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A day spent at Oklahoma City's medical detox center

Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

The Recovery Center sits less than half a mile from Oklahoma City's iconic milk bottle grocery building at NW 23 and N Classen.

It's easy to miss the rectangular brown building as you're driving to work or headed to meet friends at a nearby restaurant. 

Inside the center, addicts, many of whom are low-income and uninsured, attempt to get sober.

Formerly known as The Referral Center, the facility serves as the only place in Oklahoma County where low-income, uninsured residents can receive a medical detox at no charge, paid for through money from the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

They could go to a private hospital, but that would likely cost thousands of dollars that neither they nor their families have. Almost half of the people who came to the Recovery Center in 2013 made $2,500 a year or less.

Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

This is Erica Greene's fourth time at The Recovery Center. She feels more ready this time, after spending her 26th birthday at the center in August. Greene has been at The Recovery Center this time for a day.

Over the past several years, she has been in a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse, with almost two years of sobriety until earlier this year.

Throughout her teens and 20s, Greene battled depression. In high school, she was bullied because of her weight and height, furthering her depression. She has drank alcohol since she was 12.

Greene has two children and wants to be a mother to them. Her parents are raising them and helping Greene pay for treatment. Once she leaves detox, she hopes to stay at a residential facility for at least six months, if not nine months.

"I'm going to stay as long as I can to get the help I need," Greene said.

Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

Joseph Swint is at The Recovery Center for his kids, too.

Swint, a 29-year-old Elk City resident, has two sons, ages 1 and 7, and he wants to be a better father to them.

"My oldest one, he likes to skateboard and play guitar, he looks up to me, everything he sees (me do), he wants to do," Swint said after being at The Referral Center for eight days. "Of course, I don't want him to grow up to be like me. I want him to be better." 

Swint has abused drugs since he was 14. Most recently, he was taking oxycodone, lortab, any pills he could find. 

He came to the medical detox facility after his father gave him an ultimatum of sorts, telling Swint that he would give Swint a job as a manager of one of his pizza shops if Swint would go to rehab for six months.

Swint only started a relationship with his father about a year ago. Before that, his father wasn't involved with him, disowning him since birth.

Raised by a single mother, Swint remembers the emotional and physical abuse that his mother experienced from different boyfriends.

"I remember pulling guys off of her, trying to choke them out, and they would turn around to hit me," Swint said. "My mom would do everything in her power to stop them."  

For years, Swint struggled with depression, taking drugs to numb his pain. 

He didn't want to come to The Recovery Center, begging his mother to turn the car around. However, he's now thankful she kept driving. 

"I know I can overcome this," he said.

Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

This is Kerry McLerran's first time to try to get sober. The 36-year-old Elk City resident has abused drugs for about 20 years, drinking, smoking pot, using meth and taking pills.

For years, McLerran thought of himself as a "functioning addict," although he now realizes that likely wasn't true. He would smoke meth in his garage or away from home, trying to hide it from his children. He worked on oil rigs and even had coworkers and bosses offer him meth to stay away during overnight shifts.

McLerran has a 17-year-old daughter, a 13-year-old son and an 11-year-old son, and he hasn't seen them in four months.  His wife filed for a protective order against him. He doesn't blame her for being angry with him. But he has come to the realization that this is his "rock bottom."

"I've never really been this down and out before," McLerran says. "I guess it was my drug use that got me here. I've never lived under a bridge or nothing like that and drank wine out of a paper bag, but I guess that's where I'm at. Straight up."  

Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

Ernest Long regularly introduces himself as an 18-year recovering crack addict. Long, a peer recovery support specialist, oversees a 12-step meeting at The Recovery Center.

At the meetings, he encourages groups of about 30 men and women that they can do this. He did it, despite the fact that no one believed he would.

During his addiction, Long went to prison six times. And he has 15 drug-related felony convictions. He used crack for the last time Oct. 1, 2009.

Long has started his life over, he tells them, and if he can do it, so can they. Long went to The Recovery Center five times before he got sober.

“I can guarantee it can be done,” Long says to them. “It can be done.”

Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

At the end of the 12-step meetings that Long runs, the group comes together to recite The Lord's Prayer.

"Whose father?" Long asks.

"Our father," the group begins. 

Some, if not many, people around the circle will not continue with treatment once they leave The Recovery Center.

One reason is cost. Many of the center's patients cannot afford treatment at a private hospital, where treatment can cost well into the thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services has about 600 people on a waiting list for residential substance abuse treatment. The agency is the "safety net" provider for low-income, uninsured residents battling addiction who cannot afford care.

"Sadly, Oklahoma is pretty limited -- limited in our resources, the availability of beds, the availability of programs," said Don Burk, the Recovery Center’s CEO. "There are many private facilities, but the clientele that is really the main focus, that really dominates the population we serve, they don’t really have the money to go onto an expensive program."

Related Photos
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

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Jaclyn Cosgrove

Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. Jaclyn... Read more ›

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