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Some addicts may not know they’re hooked, specialist says

By Jefferson Weaver

jeffersonweaver@nrcolumbus.com

The county’s mental health and drug treatment contractor has set up shop much faster than anticipated, due in part to the raid on a Tabor City doctor’s alleged “pill mill.”

After having been hired earlier this year by the county, Trillium Health Resources planned to open a mental health center in September, Cindy Ehlers said. When Dr.  Jong Kim’s office was shut down June 29, District Attorney Jon David said he contacted Trillium and its drug treatment branch, Port, and asked if they could fast track offering their assistance.

“We were happy to do what we could,” Ehlers said.

Kim has been charged with running an opiate distribution business through a shell medical office. Warrants and court documents show he may have supplied 1.7 million pills via unneeded prescriptions since opening in Tabor City in January. Around 80 patients a day went through Kim’s office, which had no medical equipment or general medical supplies. The investigation into his practice in Bladen County is ongoing.

At the time of Kim’s arrest, David said officials were concerned that cutting off such a large supply of narcotics would send addicts searching for other, less expensive methods of feeding their habit – mainly heroin. Prosecutors and law enforcement hope that making an aggressive push to provide treatment for addicts will slow the advance of heroin in Columbus.

It didn’t take long for the first clients to contact Trillium, Ehlers said. The first calls were received to the company’s hotline on July 1 – the Sunday after Kim’s practice was shut down.

“We had six calls that first day,” she said, “and we didn’t even have an office yet. Still, we’re here to help.”

One of the most frightening problems with prescription opiate addiction is that some patients may not know they have an addiction, Ehlers said.

“People have a serious surgery, an extended illness or are in a bad car accident,” she said. “They are prescribed painkillers from the doctor. Since the medicine comes from a doctor, it must be safe. When they quit taking the meds, they feel bad, so they need more. Some think it’s their condition, when the reason for the painkillers might have been gone for a long time. They honestly don’t realize they are addicted.”

Through Port, Trillium helps addicts get evaluated, and design and implement a treatment plan, Ehlers said.

“After we have an evaluation,” she said, “we can determine the best way to get the care someone needs.”

Trillium/Port is equipped to provide counseling, methadone and suboxone treatments, and other assistance, Ehlers said. The group hopes to have an office and clinic open in Whiteville or Columbus County in the very near future.

The effort has a special place in Ehlers’ heart, she said – she’s a Columbus County native, and grew up in Hallsboro. She has numerous family and friends here, she said, and despite living in New Bern, Columbus is home.

“In addition to reaching out to addicts in the community, Ehlers said, Trillium/Port welcomes referrals.

“Families suffer along with their addicted relatives,” she said. “If you have a family member who might have a problem, please contact us. Our goal is to provide the best treatment as early as possible, and help as many people as possible.

“We are available to anyone,” Ehlers said. “This isn’t about judgments. This is about helping people.”

For more information, call 1-877-685-2415. Assistance is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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