Opiate clinic will serve local needs (Continued coverage in photos)
The break of dawn has some north country residents driving over an hour to a clinic for a single shot before driving back to work. Some need that shot seven days a week and others have been forced to bring their young children, because before Monday, the closest opiate clinic to offer medication-assisted treatment was in Syracuse.
There is new hope for substance abuse patients in the north.
Credo Community Center has begun an outpatient clinic that will offer the full range of medical treatment for opioid addiction, with the assistance and support of the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. The clinic is sanctioned to treat up to 100 patients, and is anticipating 60 to 75 of those places to be filled in the first six months.
The office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the program as a part of its initiative to increase medication-assisted treatment and to combat heroin and opioid abuse. NYS OASAS will provide Credo with more than $200,000 annually.
Credo Executive Director James P. Scordo said he and his staff saw the need in the community and felt a responsibility to fill it.
“So many addictions begin with an injury or surgery,” Mr. Scordo said. “When a person gets addicted to pain pills and the prescription stops, heroin is the cheaper option on the street.”
Credo’s new clinic is able to provide methadone, suboxone and vivitrol under the care of Dr. Daniel D. Pisaniello. According to Dr. Pisaniello, methadone and suboxone work by sitting on the same receptors in the brain as opiates like heroin do, satisfying drug cravings, while vivitrol blocks those receptors, making other drugs ineffective for around four weeks.
“One of the important things is not just (giving people medication) and sending them on their way,” said Vicki L. Wolfe, clinical director, who will start patients in individual support sessions, and then develop group sessions based on the client base and their needs.
“We want to teach them skills to prevent relapse, identify triggers, deal with the stress of life and cravings so that they are not the next obituary we are dealing with.”
“Some people think that if you ‘bring the service, you bring those people.’ That’s just not true. (Those with addictions) are already here. This has hit every community,” Mr. Scordo said. “This is an epidemic like we have never seen before.”
Mr. Scordo stresses that addiction is not a character flaw or a sign of a lack of moral fiber, though it has often been viewed as such. Science backs this up. Addictions are chronic relapsing diseases that, among other symptoms, alter the way our brains release chemical signals like serotonin and hormones like endorphins.
While there is no one “addiction gene” which dooms a person to substance abuse, scientists have been finding more and more genetic factors and variants that make a person more or less susceptible to the disease, much like Alzheimer’s and Type 2 Diabetes.
Studies, including research published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, show that patients receiving methadone treatments were far more likely to stay in treatment, and less likely to relapse than their counterparts not receiving methadone doses or receiving placebo medication.
Substance abuse can blind-side families with no history of addiction. Mr. Scordo said family members are often totally thrown off by a loved one’s addiction and have no idea how to get help or treatment. Credo encourages family members and friends to get involved, attend treatment sessions and get trained to administer Narcan. Credo also offers free parent support groups.
Part of the new clinic is teaching patients the science behind addiction, how different drugs affect the brain, and making sure they understand how medications like methadone function.
“We would rather have them come to us if faced with the urge to relapse,” Dr. Pisaniello said. “So would their loved ones.”
Dr. Pisaniello said that when users get help stabilizing their lifestyles, there are fewer overdoses, less crime, less theft and burglary, less needle sharing, and fewer cases of diseases like HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.
Credo stresses the need for law enforcement involvement, prevention and education, and treatment in the fight against the opiate epidemic.
The city of Watertown is getting behind Credo’s efforts. Mr. Scordo reports zero opposition from local leaders, many of whom encourage the work. Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen M. O’Neill said her department can now offer vivitrol to individuals with opiate abuse problems as they leave the jail, and are in the process of identifying qualifying inmates. The Metro-Jefferson Drug Task Force is intent on cracking down on dealers over users of illegal drugs. The Department of Health is encouraging more physicians, even those working in traditional medical offices, to become certified to prescribe medically assisted treatment. Mr. Scordo supposes that just 10 years ago, they would not have received this kind of support.
“If we can prevent addiction, then great, but if not we are going to treat it,” Mr. Scordo said. “It’s going to take the community to get this epidemic to turn.”