By Errol Castens
ETTA – There’s a bridge out near the southern end of Lafayette County Road 244. The road reaches only a few houses, some farmland and timberland, and a driveway marked “The Oxford Centre.”
The Oxford Centre is a residential addiction treatment center, and the current detour to reach it through miles of narrow backroads and numerous turns is an apt metaphor for the addiction recovery journey itself: When the easy route is no longer available, the longer and more challenging route is the only option – but more than worth the trip.
The facility, on 110 wooded acres, was first a Christian conference center, then a ministerial retreat. It was converted into an addiction treatment center several years ago for a short time. Current principals Billy Young, a 35-year addiction recovery professional, and Oxford physician and addiction specialist Tom Fowlkes reopened it two years ago and recently doubled its capacity from 26 beds to 52 in cabins that surround its placid lake.
“Our typical patient is somebody who’s working and has commercial insurance, who’s beginning to experience problems in their life related to alcohol or other drugs,” said Young, the Centre’s administrator, who said the facility, because it is not Medicaid eligible, operates on either private-pay or commercial insurance models.
“A lot of patients are referred from acute-care treatment at hospitals, by human resource professionals at work and, with young people, by drug courts or university settings,” he added.
Most stays begin with several days of medically directed withdrawal from the addictive substance or substances.
“Most people are going to need detox,” said Fowlkes, the chief medical officer. “They cannot safely just stop most of these prescription drugs all at once.”
The need for such services is growing.
“We are in the midst of a national prescription drug epidemic,” he said. “Much more so than with other drugs, it’s all ages, both sexes, all socioeconomic background.”
Many insurance companies cut back on paying for non-acute addiction treatment about 20 years ago, which reduced the number of residential facilities.
“The greatest predictor of whether you’re going to stay sober is how long you spend in a controlled environment,” Fowlkes said. “It’s often 30 days or so before addicts’ minds clear enough to realize how addicted they were.”
After detox, the now-sober patient spends about 30 days in therapy that combines intensive group education about addiction and sometimes family therapy with active pursuits. The ropes course emphasizes physical challenge and interacting with others – “getting feedback and listening and learning to take directions,” he said. Equine therapy takes advantage of horses’ ability to mirror the emotion of their riders, and music and drama therapy both help patients, now sober, work out regrets and fears and even hopes that their substance abuse has suppressed.
“It helps to help bring up feelings in a way that’s nontoxic,” Young said.
Even after going home, patients at The Oxford Centre can get follow-up help at outpatient offices in Oxford and Tupelo.
Emily, a 20-year-old former patient, said she was stealing from her family to fund her addiction to morphine, Xanax and heroin before she came to The Oxford Centre.
“I was lying, hurting everyone around me,” she said. “It was pretty heartbreaking for my family and close friends.”
Emily had already been through detox several times, but residential treatment was different.
“The staff and the other patients were great; my time there gave me a complete 180-degree turn,” she said. “I’ll have a year clean and sober next month on the 18th.”
Given the chance to speak to someone else whose addiction is tearing his or her life apart, Emily said, “The most important part is to want to have help. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.
“It’s a long process, and it’s terrifying at first. I would tell them to hold on and not give up,” she said. “Miracles happen every day. I am one.”