SALT LAKE CITY — Less than one year ago, Jamie Shaw said he hit rock bottom in his 20-year battle against addiction.
After a week of drinking and doing methamphetamine — and seeing no way out of it — he decided to take his own life, Shaw remembered. He called family members and told them goodbye.
Four days later, he woke up in pain in a hospital.
“But I eventually realized I was here for a reason and wanted to live. I vowed to never to use meth again,” he said.
Shaw told his story Tuesday as officials from Intermountain Healthcare, Volunteers of America-Utah and the Odyssey House treatment center met to announce a partnership that they say is already saving lives.
In 2014, caregivers at Intermountain noticed more patients were coming to the hospital with staph infections caused by drug injections as the opioid crisis increased. Treatment for such infections usually requires patients to wear a PICC catheter line, which delivers antibiotics to major veins in the heart.
While administering the treatment, hospital workers had difficulty helping patients manage their withdrawals, said Dr. Dean Mayer, hospitalist for Intermountain Healthcare.
“It really curtailed our ability to treat these infections that were life-threatening,” Mayer said.
Because the hospital didn’t have the resources to treat patients’ addictions as well, the patients would end up needing to stay in the hospital for weeks longer than others to ensure their infections were thoroughly treated.
Hospital officials realized addiction treatment needed to be part of the equation. But they needed to find a way for patients who had IVs in their arms to move safely back into the community.
“Because really, the infection, if they are able to stop injecting, it’s the short-lived problem in their life that we can treat. We have to hand it off to the people who are specialized in the addiction piece of this,” Mayer said.
Intermountain then turned to Volunteers of America-Utah and asked the group to take patients who had PICC catheter lines into the organization’s detoxification center. At first the group was hesitant to take the patients with serious infections, Mayer said, but eventually agreed.
“Once we realized that we needed to treat the addiction piece, the withdrawals, we were able to focus our attention on getting them over their infections,” Mayer recalled.
“And it allowed us to develop a team approach where we have social workers, nurses, PICC line nurses, infectious disease physicians, psychiatrists, and then our hospital’s team, and then we formulated and developed a team to approach to this in real time.”
Volunteers of America-Utah established five inpatient rooms in its detoxification center, which have been in use for the last five years. Patients who agree are transferred there for immediate addiction recovery, and Intermountain HomeCare providers visit them to treat their infections.
While most stay in the center for about two weeks, the patients being treated for infections stay longer, where they are encouraged to find additional addiction treatment, said Kathy Bray, president and CEO for Volunteers of America-Utah. After, she said, they receive referrals to other area substance abuse treatment providers.
Since the program began, overall patient completion of infection treatment has risen to 50%, up from 10% about five years ago, Mayer said.
The program recently expanded into Odyssey House, which provides addiction counseling and resources for those patients with infections who want the treatment. Intermountain is also working with organizations in Utah and Weber counties to stretch the program into other communities.
“This program just makes sense. If a person with a PICC line needs addiction treatment, let’s get them out of the hospital and into behavioral health treatment as soon as possible. The solution is community partners working together and bringing their unique expertise to better serve the patient collectively,” said Adam Cohen, CEO of Odyssey House.
Shaw — one of the first patients who went through the program at Odyssey House — said when he was ready to be released from the hospital, he knew he would need additional help.
“While the doctors and nurses at IMC worked tirelessly to heal my body, I knew I had to find a way to heal my mind, but I didn’t know where to turn, you know? I didn’t have the slightest idea what to do. I was just in a really bad place,” Shaw recalled.
He learned he would be eligible to stay at Odyssey House. He completed the program in three and a half months, while Intermountain staff periodically visited him.
“I’m proud to say I’ve been clean and sober ever since. I’m genuinely happy all the time,” Shaw said. “I’d like to thank the doctors at IHC for putting my body back together and I’d like to thank Odyssey House for helping me put my life back together.”
He said his message to others dealing with addiction is “don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, and ask for the help. Just do what you can to get the help, because I promise you, it’s a better life. ... But they have to want it, and that’s the biggest problem, is they have to want it.”
Shaw said he believes offering people addiction treatment while they’re in the hospital will help many recover, like it did for him.
His sister-in-law, Gaylynn Shaw, who helped him find the program, said she was “so proud” of him for completing his treatment. But she echoed her brother-in-law’s thoughts. “He had to want it.”
“This one worked out to not only help his addiction, but also his medical needs. And I could tell it was going to be a good fit.”
If someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, resources are available. In Utah, the SafeUT app provides a direct connection to a crisis line. Other resources include the National Hotline, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK); University Neuropsychiatric Institute Crisis line, 801-587-3000; and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Correction: In an earlier version, Jamie Shaw was misidentified in photo captions as Jamie Snow.