According to the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, prescription drug abuse is an epidemic resulting in more deaths than cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines combined. Valley General Hospital in Monroe is increasing the capacity of their acute medical detoxification program as a result. With a goal of giving more patients the chance to achieve long term sobriety, they are determined to make services available for individuals with a desire to stop using alcohol and prescription drugs including opiates.
According to Recovery Program Manager David Anderson, “We started off with four beds and then got a license for eight. So now we’re looking to expand because the demand has been high.”
They have reinstated The Chemically Using Pregnancy program (CUP), their state funded treatment program available to pregnant women without health insurance. While they have also contracted with most insurance companies, they currently cannot accept patients covered by Medicaid.
Dr. John Patz is the Medical Director of Valley General’s detoxification program. He is an addiction specialist who has been treating substance abuse patients since 2003. He explained that the facility offers a supervised detox for patients experiencing acute withdrawal symptoms related to alcohol or opioid withdrawal. This requires the use of certain pharmaceuticals to ensure the patient remains stable and somewhat comfortable. Many residential, or long term programs, require patients to complete a medical detox before they can enter their programs.This is because the effects of withdrawal can be very serious, even life threatening with certain substances, such as benzodiazepines (Xanax) and alcohol.
Dr. Patz also supports the use of abstinence-promoting medications, such as Naltrexone and Suboxone, especially when treating opioid addicted patients. He stated,“Our approach to opioids is not just detoxification. We discuss regarding medications designed to make abstinence easier and when it makes sense to put someone on Suboxone, I will.”
However, Patz does admit that pharmaceutically assisted recovery is a controversial topic. While some detox facilities and long term programs are adamantly opposed to the use of medications, such as Suboxone, in order to encourage abstinence, others are not. While some professionals believe that this simply transfers a former addict’s addiction to a different substance, others believe that it allows former users to live productive lives free of cravings.
Patz offered up these thoughts,“When looking at abstinence rates from alcoholism, best I can tell it’s about 40 percent. When examining abstinence from opioid dependency, best I can tell it’s about 20 percent. Medically the issue that comes to mind is what’s the difference? Why are the numbers so much lower for opioid dependence than for alcoholism?”
He went on to discuss that in addition to a dismal 20 percent remission rate, opioid dependency reduces the average life expectancy by 1/3. Finally, he stated,“From a public health standpoint, that’s a rather nasty disease. The issue becomes; is there medication that we can use to improve that sort of sobriety rate?”
Suboxone and Naltrexone have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of opioid dependency. They work by blocking opioid receptors in the brain to prevent cravings and their ability to experience a feeling of euphoria when opiates are ingested.