It’s official! The Centers of Excellence (COE), which are being implemented to connect opioid addicts to treatment resources, will be opening this month. For some time now, Governor Wolf has made it his mission to better understand addiction, as well as seek the opinions of other lawmakers, families, law enforcement, and medical professionals in regards to our growing drug epidemic, and how to fight against it.
As of 2015, Pennsylvania ranked ninth overall for fatal drug overdoses among the general population and led the country among men between the ages of 12 to 25. In the matter of one year, between 2014 and 2015, opioid-related overdose deaths rose 23.4% in our state, totaling 3,383. And as of late 2014, law enforcement officials saved roughly 1,400 overdose victims with the lifesaving reversal drug Naloxone.
So where does this leave us as a state? As the epidemic grows and opioid addicts continue to suffer, politicians devise plans to make a dent in the problem. From prescription monitoring programs, making Naloxone available to the general public, and new prevention methods for high school students, Pennsylvania is surely attempting to do its part.
Governor Wolf’s efforts are notably praiseworthy, having $20.4 allocated by the legislature for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The funds are intended to bring about change and make resources more available for opioid addicts throughout the state. The hope is that anyone who is suffering with an opioid or heroin addiction gets the help they need, and is able to do so in a timely and simple fashion. Often times, when an individual is ready to seek help, resources are scarce, if at all available. An addict calls a treatment center and they have a waiting list. That person then in turn, continues to use. With addiction, action needs to be taken immediately, before it is too late. The centers plan to limit occurrences such as these, getting opioid addicts into treatment immediately.
Centers Of Excellence
So how will this plan be executed? To say the state wants to help save lives and get opioid addicts on the path to recovery, is easy enough, but what does it entail? Cue the Centers of Excellence. These centers will act as a network throughout the state, coordinating care for those with Medicaid coverage. Opioid addicts will receive a holistic-based treatment plan, incorporating both behavioral health and primary health care. The system will also ensure that these individuals receive follow-up care and support within their communities, such as assistance with housing and food.
Take Tim for instance. He’s a 22 year old opioid addict who just overdosed in Luzerne County. After he is revived with Narcan and assessed by the local emergency room, Tim tells the doctor he wants help with his addiction. He has never been to treatment before or in any real trouble, so he doesn’t understand the process of seeking help. The nurse on staff contacts one of the COEs, with informed consent from the patient. A team member from the center arrives on site to evaluate Tim and his needs. After determining the appropriate level of care, whether it be inpatient, outpatient, etc. Tim is referred to that facility or center within the network.
During this process, it is determined that Tim also needs treatment for his anxiety disorder and diabetes, so he is then set up with both a behavioral health provider and primary care physician. The idea is the opioid addict receives all available supports and the COE team executes these referrals with a “warm hand-offs” approach.
Medicating Our Way Out Of The Problem
While Tim is receiving treatment through group therapy, one-on-one counseling, and medication for his anxiety and diabetes, he is also given Suboxone to fight his cravings for heroin. While many advocates believe Suboxone is beneficial in aiding one’s recovery, it has also been known to be highly addictive. Nevertheless, Tim continues on with this form of “treatment” because he is required to by the center, otherwise, he wouldn’t “qualify” for their help.
Six months go by and Tim has been going strong. He still sees his doctors and therapist regularly, and except for one relapse, he’s sober. Tim continues to take his Suboxone medication, but can’t seem to ween down past 8 mg. When Tim first started the program, the doctor prescribed him 16 mg per day. He has been steadily taking 8 mg for two months, but whenever he attempts to take less, he suffers withdrawal symptoms. Eventually, Tim can’t take it any longer. He feels trapped on Suboxone; physically dependent on something to get him through the day. After a year on the program, he checks himself into an inpatient facility to detox safely from his “life-saving” medication.
Advocates will argue that this medication helps deter overdose, and ultimately death, which in most cases it does. When used properly in a detox process or for harm reduction, Suboxone can be beneficial. Nevertheless, what does it do in terms of the actual treatment and healing of addiction? Yes, Suboxone fights the physical craving because it is a narcotic as well, but it does not silence the mental obsession or heal the spiritual emptiness that all addicts carry around with them.
Delaying the Inevitable
Time and time again, we hear stories of how Suboxone failed an opioid addict. It was the thing that was supposed to save them, but it eventually brought them to their knees too. Now, our state plans to offer this medication, along with Methadone and Vivitrol to 45 new facilities, all of which are required to have a minimum of 300 new patients. That’s at least 13,500 more people on one of these medications.
Advocates for the new program see it as 13,500 more lives saved from the possibility of overdose. It can also be viewed as 13,500 new possibilities of prolonged use, cross-addiction, emergency room visits or the illegal use and/or sale of Suboxone.
We can’t medicate our way out of the problem. It will only make it worse. Methadone accounts for one third of all opioid related overdoses each year. In 2010, 30,000 people visited a local ER for the use of Suboxone, nearly half of which were due to non-medical use.
The Centers of Excellence are only delaying the inevitable by requiring each patient to be on one these medications. They may be keeping people alive, but at what cost? The chance that patients sell their medication on the street…or abuse cocaine or benzodiazepines in conjunction with their medication (which is life-threatening)…or simply, just dig themselves deeper into the hole of addiction? Although components of their plan are very beneficial, requiring every patient to go on medication assisted treatment is not only unnecessary, but also very harmful. The COEs of Pennsylvania are not treating opioid addicts, they are simply lowering the death rate for a period of time.
Contact Clearbrook Today
Are you or someone you love suffering with chemical dependency or alcoholism? For over 4 decades, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been offering abstinence-based treatment for opioid addicts in the state of Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. Through the process of a medically supervised detox, customized inpatient program, aftercare planning and the integration of the 12 steps, we have watched our patients achieve lasting and meaningful sobriety.
If you or a loved one is ready to take the step into recovery, give us a call today. Our Admissions Specialists are available 24 hours a day.