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Whether they stole items or money to pay for drugs or they ingested or sold the drugs themselves, every time Sam Gegor’s two sons have been sent to jail it has been because of their addiction to prescription pills.

Sam’s eldest son, Nicholas, 25, is currently serving a two-year jail sentence and his youngest son, Justin, 22, is serving a six-year jail sentence, both due to multiple run-ins with the law involving illegal prescription drug use.

Sam said by the time they were teenagers, both of his sons were regular users of Xanax, Percocet and OxyContin. He said as juveniles, “they either got caught with it at school or out on the streets, and the charges just kept on and on and on.”

Sam said Nicholas and Justin were charged many times as juveniles for drug possession and required by the court to admit themselves to the Calvert County Health Department substance abuse treatment program. Each of his sons was admitted to the program “at least three times,” he said.

The health department’s Core Services Agency offers outpatient services at three levels of treatment, said agency director John Mitchell. The levels differ by how many hours a week people are required to participate based on the intensity of their addiction, he said.

The treatment program classes can run for six months, between zero and nine hours a week for a lower to mid-level addiction and above nine hours for a person with a high-level addiction, he said.

“Each treatment plan is kind of geared toward a person’s specific need,” Mitchell said.

The Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration recommends keeping people in a treatment program for about 90 days, but the health department does allow people to seek treatment for longer, he said.

The department employs about 22 counselors licensed by the state of Maryland, Mitchell said, all of whom are “very dedicated to the cause” because, while they may hope otherwise, they realize it’s “not an isolated thing” for most people.

“The reality is that a lot of people have the problem and it takes a while. To think you’re going to walk in and everything is going to be cool — it doesn’t work that way,” Mitchell said.

The Core Services Agency has seen a change in the type of referrals over the years, Mitchell said.

“The request for assistance with opiate problems has probably … [increased] by 365 percent, or something like that,” Mitchell said. “It’s through the roof. Marijuana and alcohol will probably be the two most heavily abused substances in any location, but the use of the opiates — the heroin use, the prescription pill use — has just gone way, way up here in Calvert County.”

People who seek treatment at the health department are either there voluntarily or because they were ordered by the court. Although counselors may have a little bit more leverage over people who are ordered to seek treatment by the court, Mitchell said the department has “a little bit more buy-in” when the treatment is sought voluntarily.

“When a person comes on his or her own, they’re coming because they perceive themselves as having some kind of issue, and I think that the likelihood of them being as involved as they need to be is good,” he said. “The flip side to that is if they decide they’re not coming anymore, there’s nothing we can do.”

Opiate addiction is starting to be treated the same way medical issues are, Mitchell said, because it can potentially be an ongoing problem for a person. With between 10,000 and 15,000 people seeking treatment each year, Mitchell said there are probably about 500 active clients at any one time and there is no waiting list for treatment. About 6 percent of those admitted to receive treatment are referred to residential treatment centers out of Calvert County, Mitchell said.

The health department is “mostly focused on treatment” but is making efforts to continue to help people during recovery. The department is establishing several new initiatives aimed at allowing counselors to maintain contact with clients after they finish the formal part of treatment if they wish, Mitchell said. He said counselors could do things like periodic check-ins and well checkups, and if a client feels they may relapse, they may be able to contact counselors for help.

A new recovery center is located in the Prince Frederick Shopping Center and classes, help finding jobs and field trips are available, Mitchell said. All patients receiving treatment at the department will know it is available for their use.

“The recovery aspect has to evolve, and I think it eventually will,” he said. “We’re getting there. … It’s important because it’s a lifetime fight, so people have to have somewhere to turn and it’s not always doable.”

If a person is seeking treatment by a court order, counselors report back to court that the program had been completed successfully or unsuccessfully. “That’s about the extent of the report,” Mitchell said.

Sam Gegor said each time Justin was admitted to a treatment program at the health department, he successfully completed it. When Justin was 17, because he continued to abuse prescription medication, Sam signed him up for an inpatient rehabilitation facility in Hagerstown. Sam said his son “had a terrible time” while he went through drug detoxification when he was initially admitted because his addiction was so severe.

Justin spent six months at the rehabilitation facility and as soon as he was back at home with his father, he started using heroin.

“I thought, ‘Oh, God, I did all this for rehab to get you straight and you come out and you’re putting a needle in your arm,’” Sam said.

Immediately, Sam re-enrolled Justin in the same rehabilitation facility for another three months. When he was released after those three months, Sam said he came back home and “went back to snorting pills.”

When Nicholas was 18, he told his father he needed help and wanted to go to rehab. Sam said it was at a time when Nicholas was going through withdrawal because he did not have access to illegal prescription medications and did not want to deal with the pain of withdrawal symptoms himself. About a week after entering an outpatient facility, Sam said Nicholas stopped going because he had found another way to purchase the illegal drugs.

“He stopped going, and it just gradually got worse after that,” Sam said.

Nicholas was arrested March 9 after police found 2 grams of cocaine and crack cocaine, and 17 alprazolam pills, one oxycodone pill, Suboxone and paraphernalia in his car, and he was charged with five counts of CDS possession, four counts of CDS possession with intent to distribute and one count of paraphernalia.

