Resources scarce for teen addicts

by Clay Neely


Photo by Clay Neely

Juvenile Court Judge Joe Wyant and Lisa Barton, interim department head and intake officer at Coweta Juvenile Court.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a Sunday series on the spread of drug addiction, including prescription pills, heroin and other opiates in Coweta County. The series takes a look at drug use, treatment programs – or the lack thereof – as well as what law enforcement, the medical community and the judicial branch are facing.


The teenage years are rarely easy ones.

Coweta Juvenile Court Judge Joe Wyant knows this better than many. On a daily basis, Wyant is a witness to the cycles of abuse and addiction local teens and adolescents who find their way into his courtroom are facing.

And while the behavioral patterns may be easy to recognize, the solutions are rarely simple – or available.

While many juveniles that pass through the system are dealing with drug abuse, those addicted to opiates, such as prescription drugs and heroin, are the hardest to reach because of the difficulty in finding appropriate programs.

“No one wants to touch a juvenile addict,” Wyant said. “With heroin and opiates, there is a real possibility of an addict going through suicidal ideations (thoughts) during withdrawal. Insurance companies and facilities are scared of a 16-year-old killing themselves under their watch.”

Drug rehabilitation isn’t cheap. Private facilities available for teenagers can cost up to $10,000 per month and insurance companies won’t pay for them.

Wyant feels the children whose families fall within the status of middle class are the ones who suffer the most. “The indigent can take Medicaid,” Wyant said. “But those in the middle who have insurance, it rarely, if ever, covers drug rehabilitation.”

Sadly, the economic hurdle is only the beginning for teenagers in the grips of opiate abuse. Even if funding for rehabilitation can be found, many addicts are bounced around between facilities.

“When we attempt to get these kids inpatient help, the rehabilitation facility won’t admit them because they believe the drug abuse is a byproduct of a mental health issue,” Wyant explained. “But when we go to the mental health provider, they say ‘No, they have an addiction issue.’”

In the meantime, insurance companies aren’t paying because a diagnosis hasn’t been made.

At Anchor Hospital in Atlanta, one juvenile addict was undergoing detox – a prerequisite for being admitted into The Hartmann Center, a drug rehabilitation center in Atlanta that provides long-term residential programs for adolescents.

While at Anchor, a doctor prescribed Suboxone to the juvenile – a drug commonly used to reverse the effects of other narcotic medications. However, because Suboxone is not a drug The Hartmann Center allows its patients to use, admission for the juvenile was denied.

Wyant is discouraged about the limited options he can provide and is still attempting to find the right process.

“What works for adults doesn’t necessarily work for kids,” Wyant said. “I can demand an adult come to court, drug test, attend rehab and counseling, because the alternative is jail.”

“But with a kid, so much responsibility falls on the parents,” Wyant said. “If the parent drops the ball, it’s hard to say, ‘Sorry, you’re going to jail.’ It just doesn’t work that way.”

Lisa Barton, interim department head and intake officer at Coweta Juvenile Court, has spent 20 years watching teen addicts shuffle through the court system. The use of alcohol, marijuana, and methamphetamine is most common, but Barton notes she has witnessed an increase in opiate abuse.

“Prescription meds act as a gateway to heroin use,” Barton said. “Sources for prescription pills are fewer and cost is rising. For many, the solution is to use heroin instead.”

Access to medicine cabinets seem trivial to many parents, who see very little threat from a single bottle they might possess in their own home.

“So many parents are living with their heads in the sand,” Barton said.

Wyant agreed and explains that he typically sees three kinds of parents – those who are proactive with treatment, those who are in denial, and those who are enabling drug use through their own lifestyle choices.

Wyant feels the problem of heroin use will get worse before it gets better. With the obstacles facing teenaged addicts, the role of family support plays the largest factor in their success. He recalled a juvenile who recently successfully completed rehab, but understood that returning to her previous life was not an option.

“For all addicts, if they go back to the same situation, they’ll find a trigger,” Wyant said. “The involvement of parents can’t be understated. Those who were proactive in their child’s rehabilitation knew that it wasn’t simply a one-time occurrence.”

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