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New MAT opioid addiction treatment center first of its kind in the region

Discovering a friend or family member has substance abuse issues can be a distressing situation for anyone. Few people feel equipped to deal with a crisis that can ultimately tear families apart and destroy lives. But crisis requires action.

Unfortunately, this call to action is being thrust upon a growing number of people in Western Pennsylvania.

Last year, Pennsylvania had the nation’s fourth-highest rate of drug overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationally, the drug epidemic took 63,600 lives — two-thirds of them extinguished by opioids like heroin, fentanyl, and oxycontin.

The CDC has called it “an increasing public burden in the United States.”

When it comes to the opioid overdose epidemic — a public health crisis now claiming more than 100 lives every day — traditional methods of response and rehabilitation are falling short.

For addiction treatment providers, that has traditionally meant an abstinence-only 12-step model of recovery — a method that essentially considers addiction a lack of willpower and zealously excludes anyone who uses medication as a “crutch” to help overcome his or her addiction.

But low success rates of rehabilitation programs like these (estimated to be between 16-30%) have forced medical providers, and the country, to consider how our treatment programs can be more heavily based on scientific research instead of moral stigmatization.

Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by changes in the brain circuits that deliver feelings of reward, stress, and self-control, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Like other chronic diseases such as asthma or diabetes, opioid addiction is treatable.

Opioid addiction is so powerful because users feel like they must keep using in order to stave off withdrawal symptoms like severe nausea and full-body aches. To avoid suffering, users often seek out street drugs like heroin and opioid pain killers — not always to get high, but to avoid withdrawal.

Medications like Methadone and buprenorphine (known as Suboxone) can stop this cycle when taken as prescribed in a safe medical setting. By doing so, opioid users do not get the dangerous euphoric high of misusing opioids, and they also reduce their risk of relapse and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

“These medications work to treat opioid addiction by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain,” said Dr. Scott Cook, addiction medicine physician in the Western Pennsylvania area.

This method is known as medically assisted treatment (MAT), and the largest public health organizations including the CDC, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the World Health Organization all publicly acknowledge the value of medication-assisted opioid addiction treatment.

“What’s happening is that medically assisted treatment is becoming the new, progressive style of treatment,” said Steve Devlin, Executive Director at Clear Day Treatment of Westmoreland. “We understand that medically assisted treatment of opiate addiction is a better philosophy toward helping people stabilize and become productive members of society again, rather than continuing to be a weight on society.”

Clear Day Treatment of Westmoreland is one of only two treatment facilities in Pennsylvania approaching opioid addiction as a chronic disease to be treated instead of “cured,” as the traditional method insists. Studies show that the success rate of patients in MAT rehabilitation programs is more than two to three times that of those in abstinence programs (60%).

“What we do, is take people in and stabilize them on Methadone, Suboxone, or Vivitrol, and, if they choose to go further and get clean, we enroll them in our rehab facility next door, or transfer them to a rehab facility closer to their home,” said Devlin.

Clear Day has secured the necessary waivers from the state to ensure all patients can receive the medical assistance necessary to help them reach their goal of maintaining or lowering dependency. Nearly all other facilities in the state are limited to the number of patients that can be assisted in this way.

One glaring problem with the nationwide treatment system, Devlin said, is that without the help of MAT, many drug users can’t stay clean long enough to even qualify for traditional methods. They are simply turned away by rehabilitation facilities until they’ve been clean the required number of days — which may never happen.

“Traditional rehabilitation centers would have to change their entire mission and philosophy to offer what we offer and see success rates matching MAT,” said Devlin.

“Clear Day will offer the full spectrum of MAT, whereas other places do a limited spectrum of MAT. It’s one reason this new facility will be able to do a lot of good for the community,” said Cook.

MAT can be used in tandem with cognitive therapy, reality therapy or motivational enhancement therapies that teach drug users how to deal with problems that can lead to relapse.

The staff is trained to treat co-disorders often accompanying drugs abuse like PTSD, depression, and bipolar disorder. Many staff members are themselves successfully recovered addicts.

“Clear Day is set up to do it all. I think organizations like that will really benefit people from Westmoreland County and the surrounding communities,” said Cook. “You’d be surprised how important it is to have a nice, clean, warm well-staffed facility. Clear Day has all of that. It’s a unique facility.”

The 56 bed residential treatment program and 14 bed detox facility will open September 13. Men and women will have separate living quarters, in addition to shared communal areas for group discussions and dining.

Patients are permitted to walk-in, but calling ahead is encouraged to ensure space availability.

“It’s a much needed service in the area, and the country, really,” said Devlin. “We’re going to be able to save lives.”

If you or a loved one needs help overcoming opioid addiction, call Clear Day Treatment of Westmoreland  at (724) 834-7000.

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