As coastal Texans flee the flood waters of what was once Hurricane Harvey, some evacuees being treated for opioid addiction are caught in a storm of red tape.
There isn’t much to do to pass the time at the San Antonio emergency shelter for Harvey evacuees, except to wait. The Red Cross and others are using an empty Southside school building to provide basic requirements for displaced coastal residents.
Bruce, not his real name, is an evacuee also dealing with an opioid addiction.
“We’re alive and some of our needs [are] getting taken care of, as far as having a roof over our head,” he says.
And his withdrawal symptoms are getting worse.
“You get the hot flashes and cold chills and sweats and teary eyes, runny nose, just aches and pains,” Bruce says.
The 56-year-old is shaky on his feet. He doesn’t look well. Eight months ago Bruce decided to get off of heroin. To do so, his body demands a daily dose of methadone.
When he boarded the bus from Corpus Christi to San Antonio on Thursday, Brucehad enough methadone to last till Sunday. Now it's Monday evening. How is he coping?
“Praying and hurting,” Bruce says.
Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, says the state recognizes the need for methadone-dependent evacuees and officials are working with area clinics.
“They will be able to access the methadone at any of the licensed treatment clinics in San Antonio or in the area," Van Deusen says. "Typically they do need to be able to get there, but they can coordinate transportation with the shelter that they’re staying at – if they are staying at a shelter – to take them to the treatment clinic to pick up that methadone.”
Van Deusen says it would help if the evacuee had some documentation about their recovery treatment – even an old methadone bottle with information on the label could suffice.
According to Bruce, it's not that easy.
“It doesn’t work like that. They don’t just do that," he says.
Bruce says he’s been out twice trying to get methadone since he arrived in San Antonio. On Sunday, he says he was turned away from a hospital emergency room.
“I went today to another clinic but they were closed and they said they didn’t accept insurance and Medicaid and so we’re getting to go to a different place tomorrow.”
There are several others in the shelter dealing with the same dependence on methadone. They say they were too sick from withdrawal to talk on mic, but they wanted to know why the maintenance drug couldn’t be brought directly to them at the shelter like other evacuees get their medication.
The answer is: rules.
“At this point, they’ve got to receive their medication at a narcotic treatment clinic," says DSHS spokesman Van Deusen. "We’re working now to see if there’s some other solution that would allow the medication to be dispensed elsewhere, but we don’t have that now.”
Bruce says he’s counting on getting his methadone dose very soon but he’s also thinking about other options, including going back to the street.
“It’s real tempting to go back to using heroin because it makes the pain go away and the sickness go away,” he says.
And as far as his other problem – home and belongings likely wiped out by Harvey – Bruce says he doesn’t know if he has anything to go back to.