October 12, 2009

Counselor recalls her own addiction

By Nicole Young

BURNS, Tenn. Before Judy Lapps became a drug counselor at New Life Lodge, she was an addict.

Over the past eight years, Lapps has drawn on her past more than a few times to help her patients, she said.

"We have some come through six or seven times," she said. "In my case, it was twice."

Lapps was first admitted to New Life Lodge in 1991. The mother of three was an alcoholic and a self-described people pleaser.

"I was functioning for five years and became chronic, downing straight vodka around the clock, for another five," she said.

"I was a stay-at-home mom. My children were gone. My job was gone and I thought no one would know if I stayed home and drank all day."

After a while, Lapps said, the alcohol didn't work anymore and she entered treatment, but she wasn't serious about recovery.

In 1993, after a relapse, she got serious, and, a year later she divorced her husband of 29 years.

"He was my higher power," she said. "But I couldn't be dependent on him anymore.

"It's a slow way back after being an addict. Brian couldn't fix me. My children couldn't fix me. I didn't know who I was anymore. My whole life had to change because I had my life in a bottle.

"I had to fill myself with something and I chose recovery."

Ten years later, the couple remarried in the chapel at New Life Lodge. Today, Lapps is happy, but she knows there are many who share the pain she once had but are unable to get the help she did.

According to a recent study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 24 million Americans need but do not receive treatment for drug and alcohol addictions. Fewer than 4 million people receive treatment.

In Tennessee, 485,000 people are in need of treatment, but aren't getting it, the study says.

The state ranks in the top fifth of states with the highest numbers for all age groups of nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers.

Opiates drugs of choice

Alcoholism accounts for only about 10 percent of Lapps' patients. The vast majority, about 40 percent, say their drug of choice is an opiate, such as the prescription painkiller OxyContin.

On Friday, New Life Lodge had a groundbreaking ceremony for a $4 million expansion of its facility an effort to improve Tennessee's treatment gap.

Once completed in late 2010, the new facility will accommodate 200 patients, including 80 teens. At present, there are 140 beds, most of which are full on a regular basis, said Joe Pritchard, vice president of CRC, parent company of New Life, and acting executive director of the Burns facility.

At the groundbreaking were Barry McCaffrey, former national drug czar; Tennessee Assistant Commissioner of Mental Health Bruce Emery; Dickson Police Chief Ricky Chandler; and Dr. Barry Karlin, CEO of CRC Health Group.

"If you believe that this is the biggest public health challenge facing this country or the biggest challenge facing our justice system or the problem that is the most detrimental to our work force, then treating it only makes sense," said McCaffrey, now a national media expert on drugs and terror and a West Point professor.

Karlin said Friday's events celebrated, honored and remembered the patients, families and staff who have gone through treatment.

"Drug abuse is a chronic illness, just like diabetes and hypertension," he said. "The state of Tennessee is committed to ensuring that children and adults get the very best in care, but this disease is powerful."

To date, New Life has treated about 12,500 people in its 25 years in service.

Sixty-eight percent of adolescents who have gone through the program have remained clean and sober a year after their release, Karlin said.

"Treatment works," he said. "These disorders are treatable diseases, and recovery programs are as effective as treatment for other chronic conditions."