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Some Detox Center In Alaska No Longer Accept New Patients For Withdrawal from Opioids Due To New Federal Regulations

According to the Alaska State Opioid Treatment Authority, Alaska's two residential detox centers have closed their beds designated for withdrawal from opioids due to changes in federal regulations. The 14-bed Ernie Turner Center based in Anchorage and operated by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, as well as the 16-bed detox facility Gateway to Recovery Center, based in Fairbanks and operated by the Fairbanks Native Association are no longer accepting new patients struggling with opiate addiction. Their beds, however, remain open for people seeking treatment for alcohol addiction as well as detox from other substances.

Both detox facilities used a combination of the medications Zyprexa and Tramadol as the first-line treatment for opiate withdrawal and the protocol consisted of having physician assistants administer them. But according to new federal regulations, only a medical doctor, certified by the Drug Enforcement Administration is permitted to administer these medications for the management of opioid withdrawal. Classified as a schedule IV controlled substance by the DEA in 2014, Tramadol is a centrally acting synthetic analgesic substance with opioid activity that may be comparable to buprenorphine in the management of moderately severe opiate withdrawal.

Bradley Griggs, the state opioid treatment authority, emphasizes the importance of having the beds for withdrawal from opiates readily available when someone struggling with opioid addiction is looking for specialized treatment because withdrawal is one of the toughest barriers to recovery from opiate addiction. The two residential detox facilities in Fairbanks and Anchorage, that serve patients from all over the state, are not compliant with the new federal regulations in terms of having a medical doctor on staff.

Fairbanks' detox center only has nurse practitioners and physician assistants on staff and closed its only two beds designated for withdrawal from opiates April 14, according to behavioral health director Perry Ahsogeak. Ahsogeak hopes to re-open the beds for patients with opiate addiction by the end of May, as the detox center strives to ensure all the legally compliant protocols are in place. The average length of stay at Fairbanks' detox center for people facing withdrawal from opiates is 10 days.

Perry Ahsogeak also said that these two beds are always full and the combination of Tramadol and Zyprexa (olanzapine) proved to be effective in weaning patients off opiates. Tramadol has been found to be more efficient in controlling opiate withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, depression, drug cravings, digestive symptoms, and irritability, in addition to having a low potential for abuse as well as less severe side effects than other medications. Used in combination with Tramadol, olanzapine can significantly reduce hallucinations, depression, and other mental conditions by helping to restore the balance of natural substances in the brain.

A 12-bed unit, the residential inpatient program at the Ernie Turner Center in Anchorage utilizes a therapeutic " Village of Care" model that involves substance abuse counseling, case management services, and group therapy, all steeped in Alaska native values. According to the Village philosophy, the spiritual needs of the patient are addressed as part of recovery from opioid addiction. Rebecca Ling, Director of Recovery Services at Ernie Turner Center did not comment on the decision to shut down Anchorage's detox program for people struggling with opiate addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

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