Most patients never expected that legally prescribed opioid pain medication could drag them into a vicious cycle of relief, tolerance, dependence, withdrawal and even addiction.
The battle is a common one that health experts now call an epidemic.
As prescription drug tolerance and dependence sets in, people can only find pain relief and avoid sometimes devastating withdrawal symptoms if they’re able to maintain an increasing level of the drug in their system.
When a client walks through the doors of Oklahoma City’s Catalyst Behavioral Services, a nonprofit providing substance abuse treatment services, staff stand ready. The path to addiction recovery can be long and difficult, but it begins with accepting help. Treatment centers like Catalyst, which are reimbursed by Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), want to provide hope.
“They’ve been beaten down, and they want hope,” said Edie Nayfa, Catalyst’s clinical director. “I think that’s what Catalyst and all the other department of mental health agencies are trying to do: give people hope. We hope that they stay to see the miracle.”
For decades, the response to substance abuse, dependence or addition — whether it was alcohol, opioids or cocaine — was largely the same: detox, abstinence and support, such as a 12-step program. These days, following an assessment, Catalyst staff can prescribe medication-assisted treatment (MAT), an evidence-based approach endorsed by scientists, doctors and the federal government.
Although it has been around for decades, MAT for opioid addiction is gaining traction in areas hit hard by the epidemic. Medical staff explain the treatment is based on the concept of treating a drug addiction with medication, and it’s one way to help those with opioid addiction recover their lives.
In Oklahoma, if addicts want help without a wait, MAT can be their quickest route to care. Currently, about 800 Oklahomans are on a waiting list for residential treatment for substance abuse disorders, said ODMHSAS public information director Jeff Dismukes.
“We need to address this as a comprehensive effort,” Dismukes said when discussing opioid addiction in Oklahoma and the response from the state government. “We need to look at prevention. We need to look at policy. We need to look at treatment. We still need more on the treatment side, but we are making progress. MAT is a huge opportunity with opioids and an opportunity to make a huge dent in that waiting list.”
ODMHSAS stands with the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration endorsing MAT, which has been viewed as controversial by some in the field. Because of doubts, it is not readily available to patients who might benefit from it in other states. That’s not the case in Oklahoma.
Eight years ago, Nayfa viewed MAT with doubt. For years, she had worked in abstinence addiction treatment. She recalls witnessing successful outcomes; however, the approach did not work for everyone. In therapy sessions, she heard from those white-knuckling through every day. Some relapsed.
At Catalyst, patients are prescribed a treatment approach with MAT, coupled with counseling. Nayfa and Joseph Johnston, the nonprofit’s CEO, describe success as patients beating their addictions by ceasing cravings, but also working through past trauma, like sexual abuse, neglect and abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“It is an evolution of all forms of treatment,” Johnston said. “This works, and it saves money and lives.”
During weekdays, cars and trucks pull up to Catalyst, 3033 N. Walnut Ave., not far from the Oklahoma Capitol. Sandwiched between state agency offices and industrial buildings, the two-story clinic provides more than a dozen addiction and substance abuse services.
On a recent Friday, staff treated 37 patients using MAT, specifically Suboxone, a combination of the opioid buprenorphine and naloxone. Under medical staff’s care, patients take the drug, which blocks the effects of opioids and reduces cravings while also preventing people abusing the medication.
In addition to combination drug treatment, patients undergo counseling, which can get to the core emotional and mental health contributors to addiction and help prevent relapse.
Currently, 172 active patients receive outpatient treatment and/or medication-assisted treatment at Catalyst. There is room for more.
“If you are worried about getting into treatment, this is the easy way in,” Nayfa said. “It’s keeping families together. It’s keeping people employed. It’s keeping people out of the criminal justice system. It is pretty amazing what treatment can do.”
While most people think the solution to addiction and drug problems is rehab, Nayfa and Johnston explained that’s a common misconception. In fact, those in the substance abuse field don’t use the word rehab. It’s treatment. Residential treatment is best for patients with severe struggles and long-term addiction. It’s a treatment approach that doesn’t fit everyone’s needs.
With outpatient or MAT, patients can visit the clinic during their lunch break, before or after work or after school for treatment. The treatment approach does not call for weeks away from family or extended breaks from work, Nayfa said.
For those fighting addictions or family members watching a loved one struggle, it takes asking for help. Catalyst is one that can help, Nayfa and Johnston said.
“It is a friendly, non-intimidating, ‘we want to help’-type environment,” Johnston said. “That goes a long way. When someone comes in, they are troubled and they might not know what to do or say. We put them at ease by identifying what they are going through. It goes a long way to soothing those initial concerns and their resistance to getting help.”
Visit catalyst.org or call 405-230-1154.
print headline: Novel regimen; A nonprofit on the forefront of the opioid epidemic uses treatments that help reduce job loss, incarceration rates and family strife.