It wasn’t that long ago, Mark Gagarin’s life was spiraling out of control. It started when he broke his ankle playing baseball as a high school freshman at Poway High School.

“The main purpose at that time in my life was to get OxyContin, use it and the means to get more of it,” Gagarin said.

His OxyContin use eventually turned to heroin. Friends overdosed, one died in front him and he still  couldn’t kick the habit.

“I found OxyContin one of the most powerful drugs I’ve ever done. I was willing to literally do almost anything to continue using,” Gagarin said.

Gagarin tried several rehab programs and eventually was ready to get clean. He’s now married, has a steady job and helps run a recovery center in the North County.

When asked about what drugs stole from him during his youth, Mark said, “Everything. It took all the ambitions and dreams I had for my life. I was a slave to it. But I look back and I’m so grateful that I asked for help.”