Medication-Assisted Treatment and its Life-Saving Benefits

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A Message from Our CEO

Last month I talked about the importance of increasing access to treatment and doing whatever we can to save lives. In order to do so, we must provide people with all evidence-based treatment options available, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Although medications have been used to treat opioid withdrawal and addiction for decades, there is resistance among the treatment community and patients. According  to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, only 30% of treatment programs nationwide offer MAT and less than half of eligible patients receive medication in treatment programs.

I believe we have an obligation to offer MAT to our recoverees because it’s the best option for sustained recovery. In fact, studies show that 90% of people in recovery for opioid addiction will relapse within the first year without one of the approved MAT medications. It’s important to note—medication assists treatment— it is not a cure.  Recovery is an active process that requires psychosocial and recovery supports. In addition to medication, individuals must learn skills to cope with life and regulate themselves and their mood without substances in order to succeed in recovery.

What is Medication-Assisted Treatment?
MAT is the use of medications, in conjunction with counseling and other behavioral therapies, to treat substance use disorders and prevent overdoses. The most common medications used for MAT are methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. Methadone and buprenorphine both suppress opioid withdrawal and reduce cravings by acting on the opioid receptors in the brain, without producing euphoria. Naltrexone works differently; it controls withdrawal and cravings by blocking the receptors, eliminating the euphoric effects of opioids.

Benefits of Using Medication-Assisted Treatment
Overdose deaths have steadily risen over the past 40 years, as noted in Science Magazine, which has forced us to rethink treatment approaches. As a result, more people are coming to understand the value of MAT and the role it can play in a person’s recovery.

In 2012, the prominent addiction organization, Hazeleden, realized the benefits of MAT and incorporated it into their treatment facilities. More recently, a New York Times article profiled a Tennessee-based facility whose leadership incorporated MAT into their program.

Research has shown, when used at the prescribed doses, these medications don’t produce a high in recoverees; instead, they allow the person to function normally and increase the likelihood that they will remain in a treatment program. Additionally, the use of these medications reduces the risk of infectious diseases and criminal behavior associated with drug use. It also improves the chances that a person will be able to gain and maintain employment.

As I have said before, at Liberation Programs, we do whatever we can to save lives. We understand that MAT plays an important role in recovery. I am happy to see that attitudes are shifting and becoming more accepting of this proven treatment. Many lives can be saved when we work together to decrease the stigma associated with MAT and educate people about its benefits.

Warm regards,

John Hamilton, LMFT, LADC
President and Chief Executive Officer

Message from Our CEO: Increasing Access to Treatment

Liberation Programs President & CEO John HamiltonLiberation Programs has always had a special place in my heart. I served as Senior Vice President from 1996 to 2006 and I’m thrilled to be back. It’s like coming home.

We know that 174 people die every day of a drug overdose. When we factor in alcohol, that number rises to 415. However, only 10 to 15 percent of the population in need of treatment receives it. Although there are countless obstacles that prevent people from seeking treatment – including stigma, shame and lack of insurance – one that is fairly easy to change is access to treatment.

Liberation is fully committed to increasing access to treatment for those in lower Fairfield County in the following ways.

Community Engagement
We are adding recovery coaches to our team. A recovery coach helps individuals gain and maintain recovery by partnering with them to address their needs and provide support. They also engage with the community to encourage individuals who would benefit from treatment, but are hesitant to do so, to start the process.

Liberation believes in meeting people where they are, meaning we focus on doing whatever we can to keep a person alive. Many programs require a person to abstain from substances and alcohol in order to receive treatment. Instead of forcing abstinence on a person, Liberation offers a glimmer of hope and encourages them to start or continue with the recovery process. We do this by building trust and treating every person with dignity and respect.

Increasing Our Capacity
There are too few licensed centers offering high-quality integrated behavioral health services in lower Fairfield County, which results in preventable overdose deaths and needless suffering. Our new Health & Wellness Center in Bridgeport will help serve more people in need of treatment. The center will enable us to increase the number of individuals we serve on a weekly basis from 600 to 800.

At the same time, in Stamford, the state has recognized the needs in the community and approved additional beds at Liberation House. This will increase our capacity by six percent.

As we close out the year, I’m excited to embark on our new initiatives in 2019. Our goal is simple: we want to save lives. No matter what stage of treatment a person is at, we will be there for them.

