The drug abuse problem statewide has prompted several agencies to look at new ways of dealing with it.
Community Mercy REACH is an outpatient alcohol, tobacco and drug treatment program offered through Community Mercy Health Partners in Clark and Champaign counties. The program has been available for approximately 25 years, said Mercy REACH Manager Sheri Haines.
Unintentional drug overdoses caused 2,110 Ohio resident deaths in 2013, according to the Ohio Department of Health. Opiates, which include prescription painkillers, were involved in more than 70 percent of overdose deaths. And heroin-related deaths increased in 2013, surpassing prescription opiates among unintentional overdose deaths. Mercy REACH saw an increase in individuals addicted to opiates as doctors began reducing prescriptions for opiates and pill mills began to be looked at by government officials, Haines said.
Haines said Mercy REACH saw 14 percent of its clients had opiate-related diagnoses in 2008. That percentage increased to 24 percent in 2014. That data includes both Clark and Champaign counties.
Mercy REACH now offers medication-assisted addiction treatment for opiates and alcohol with Vivitrol. Vivitrol is a drug created by Alkermes, which blocks the pleasurable effects of opiates or alcohol on the brain. The once-a-month injection is available by prescription only, and is used alongside behavioral treatment, Haines said. The treatment can be for 60, 90 or 120 days, depending on the individual’s needs.
“Vivitrol is only a tool in the treatment process of opiate addiction,” Haines said.
Additional counseling provides strategies to recognize a person’s “triggers” for using the drug, so they can be avoided.
Part of the problem a person who is addicted to a drug faces is staying in the same environment where they became addicted, Haines said.
“They have to learn to work in that environment, until they make a decision to remove themselves from it,” she said. “You are going to have temptations everywhere, so you have to learn how to deal with the temptations in yourself.”
Once a person is addicted to an opiate like heroin, everything revolves around using the drug.
“I talked to an addict once. She looked at me and in all sincerity said drugs were so much a part of her life, if she didn’t do the drug, what does she do? I brought up ideas like a walk in the park, enjoy nature. But it was so totally foreign to her,” Chronic Care Clinic Certified Nurse Practitioner Sue Berger said. “That’s where counseling really comes in – helping people to understand, how to take these steps. What we think of as a normal life is not normal to people who are addicted. Counseling helps direct them back into a productive lifestyle where they can enjoy the things all of us take for granted.”
Berger said she has seen the impact taking Vivitrol can have on a person addicted to opiates.
“I had a woman come in who (had been) on Vivitrol. She was just so happy. She said, ‘I have my life back, I have a job now, an apartment, I regained custody of my kids,’” Berger said. “It took that horrid monkey off her back and let her get her life back. When I saw that, I said, this is the way to go.”
Those using opiates to manage chronic pain will need to be prescribed a non-opiate drug to manage that pain, Berger said. Vivitrol will block the drug’s effects.
The Chronic Care Clinic is not a pain-management clinic, Berger added. If the patient has pain problem, she will refer the individual to the appropriate agency or doctor to assist with that.
Individuals must be sober for a certain amount of time before taking Vivitrol; if they are using drugs or alcohol when they get the shot, they will go into immediate withdrawal, Haines said. If a person is determined by staff to be a good candidate for the medication-assisted treatment of Vivitrol, the shot is administered at Mercy Memorial Hospital’s Chronic Care Clinic by Berger.
Mercy REACH does not turn away anyone for inability to pay and works with many health insurance plans, Haines said.
Those interested in treatment do not have to be referred to Community Mercy REACH; they can just walk in and set up an appointment.
Community Mercy REACH is located at 904 Scioto St. in Urbana, and at the MercyCrest Medical Arts Building at 30 W. McCreight Ave., Suite 204, in Springfield. For more information call 937-390-5338 or 937-653-3001, or visit www.Community-Mercy.org.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.