ELIZABETHTOWN — For women addicted to opioids, the struggles can be elevated to a whole new level above the problems men face.
“For women, drugs can be a lot worse,” said David Chestnutt, director of the drug rehabilitation center Carolina Crossroads. “These poor women are selling their bodies, so it’s even lower for them than for men.”
Linda Armstrong, a Bladen County mother of a daughter addicted to opioids, has seen the prostitution side of drugs up close.
“We’ve got (men) coming around picking up these girls — I see it; they come to my yard — and paying them to have sex,” she said. “They want to sweep it under the rug and keep it all hush-hush, but it’s happening, and somebody needs to stop it.”
The mother maintains her daughter has been promised drug money for sex or “sex shows” on multiple occasions and by upstanding men in the community who front their indiscretions with benevolence. The men, she claims, let female drug-users stay in their rental property “free” in exchange for sex or give them money they use later to buy prescription pills off the street.
Armstrong says eliminating the opioid epidemic cannot be accomplished without addressing the “terrible problem” of prostitution in Bladen County.
“If you want to do something about opioids, you’ve got to stop these husbands and single men from enabling these girls,” Armstrong insisted. “They’re not breaking their arms and forcing them to do drugs — I know that. But they’re enabling them.”
According to Chestnutt, when women reach this point, they’ve crossed a threshold.
“There’s nothing left, and they’re so much more suicidal,” he said compassionately.
According to a 2011 study by the National Institute for Drug Abuse, he’s right. Women represent the fastest-growing group of people who attempt or commit suicide. From 2005 to 2009, suicide attempts by women over 50 who were addicted to prescription pills rose an astounding 49 percent. The rise is concurrent with the rise of opioids in the same population, the report says.
For that reason, among others, people like Armstrong and Chestnutt would like to see a women’s treatment facility in Bladen County. Chestnutt says Crossroads — a male-only facility — gets calls “all the time” about treating women.
“I’m praying for a women’s treatment center in Bladen County like Crossroads,” he said. “We desperately need it.”
Richard Allen, in his job as narcotics investigator with the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, sees the struggles women face with drugs, and he agrees.
“We definitely need a treatment center for women in Bladen County,” he said.
While Chestnutt sees the need for an all-female site, he also sees an additional necessity in Bladen County. The men leaving his facility, he says, are going right back into the same situations that led them to drugs in the first place. He’d like to see a more gradual transition.
“When these guys get out of here, they need a place they can go to ease back into their daily routines,” he remarked. “I’d love to see a halfway house in Bladen County.”
If Bladen County were to get a halfway house, it would have two of the three steps in addiction recovery, but it would still lack the first step in rehabilitation — detox. Many rehabilitation centers, like Crossroads, are not equipped to help drug users through the initial withdrawal symptoms. The sleeplessness, sweats, vomiting, pain, tremors, agitation, flu-like symptoms, muscle spasms, and depression — to say nothing of the possibilities of cardiac arrests, suicide, and seizures — necessitate special medical or mental health skills with which most centers are not equipped. Drug users are required to either enter a separate facility for detox before transferring to a rehabilitation center or to detox at home before entering the rehab facility.
For that reason, supporters purport, Bladen County needs a place drug users can go immediately.
“When an addict says they want to get clean, they need a place they can go right then,” said Doyle Owen, snapping his fingers. “They don’t need to wait five or six days.”
Owen’s son, Brandon Owen, died of a drug overdose earlier this year. Owen is currently a district leader with Parents for C.H.A.N.G.E, a nonprofit devoted to fighting opioid abuse.
Bladen County Assistant District Attorney Quentin McGee is of the same mindset.
“When they hit rock bottom at 5 a.m. at White Lake or East Arcadia and they decide, ‘This is it. I’m going to get help,’ we need to have somewhere for them to go, because they may feel differently 12 hours later,” he remarked.
Whether Bladen County gets a detox center, a women’s facility, a men’s halfway house, or something else, it will undoubtedly involve funds. McGee, for one, however, sees the need for service trumping the desire for full pockets.
“If we’re serious about this issue, we’re going to have to put some money behind it,” he commented. “Otherwise, all we’re doing is lip service.”
Half way to halfway?
A Bladen County religious organization has something that could begin to help; the organization just needs direction.
In January, the Bladen Baptist Association was given a house on South Cypress Street in Elizabethtown. Located just a few buildings down from the associational office, the building has been vacant since its gifting, and associational leaders are considering what to do with the property.
“We haven’t taken anything off the table,” said David Foster, Bladen Baptist associational missionary. “Some of the things we’ve talked about are a halfway house for men, a residential drug rehabilitation center for women, a feeding ministry, or some type of indigent care. All of those are still options, as far as I’m concerned, but we really need to hear from the county about this.”
The one-story brick house has a spacious gallery kitchen with a large eat-in space at one end, a separate dining room off the opposite end of the kitchen, a living area with a brick fireplace, three bedrooms, and 1½ baths. Though most of the floors and kitchen cabinetry date back a few decades, the house has some hardwood floors and pine ceilings. Located in the rear of the property is a detached two-car carport with attached shed. It sits on a small piece of property adjacent to an empty lot on Cypress Street.
“I really wish people would come in and see the house,” Foster said Tuesday while touring the home. “From the street, you may look at it and think there’s not much to it, but once you get inside you see how much space there is, and you begin to see how it could be used.”
Thus far, a “house committee” of nine has devoted hours of work tearing out carpet, removing damaged ceilings, and just doing general cleanup.
The home sits clean, but bare, and in need of additional renovation, like a new roof, plumbing updates, and cosmetic enhancements such as flooring, cabinetry, and paint.
“It’s structurally sound and has a lot of potential,” Foster commented, adding repairs would probably cost between $20,00 and $50,000.
Before investing that kind of money, however, associational leaders and the house committee want to know how best to proceed.
“We have three options for this house,” he explained. “We can sell it as is, we can fix it up and sell it, or we can fix it up to use it in some type of ministry.”
He added, “This isn’t just a Baptist thing or a church thing, but I’d love to see us all working together.”
In his office, Foster has sitting on a table a Jenga set. Onto each wooden piece has been burned the name of a church in Bladen County. At a recent meeting, Foster — having already disbursed the pieces to area pastors — asked them each to place their pieces on a table.
“Not a single one was touching another,” he said.
Foster then took all of the pieces and built a tower made of the individual blocks.
“Look what we can do when we work together,” he commented, adding he would like to see all churches, communities, and even individuals come together and invest the time and money for whatever ministry Bladen County needs.
If the association does decide to use the home for some type of drug treatment facility, it could be an answer to some people’s prayer. According to Addiction No More, an organization devoted to helping drug users end addiction, the average price of private drug rehabilitation in North Carolina is $15,000 per month. Carolina Crossroads, on the other hand, charges a meager $500 intake fee to cover the cost of treatment.
For users without insurance, ministries like this are the only option.
“My daughter can’t find a job because of those pills,” Armstrong stated. “If you don’t have medical insurance, you can’t afford drug treatment. In other words, if you don’t have money, your kid will end up dying on the street. How is that right?”
Undoubtedly burdened by the thought of such a thing happening, the Bladen Baptist leaders are taking the decision with what to do with the house seriously. Foster reiterated his desire for people to stop by and see the property so they can join the association’s leaders in the decision-making process.
“Anything’s on the table, but we’re seeking the Lord’s guidance first and foremost,” he said.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.