‘They told me if I had a house and a car I could afford it’

Families struggle to afford high cost of rehab programs, which can run from $20,000 to $60,000

Chrysta Reese, right, and her daughter Ostyn are working to help Ostyn stay sober after battling a heroin addiction. Ostyn had her first child in May and entered rehab to gain custody of her daughter, her mother said.
Chrysta Reese, right, and her daughter Ostyn are working to help Ostyn stay sober after battling a heroin addiction. Ostyn had her first child in May and entered rehab to gain custody of her daughter, her mother said.
Courtesy photo

When Chrysta Reese’s daughter revealed she was struggling with a heroin addiction, Reese immediately sought help.

“The first time she called me and was really sick, I thought she was dying. I was calling rehabs in the area,” said Reese, who lives in Castle Rock. “I was told it was $30,000 for the first month.”

She described the process of researching rehab programs as horrific.

“They told me if I had a car and a house I could afford it,” she said.

Kendra Rhoades, of Parker, recounted a similar experience researching programs for her son, who at 14 was showing signs he’d become addicted to marijuana.

“I researched every type of treatment facility,” she said. “I couldn’t get approved for a $30,000 or $40,000 loan to put him in rehab. It was just horrendously expensive.”

For Douglas County families — where the median annual income is more than $109,000 and more than 97 percent of adults have health care coverage — the cost of drug or alcohol rehab can still make treatment unattainable.

Forensic psychologist Jennifer Tippett is director of the University of Denver’s Graduate School for Professional Psychology’s specialty substance use disorder program.

Unfortunately, she said, experiences like Reese’s and Rhoades’ are not uncommon. Tippett once worked for a rehab facility in California that charged $60,000 a month.

Rates that high typically mean a family’s access to treatment is case by case and based on personal resources, she said.

“It really is self-funded,” Tippett said. “Some insurance companies will cover a portion.”

The inaccessibility to treatment is at direct odds with the number of people who need it, according to national surveys and research.

Nearly half of Americans have a family member or close friend who has been addicted to drugs, a 2017 Pew Research survey found.

In 2016, an estimated 21 million people ages 12 or older needed substance-abuse treatment, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Of that number, only 3.8 million people received any form of substance-use treatment and 2.2 million received care at a specialty facility. Specialty facilities include inpatient hospital care, inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation center programs or mental health centers.

MORE:  Addiction and mental health 'inherently linked'

Residential treatment programs throughout the country can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000, said Dianna Sandoval, executive clinical director of Sandstone Care, a private rehab facility operating in Denver, Boulder and the Washington, D.C., area. The length of those programs varies from 30 to 60 days, or longer. The cost of Sandstone’s program ranges widely depending on the client and their insurance, Sandoval said.

“I think what families need to do is first of all vet out a program that looks like it’s going to meet the needs of the family,” she said. “The very next thing they do is have a conversation with the financial director about what exactly are the out-of-pocket costs.”

Some programs provide families a bill they can take to insurance providers for reimbursement. Others are covered when they’re in a provider’s network, and still others can bill for an out-of-network rate.

Families should be cautious if a program won’t provide an estimate for out-of-pocket costs, Sandoval said.

“It is possible to provide services with a very upfront picture of what your program can deliver,” she said.

Private care remains the most viable option for people needing rehab, Tippett said. Court-ordered treatment exists, she added, but can be lower in quality or under-funded.

Rhoades, after consulting with the Douglas County School District, learned of an outpatient program through The Cornerstone Program, a private facility in Centennial. The program cost approximately $10,000, she said, and was covered through government assistance. Her son, now 17, has been clean since December.

As she considered the cost of nearby programs, Reese said she also weighed the reality her daughter might not successfully complete treatment. Reese found a 60-day, inpatient program in Tennessee in 2011 that cost $5,000 the first month, which the family could “semi-afford,” she said. She also felt the distance would separate her daughter from people influencing her drug use.

MORE: 'All of our jails are psychiactric facilities'

Her daughter entered the program and for a time stayed sober, Reese said, but left early and tried to handle her addiction without professional help.

“It takes multiple rehabs before it sticks,” she said. “It’s hard. It’s very expensive.”

Now 24, Reese’s daughter gave birth to her first child in May. She graduated from a rehab program in Parker and is still in an intensive outpatient program.

“She is clean and sober,” Reese said, “and will have the privilege of gaining custody and raising her daughter within a few months. I’m optimistic she will maintain sobriety this time for her baby’s sake.”

addiction, rehab, mental health, Jessica Gibbs, Time to Talk, Chrysta Reese, Ostyn, heroin, marijuana


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