|6/14/2013 4:36:00 PM|
Fighting Drugs with Drugs
New opiate addiction clinic to be fully operational soon
Photo By Brad S. Sherman
Dr. Joe Gay, Executive Director of Health Recovery Services, answers questions about the new Southern Ohio Treatment Center located in Jackson. The clinic will employ the use of controversial medications, primarily Suboxone, to help treat opiate addiction.
Jackson County Municipal Court Judge Mark Musick says medications like Suboxone are merely tools, and like any tool, can be used in good ways or can be destructive.
With a controversial type of drug treatment clinic set to be full operational in Jackson within the next month, the man in charge of it has shed more light on the operation.
Dr. Joe Gay, Executive Director of Health Recovery Services, spoke Thursday to a joint meeting of the Jackson County Drug Court and Community Corrections boards about the newly-opened Southern Ohio Treatment Center.
The new clinic, located on Twin Oaks Drive, will employ the use of controversial medications, primarily Suboxone - and possibly Methadone - as ways to treat patients with opiate addiction.
What makes the medications controversial is that both Suboxone and Methadone are considered opiates, or partial opiates, themselves. They can be addictive or used to "get high."
Gay says that while the problem of opiate addiction is relatively new to Southern Ohio, there is 50-plus years of research and treatment experience in larger metropolitan areas that proves the medications work.
"There is a science behind the treatment of opiate addiction. It is pretty clear from that science, that medication needs to be a basic part of the treatment," he explained.
"There are certainly people who recover without medication, but the science is clear, the success rates without medicated assisted treatment is around 10 percent. With medicated assisted treatment, you get up to 30-40 percent."
The program will focus primarily on the use of Suboxone for treatment, but will also offer Vivitrol and possibly Methadone in the future.
"It has a partial opiate action, it does part of what an opiate does," Gay said of the Suboxone drug. "A person can get a little bit high on it, but not very high. If they take more and more, it doesn't get them higher and higher.
"It does relieve withdraw symptoms, and for many people, it addresses the craving they have for the drug. So it seems to be a useful drug. It's effective."
Gay added the biggest problem with Suboxone is it is not highly regulated, which leads to a lot of diversion, or people selling the drugs on the street. He says, however, the Jackson clinic will have rules and procedures in place to address diversion.
Any patients who live in the City of Jackson will need to come to the facility to be given their medication daily, and staff will observe them take it. For patients who live out of town, their Suboxone will come in numbered strips, which will be audited on a weekly basis.
For out of towners, Gay says making them travel every day for their medicine would be too large of a burden.
"The other thing, it doesn't make sense to me to bring 40 or 50 drug addicts to town every single day, when you could probably get by with enjoying their company once a week," Gay said.
Gay told The Telegram, if any patient is caught engaging in the diversion of their medication, they will immediately be cut off from receiving the drugs.
"For certain offenses, they are out immediately, and diversion is one of those offenses," he said. They would still be allowed, and encouraged, to attend counseling at the clinic.
He added patients who test positive for substances like those found in Valium and Xanax would also be taken off Suboxone, because mixing those could result in a fatal overdose.
For more minor offenses, like missing counseling appointments, a three-strike system would be utilized before removing a patient from the program.
Gay said Suboxone treatment can last a year, or possibly two years for the average patient. He added, though, some people will need to stay on Suboxone indefinitely.
If the clinic does begin employing the use of Methadone, as Gay indicated it may, it is far more addictive and difficult to stop taking.
"It is an opiate, clearly, it is like a slow-acting heroin," Gay said of Methadone.
He said since it is highly regulated, Methadone does not have the high diversion rates of Suboxone.
"People who get on it often end up staying on it for most of their lives. Once a person is established on Methadone, they find it very hard to get off of it."
As for Vivitrol, it is an opiate blocker and cannot be diverted or abused, but it does not work for every patient.
Gay's talk in front of the semi-annual meeting of Jackson County Drug Court and Community Corrections prompted several questions about the operation, as there is a high level of concern about what effect, if any, it will have on the community.
Jackson County Municipal Court Judge Mark Musick, who led the meeting, said he has spoken to many concerned members of the community for the past year about the clinic and Suboxone treatment.
As for his feelings on the issue, he says the medicines are merely tools, and can be used in different ways.
"I've thought about this a lot over the past year," he said. "It's a tool, just like an ax is a tool. An ax can be used to chop a lot of firewood to keep your house warm, or an ax can be used to do a lot of destructive things."
Heath Recovery Services is a non-profit agency, and will manage the Southern Ohio Treatment Center. HRS operates clinics in six counties, operates a few residential facilities, and an alternative school.
Southern Ohio Treatment Center is a State of Ohio-funded project designed to combat the growing problem of opiate addiction. It is already open on a limited basis, writing prescriptions for out-of-town patients and conducting evaluations.
In its current state, it employs seven staff members - two counselors, two physicians, two nurses, and a medication manager. It has on-site security features, including the use of cameras.
The clinic will utilize a sliding scale for payment, billing some insurance companies, but also being sure to serve those without insurance.
Gay says he expects the facility to be fully operational from within a few weeks to a month's time.
Southern Ohio Treatment Center eventually will be renamed the Phillip Prior Recovery Center, named for a physician who served as an addictionologist for the Veteran's Administration. He passed away in March at the age of 59.
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