After pleading guilty June 14 to one count of CDS possession as part of a plea agreement with the Calvert County State’s Attorney’s Office, Nicholas was sentenced to two years in prison, with six months suspended, and received credit for 97 days he already served in jail. He was placed on probation until 2016 and has the opportunity to be admitted to an inpatient treatment facility as deemed appropriate by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Calvert County State’s Attorney Laura Martin said Nicholas’ admission to a treatment facility is possible through the Maryland Annotated Code, Health General Article, Sections 8-505 and 8-507.

During a hearing Aug. 27 for Nicholas, Judge E. Gregory Wells granted an 8-507 motion, requiring an inpatient substance abuse treatment program as a condition of Nicholas’ probation. Once a bed space opens up in a designated treatment facility, Martin said the two-year sentence will be suspended and Nicholas will be placed in a program. If he in any way violates the terms of his treatment program, the full two-year jail sentence will be imposed.

Martin said prior to this happening, in any court case dealing with addiction, an 8-505 motion comes first, for the court to order an evaluation of the defendant by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Martin said the evaluation is to see what type of substance abuse problems a person has, whether there are mental health issues combined with that and what program will work best for that individual. The report is sent to the court, the prosecutor and the defense attorney, she said.

Then, an 8-507 motion is filed and, if the court agrees, the judge signs it to place the person in a treatment program rather than incarceration, and their progress is then monitored by the court.

Although Sam has been trying to help his sons overcome their addiction since they were teenagers, it is not the first time prescription drugs have affected someone in his life.

In his early 20s, Sam was dating a woman who struggled with prescription drug addiction. He said he stuck by her side through nine admissions to rehabilitation facilities, all of which resulted in her relapsing.

Sam said to try to battle the addiction, he and his girlfriend went to therapy together and at one point, the therapist told Sam that if he and his girlfriend had children, because of her addiction, they would likely be addicted to prescription medication, too. Sam said this only made him angry, and he did not believe what the therapist was saying.

When Sam was 22, his girlfriend got pregnant. Sam said she was taking prescription pills while she was pregnant and when Nicholas was born, traces of the drugs were found in his bloodstream.

Two years later, when Sam was 24, he married his girlfriend and they had their second son, Justin, shortly after.

“When she got pregnant with Justin, she was really” hooked on pills, Sam said. “He also had it in his bloodstream, too.”

Sam’s wife left him immediately after Justin was born, and Sam made the decision to move to Calvert County, where he believed his sons would not be exposed to prescription drugs.

The first time his sons were caught using prescription medication as teenagers, Sam said he instantly thought of what the therapist told him before his sons were born about his children likely being addicts because their mother had been using drugs while pregnant.

“My mind kept going back to that time when that psychologist said, ‘Your kids are going to be involved in drugs,’” Sam said.

Mitchell said children can be born addicted to drugs. The health department is only involved with treating the mother’s addiction, which Mitchell said is the department’s highest priority while she is pregnant. While Mitchell could not say whether being born addicted to drugs necessarily leads to addiction later in life, he said it “plays into the possibility” or increases the likelihood of it.

“Your chances are higher,” he said.

Amye Scrivener, director of the Calvert County Department of Social Services, said she has seen an increase in the last several years in cases where prescription drug abuse is interfering with people’s parenting skills. About 40 percent of the department’s cases involve families or people with prescription pill addictions, she said.

“It’s probably been one of the single most factors in some of the kids coming into care,” Scrivener said. “It’s not always the only problem, but we’re seeing it a lot more.”

When social services workers becomes involved with a family where prescription drug addiction is a factor, the first thing that’s done is an assessment through the health department of whether the prescriptions are valid or necessary for a health reason, Scrivener said. Then, she said, based on the health department’s recommendation, socials services helps the family or person follow through and helps “remove whatever obstacles” are in the way of treatment, such as transportation or medical obstacles.

“That’s really what we try to focus on, because there are some people who legitimately need the pain medicine and we work with them to help build other supports if it’s interfering with their ability to take care of kids or function,” she said.

If the substance abuse is interfering with a person’s ability to care for a child, her agency may take steps to get treatment court ordered, Scrivener said. This can only be done, she said, if drug abuse is “really interfering with their parenting ability.”

Scrivener said families with addictions are “one of the hardest things” social services workers deal with. She said about 50 percent of the people involved with the agency who are addicted to drugs usually are successful during treatment.

“Sometimes the success rate doesn’t match with the willingness of the people because the addictions have such a strong hold,” Scrivener said. “But I do think that people genuinely want to be able to take care of their children; I just think the addictions really have a strong hold on people.”

kfitzpatrick@somdnews.com

A prescription drug abuse community forum will be held by the Prescription Drug Abuse Abatement Council from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, at the College of Southern Maryland Prince Frederick Campus.

At the forum, the public will have the opportunity to learn more about the dangers of misusing prescription medications and what’s going on in the community.

The forum will include:

- A family’s story of their child’s addiction to prescription medications;

- What is known about prescription drug abuse in Calvert County presented by a panel of experts;

- Helpful information on where to go for treatment help;

- A question and answer period; and

- The opportunity to provide input on how to tackle the prescription pill problem.

For more information, contact the Calvert Alliance Against Substance Abuse Inc. at 410-535-3733.