Christian Hunt reassured himself as he took his first hit of crystal meth that the upper would work like his Adderall prescription for attention deficit disorder.
Five years later, and after almost seven months sober, the 21-year-old Hunt realizes just how wrong he was.
“In a very bad way, it was the most incredible feeling I’d ever felt,” Hunt said on a recent evening outside the T.I.E. Club at 329 N. 11th St. in Las Vegas, where he attends twice-weekly Crystal Meth Anonymous meetings.
Attending those meetings with fellow recovering methamphetamine addicts has kept Hunt sober, he says. But he wouldn’t have had a clue that the support exists if he hadn’t first landed in WestCare’s detoxification center in September.
If the nonprofit addiction treatment center buckles under financial pressure and closes by the end of May, as the organization has warned it might, Hunt said he worries that addicts like him would be left to fend for themselves.
“I didn’t just walk into a (Crystal Meth Anonymous) room,” Hunt said. “I had to go to a hospital, and they sent me to WestCare because I asked for help.”
‘I can’t do this anymore’
For Hunt, drug use began with marijuana and prescription pills at 15. A year later, he and a friend started making meth in his garage, first selling it but then falling under its harmful spell.
Before high school, Hunt was excelling in his science, accounting and graphic design classes. He played video games and liked messing around on the computer.
He lost it all.
“As soon as I started getting high, that’s all I was interested in,” Hunt said.
Hunt is soft-spoken, but he says that when he was high, he had a tendency to “freak out.” The last time he used, in late September, Hunt, intoxicated, ditched his shoes and shirt, vomited and urinated on himself, and passed out on a Las Vegas street next to a homeless man.
When he awoke, he was in in a hospital emergency room — he has no recollection which one — and shortly after was transferred to WestCare’s community triage center at 323 Maryland Parkway.
“As soon as I was out of the hospital, it was like, ‘I need to get clean. I can’t do this anymore,’” he remembers thinking to himself. “I told the nurse that, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”
Continuum of care
For 11 days, Hunt attended meetings at the detox center. He slept, began looking forward to eating again and reveled in the positivity of the sober space.
“It’s a great place,” Hunt remembers. “When I was out there running-and-gunning, trying to get clean, I didn’t know where to go.”
Once he was sober, WestCare provided a door to continuum of care. During his stay, Hunt attended a panel session with Shelby Wilson, who created the Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting group at the T.I.E. Club and who is now Hunt’s sponsor. He calls the meeting group “Life is Bella,” in honor of his daughter, Bella, who he’s been rebuilding a relationship with in his two years of sobriety.
“‘What are you guys going to do when you leave here?’” Wilson asks the group of WestCare clients attending the meetings on Sundays. He tells addicts that help is available.
“We welcome you with open arms,” Wilson says.
While he said it would be “tragic” to lose the WestCare clinic, the only certified detox center left in Nevada, he said it’s important to recognize that getting clean is only the first step.
Merlelynn Harris, clinical director at Bridge Counseling Associates, a nonprofit behavioral health clinic, agrees that follow-up care, like rehabilitation and medical services, is key to getting addicts to avoid relapse in the long term.
“So often, in the traditional detox situation, a patient goes into detox and then get’s discharged, and invariably you’re going to have repeat visitors to a detox,” Harris said. “Just having them go in and out of detox, and that alone, I think that does a disservice to the population as well.”
WestCare fills that role in Clark County, offering case management for people who land on their doorstep and connecting them to primary care services, counseling and inpatient rehabilitation, for example.
Still, about 40 percent of WestCare clients do relapse and return to try to kick their habits again, according to WestCare consultant Dan Musgrove, who called that figure “pretty darn good” at a Clark County Commission meeting on May 1.
Hunt had a close call. He left WestCare on Oct. 10. That same day, his dealer called him.
“And so Christian called me and said, ‘I need help, man,’” Wilson remembers.
Hunt, eager for a fresh start, went to a Life is Bella meeting the next day. He hasn’t looked back since.
“It’s just kind of nuts to see that I got sober and clean, and the person I am now,” Hunt said. He’s stronger now, and responsible, he said.
He has a job as a leasing consultant at an apartment complex and started his own Narcotics Anonymous meetings on Friday evenings.
“I’ve regained my family and personal possessions. I got my life back on track,” Hunt said. “I would never give that up for anything.”
WestCare will present the Clark County Commission with additional information on its financial status and care plan on Tuesday.
Representatives of the national nonprofit, which operates in 19 states, have warned that it will shut down its Las Vegas detox facility at the end of the month if it can’t reach a funding agreement with local governments and hospitals and the state. Since 2002, WestCare has relied on an agreement with the three entities to keep its detox center running.
A January audit, however, said WestCare had been using dollars provided by the three entities for services covered by Medicaid. While the company relied on a flat daily bed rate in the past, assistant county manager Kevin Schiller said WestCare may need to adopt a new business model to account for Medicaid payments.
WestCare closed its other Las Vegas detox center, which was located on Fourth Street, in November, and abruptly shut down its Reno detox location in early April.