real recovery

What works

Amid bad news about spiking overdose rates, there’s a gleam of hope

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 9/16/20

MONTICELLO, NY — In 1995, when deaths from AIDS were at their peak, 50,876 Americans died.*

In 2017, American deaths from opioids stand at 70,237

AIDS has a treatment now but no cure. …

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real recovery

What works

Amid bad news about spiking overdose rates, there’s a gleam of hope

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — In 1995, when deaths from AIDS were at their peak, 50,876 Americans died.*

In 2017, American deaths from opioids stand at 70,237

AIDS has a treatment now but no cure. There’s no cure for opioid addiction, either. But like the earlier epidemic, there are treatments based on individual needs and what started users with opioids to begin with.

“People begin [to] use for varying reasons,” said Melissa Stickle, director of community services for Sullivan County. “Some are prescribed medications to deal with physical pain and become addicted, some use to escape emotional pain and some just experiment and become addicted.”

Ideally, Stickle said, you try to stop addiction before it starts. “We really want to get to persons prior to use; prevention is always a need and usually the first thing to go when money gets tight.”

She’s speaking of the federal and state funds which help keep these programs going.

In the meantime, people like Stickle are dealing with the epidemic.“There is no one answer for any of this,” Stickle said. “It needs to be a multisystem approach to have an impact.”

Once people have started, “the best course of action is education and treatment. There are varying methods to accomplish this, from Medication-Assisted Treatment and counseling, to just counseling, to self-help programs,” Stickle said. “The use of NARCAN is also beneficial to reverse overdoses and prevent deaths.”

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) gets brought up a lot. The meds involved can include methadone, Vivitrol or Suboxone.

Methadone works for some people, she said, but “requires a large commitment for individuals to attend a clinic daily to obtain their medication.” It also requires a clinic.

“We currently do not have a local clinic but are in discussion,” Stickle said.

Vivitrol and Suboxone are now also available here, which will help.

But it can’t just be about the meds, because what powers an opioid addiction is complicated. “There is strong evidence that shows MAT in combination with counseling has a great impact on individuals being able to obtain and maintain recovery,” she said.

Family therapy is useful, too. “Addiction does not only impact the individual who is misusing medications or illicit drugs but also those closest to them... so it makes sense to include them in the treatment process.”

And the support of family and friends helps, Stickle said.

Even if all that is in place, there are still challenges just because we’re in a rural area: limited public transportation, distances to travel, isolation. In normal times, it can be managed; meetings can be attended and counselors can be seen in person. Family gatherings give a stable center for the world to revolve around. But “the pandemic has played a role in the increase of opiate use/overdoses,” Stickle said. Now people are isolating, can’t be seen in person, “and are already suffering with the added stressors of the pandemic, many persons have returned to using, increased their use, or started using.

“Addiction is easier to hide when you cannot be seen,” Stickle said. “We need to bring people out of the shadows, if not onsite, virtually—we need to improve access” to treatment, and to help.

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