By Graysen Doran
Rockbridge Area Community Services added a treatment program this month for patients recovering from opioid addictions.
Dr. Kirk Luder, the acting medical director at RACS, said the program started combining the drug, Suboxone, with counseling sessions Feb. 1.
Suboxone “reduces withdrawal, it reduces craving, it reduces any euphoric effects from taking regularly prescribed opioids,” he said. “The point is you use [the program] to keep [patients] off illicit substances and then you give them a chance to kind of build a new life for themselves.”
The drug-and-counseling combination is “effective in the treatment of opioid use disorders,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It also helps some patients continue recovery after treatment.
Last year, the Rockbridge Area Health Center received a $257,371 federal grant to use medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.
Luder said several young adults in the Rockbridge area died from opioid overdoses in the last few years.
“It’s just a terrible, terrible tragedy,” he said.
Opioids fueled the increase in drug overdose cases since 2013, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s Fatal Drug Overdose Quarterly Report.
Anna Lawhorne, a nurse and office manager at Shenandoah Psychiatric Medicine in Fishersville, said the practice has used Suboxone medication combined with counseling for five years. She said the program works for motivated patients who are determined to recover from their opioid addictions.
Some patients continue to rely on the drug to avoid relapses, she said.
“People use [Suboxone] as a crutch,” Lawhorne said. “They don’t think they can [recover] without it.”
In fall of 2018, Luder said RACS was selected by the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services to receive a grant to create the treatment program.
Maria Reppas, a spokesperson for the department, said in an email that the grant is $48,000.
Luder said prescribers need special waivers to their licenses to provide Suboxone to patients. The prescribers must complete a training program. He said he became certified in January 2019.
Other treatment plans, such as abstinence, are less successful than treatment with Suboxone, he said.
“The problem with [abstinence] is that when people are addicted to opioids, they develop very, very intense and painful withdrawal symptoms,” Luder said.
The opioid crisis has been declared a public health emergency both nationally and in Virginia.
Opioids are a category of drugs that are usually safe when used under a doctor’s supervision for short periods of time, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
But use for longer period of time can lead to addiction.
Luder said the goal of the treatment program at RACS is to help patients make lifestyle changes to maintain recovery.
“We’ve had a number of opioid-related accidental deaths over the last few years,” he said, “and we’d like that number to be zero.”