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The High Cost of Rehab: Supporting Families Through the Heroin Crisis

While some families can rely on insurance coverage for rehab, others will have their claims denied outright.

As heroin and opiate addictions continue to spread among middle class communities, families who never thought they’d face this problem are finding out one simple truth: treating someone for an addiction can be really, really costly. 

Some are turning to the time-honored method of the community fundraiser.

Melissa Hume is staging a benefit at her hair salon Utopia in Waterford. For one day, she’s offering $25.00 haircuts, with all of the proceeds going to help families pay for inpatient rehab for drug addiction, an event she’s calling Hair for Healing.

"Actually, I hadn’t thought about a goal," she said, as the event began. "I just put it out there to be busy all day. We started at noon, and we’ve had every chair full so far."

Hume lost her cousin, Christopher Johns, to a heroin overdose about 18 months ago. She said she wasn’t sure what her comfortable community would make of fundraising for heroin addicts, but she said, so far, so good.

“It’s a very positive reaction -- people really want to bring awareness to the subject,” she said.

Christopher Johns became addicted in high school after he was prescribed opioid painkillers for a routine surgery. His mother, Lisa, put her son through several rounds of rehab during his years of addiction.

"He begged for help," she said. "He begged me to find him something. He didn’t want to be an addict. He hated himself."

Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR
Lisa Johns stands with a photograph of her son Christopher on the porch of the sober house in New London where he died in 2014. Christopher became addicted in high school after he was prescribed opioid painkillers for a routine surgery.
"When a family member just finds out their loved one is addicted, there’s no help there."
Tammy de la Cruz

But she said the sheer cost was a huge obstacle.

"Tens of thousands of dollars," she said. "The first rehab I had my son in, it was $27,000. And that’s just to get him there. That’s not including the airfare. That’s not including the medical we had to pay for, and all of that. It’s really costly."

After Johns's son died, she founded the non-profit Community Speaks Out. It works to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction and to raise money to help families pay for and navigate recovery. 

Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR
Lisa Johns outside the sober house in New London where her son died in 2014. She said the sheer cost of rehab was a huge obstacle to his recovery.

Her partner in the enterprise is Tammy de la Cruz, whose son is currently in recovery.

She has sat with many families going through exactly this process, and she said finding funding for rehab is a crap shoot: some families can rely on insurance coverage, while others will have their claims denied outright.

"So we’re talking people are re-mortgaging their house, taking out loans against their retirement," said de la Cruz. "And the insurance is determining whether a person is sick enough or not -- 28 days is not enough for a person that’s doing heroin. It’s just not enough."

Credit Harriet Jones / WNPR
Tammy de la Cruz, standing, speaks with a volunteer during the Community Speaks Out fundraiser.

De la Cruz believes the health care system should treat addiction just like any other chronic disease, but she said that so far, that’s not the case.

"If they have insurance, and they find out they have cancer, they’re going to have people talking to them and setting appointments up for them," de la Cruz said. "And when a family member just finds out their loved one is addicted, there’s no help there."

At the end of the day, the Hair for Healing event raised $1,600.

This is the third in WNPR's series of three stories on Connecticut's drug epidemic. Read the first story here, about why it's important to know which drugs caused a death. Read the second story as well, about the use of Suboxone to treat opioid addiction.

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.

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