Clean, Sober and $41,000 Deep in Out-of-Pocket Addiction Recovery Costs

27 Jul

People recovering from opioid addiction and their families discuss the financial and emotional costs of treatment.

Tess Henry with her rescue dogs, in a photo taken by her mother. Ms. Henry was the subject of a recent Sunday Review essay, which generated over 400 reader comments.CreditPatricia Mehrmann

Tess Henry’s family paid $12,000 for 30 days of rehab from opioid addiction. She had done two more cycles of treatment without achieving sobriety. So her family agreed to pay $20,000 for 28 days of more rehab. But they never got the chance.

A few days after assuring her mother that she planned to fly to Virginia to resume treatment, Ms. Henry was murdered.

The tragic end of Ms. Henry’s six-year struggle to recover from an opioid addiction that began with a prescription for cough syrup was chronicled last week in The New York Times by Beth Macy, a journalist who covers the opioid crisis.

It takes eight years, and four to five attempts at treatment, for the average person addicted to opioids to achieve one year of remission, according to John Kelly, a researcher and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, whom Ms. Macy cited in her Sunday Review essay.

Ms. Henry’s story prompted readers to share with us in our comments section their own struggles with recovery or the struggles of their family members.

Here is a selection of the comments that cite costs — in out-of-pocket expenses, as well as in time, insurance payouts and human patience — of recovery. They are condensed and lightly edited.

‘I’m lucky it didn’t cost me more’

$25,000 for Suboxone, $16,000 of doctor appointments, $200,000 paid by insurance

I abused opiates for four years. I quit one-time and have been sober for five years. I’ve been on Suboxone [a drug that helps prevent opioid withdrawal symptoms] for five years as well. Luckily I make enough money to spend $400/month on Suboxone. I also moved 1,500 miles away from where I bought OxyContin when I quit, went to a $100,000 rehab on private insurance, and then stayed for 10 more months working as a nighttime janitor and going to A.A. like 10 times a week.

Recovering from opiates has cost me over $25,000 for Suboxone, $16,000 of doctor appointments, and it’s cost my insurance about $200,000. It cost me five years of my life. I’m lucky it didn’t cost me more.

Days of phone calls to rehab programs to demonstrate desperation

I’m a recovering heroin addict myself, and in my experience the system for getting into rehabs (without a lot of money up front and good insurance, at least) is like a grotesque game show in the spirit of “Black Mirror.” The standard practice is this: if you’re an addict who needs to go to rehab, you call and leave a message.

If you string together a long enough sequence of mornings calling in, and thus demonstrate enough desperation to satisfy them, they will eventually call you back, for you have passed the first test. If you’re lucky, they’ll make you an offer that expires in about 4-5 hours, telling you to come that moment. If you don’t have a car or a guardian angel who will take you to their strategic position in the middle of nowhere, too bad.

But without real long-term treatment, many of those addicts will overdose again and again, and odds are they won’t get that lifesaving opioid blocker in time, one of those times. Consider the resources wasted every day by having potentially productive citizens reduced to unemployability, and then spending money to have police fight the “drug war,” and to institutionalize addicts in jails and prison. Consider the extra burden on Medicaid, welfare programs, and homeless shelters. Consider the cost of drug-related crime — which is to say, the majority of crime. More important, forget all of those expenses and simply consider what it means for millions of families to have loved ones in the grip of untreated addiction.

— Steve, New Jersey

‘Free. Nearly everywhere. Tested.’

$0 for 12 steps, endless daily hard work

As someone for whom the 12 steps did miraculously work (along with endless, daily hard work), my meetings are filled with similar stories. Decades of recovery. We’re never cured, but we’re alive and not using. I was not in a position to pay for rehab or leave my three young kids, and A.A./N.A. was incredible. Free. Nearly everywhere. Tested. It deserves much more credit.

— Ella Jackson, New York

‘Hundreds of thousands of dollars spent’

A sibling in and out of treatment for more than 10 years

Having a sibling who has been in and out of treatment for over 10 years (hundreds of thousands of dollars spent) and the undivided and dedicated attention of a parent figure (who has dedicated her life to him), I assure you that recovery success is not directly tied into family support but rather to the individual’s desire to be well.

Having read individual success stories I find one common thread. A commitment to a goal and grit seem to be the driving forces behind recovery. Love, time, forgiveness and patience are all complementary ingredients.

— Korry, New York

He got sober ‘without expensive rehab programs’

$0 for 12 steps

My brother was a high functioning addict for years before his final painful trip to bottom. Then 4 years in a spiral as he lost everything before a series of court mandated A.A. meetings lit a light bulb (the first meetings he attended, he was high).


He got straight and sober within the 12 step program without expensive rehab programs (we were lucky). Then he spent 8 wonderful years of giving back to his community; became a mentor to many first offenders while holding down a job working with disabled adults, taking them camping and using art and music to enrich their lives. When he died from liver cancer (from hepatitis C from his old drug injections), a line stretched a block at the funeral. I never shook so many hands or heard such heart warming stories as I did at Dean’s funeral.

We don’t hear about the successful stories of recovery so there’s one for you. We were lucky to get him back and to have such good memories now.

— Bill Cullen, Portland, Ore.

‘All I had was the 12 steps’

$0 for 12 steps, a hard road

Rest in peace, Tess, and God bless all those who loved and helped her. I know well the heartbreak and hurt that addicts inflict on others because I am one and have done those things. I know even better the never ending cycle of deepening addiction and the effects on every aspect of your life, from loss of health, any hope of a career, financial ruin, utter hopelessness and the hollowing out of one’s soul. But I know better the flip side, of hope and happiness and redemption and overcoming the darkness, as I have been continuously sober now for more than 32 years. And if there was hope for me, there is hope for anyone and everyone.

There were no maintenance drugs other than methadone when I got clean and sober decades ago. All I had was the Twelve Steps and the love and hope and care and example of others in recovery. And that worked for me, although it was the hardest road I ever traveled early on.

— Rich D., Tucson


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