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Tackling Opioid Addiction With Medically Assisted Treatment and Psychiatric Care

7:14 PM, Sep 19, 2018

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Jalyn Henderson

Since the year 2000, Florida has seen a 200 percent increase in opioid deaths. And in 2016, there were 2,798 opioid-related overdose deaths in the state. In an effort to fight the opioid epidemic, some addiction specialists throughout Southwest Florida are using psychiatric care and an equal balance of medication to help addicts from relapsing.

Traditionally, psychiatric care is used to help addicts figure out what triggers people to turn to addictive substances like alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine or, for this story … opioids.

Tackling Opioid Addiction With Medically Assisted Treatment and Psychiatric Care

Dr. Zaheer Aslam, who runs the Advanced Psychiatric Care in Fort Myers, said more than 50% of psychiatric patients have some form of addiction.”If we just treat the addiction and not the underlying mental health issues then we are not treating the whole person.”

At his practice, Dr. Aslam uses psychiatric care and medically assisted treatment, for his patients.

Medically assisted treatment, or MAT, limits the extraneous withdrawal symptoms. There are two types of medication the Food and Drug Administration approved for MAT. Methadone, which is prescribed through licensed methadone clinics and Buprenorphine.

Both medicines help to normalize the brain activity and to scale back opioid cravings.

Addicts who are treated at Dr. Aslam’s practice are prescribed one of the medications and they must see a therapist. This combination of treatment is usually not for the first time addicts. It is usually those who have hit rock bottom.

However, some addiction specialists are not on board with using MAT to treat people with opioid addiction .

“It keeps them in a cycle of addiction,” said J. Phillip James, a licensed mental health counselor at Nextep, a substance abuse recovery center.

Philip said addicts who depends on MAT are using it as a crutch and it is not ideal to completely address the problem. “The ultimate ideal is for complete and total abstinence.”

How the Government is Fighting the Opioid Crisis

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act , CARA, was signed into law on July 22, 2016.

It’s been quite some time since the federal government created a law that addressed addiction.

CARA specifically focuses on the opioid epidemic. When CARA was signed, the bill authorized more than $181 million a year in new funding to fight the opioid epidemic.

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services is taking direction from the Trump Administration to make another attempt at tackling the opioid crisis.

Some of the key points in its efforts include:

  • Authorize the National Institute of Health to research potential non-addictive painkillers
  • Reauthorize a $500 million a year state grant program
  • Permanently allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe medication-assisted treatment. The previous bill had a deadline set for 2021.
  • Allow physicians to prescribe MAT for up to 275 patients. Currently, doctors can only serve 100 patients

Although Phillip and Dr. Zaheer are split on using MAT, the two do agree that therapy is an important piece of the puzzle. “Therapy is that key,” Phillip said.

“They have to be able to get to the point where they can recognize and be able to develop self worth, resiliency," Phillip said, "the things they need to have in order to move forward in life and be happy.”

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