 

Warm regards,

John Hamilton, LMFT, LADC
President and Chief Executive Officer

Co-occurring Disorders

Image credit: Rawpixel.com - Freepik.comA message from Liberation Programs’ Chief Operating Officer, Cary Ostrow

At community forums, a popular topic of conversation is how to help individuals with “co-occurring disorders.” Broadly defined, a co-occurring disorder is when someone has a psychiatric diagnosis, such as depression, and also a substance misuse disorder. The National Institute of Health estimates that more than 8 million Americans are afflicted with both of these difficult diseases at the same time. The conversation inevitably and understandably ends up at a key issue – does an individual misuse a substance to help alleviate the symptoms of the psychiatric issue or is the psychiatric issue caused or made worse by the substance misuse? The answer, quite simply, is “yes.”

It is of no surprise to anyone reading this that our healthcare system is fragmented. Whether it’s intentional or by accident, we end up trying to fix problems one at a time instead of looking at the whole person. Behavioral health has a long history of doing this as well. As professional in the field, we separated treatment for alcohol issues from misuse of “other drugs” and we developed separate treatment facilities for psychiatric issues. Not surprisingly, the outcomes were not what we hoped they would be.

Liberation Programs, like many behavioral health organizations across the country, discovered years ago that treating issues in a silo makes for bad medicine. Whether someone drinks to excess, uses cocaine, takes too many pain pills, can’t find the energy or motivation to get out of bed in the morning, or can’t function at their job due to overwhelming feelings of anxiety, they share common links: emotional pain and a poor quality of life. That’s not to say that one type of treatment works for everyone. Liberation employs an array of different service providers in its system of care to offer specialized, targeted help. Whether it’s a psychiatrist, social worker, family therapist, professional counselor, certified addiction counselor, recovery coach or advanced practice nurse, the techniques are different – but the goal is always the same: ensure that people get what they need to feel better.

Feeling better is the cornerstone of what Liberation offers. In a world that often asks the people who come to us for help to be “perfect,” “better” is an undervalued commodity. But it should be celebrated. I have a friend who participates in a local weight loss program. They celebrate every 10 lbs. lost. My friend has lost 30 of the 80 lbs. he needs to live a healthier, happier life. Does he have bad weeks? Sure. Do some of the pounds take longer to lose than others? Of course. But absolutely no one minimizes his accomplishments. Everyone encourages him to complete his goals and the entire helping team – no matter what the specific focus of their help is – works together to gently nudge him toward his ultimate goal. Sounds like a good model, doesn’t it?

Best regards,

Cary

September is Recovery Month

September is National Recovery Month, when the country purposefully sets time aside to celebrate stories of recovery from the disease of addiction.  It also gives us time to review the proven methods developed over many decades that have helped millions of Americans improve their lives. Liberation Programs will be hosting a number of events ourselves and are proud to be part of this national movement to recognize that recovery can, and does, happen.

But there’s always some trepidation as we approach September. We worry if our message of hope is lost somehow in all the statements that get bandied about so easily, with little exploration of accuracy. I’m sure you’ve heard some yourself. I know I’ve been in public forums where I’ve heard people say things like “only one in ten gain sobriety,” or “it’s not really a disease, it’s a lifestyle choice,” or more shockingly in 2018, “recovery medication is a crutch” (try saying that to a loved one suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or the litany of other chronic lifelong illnesses aided through medication).

The truth is that recovery is not elusive. Not at all. Difficult, sure. Requiring patience, vigilance and support, check. But every minute of every day, it happens. Recovery isn’t some fleeting thing, outside the grasp of those who strive for it. Recovery is all around us. We are surrounded by it. Liberation Programs serves about 1,200 people each day. Come and take a tour with us in any of our facilities. Talk with people enrolled in one of our many programs. Listen to what they say and you will be amazed. The number one response I get after a tour is “I can’t believe how normal the people are. They seem happy.”  It’s true – people in recovery are often happy and we celebrate that!

August will mark my 26th year working at Liberation Programs. When I tell people this, so many ask me how I can do it – “It must be so frustrating and sad to see so much suffering,” people will say. I’ve had basically the same response for two decades:  “Sadness and frustration are part of my work, no doubt.  But where else can you witness miracles of change happen all day, every day? Families reunited. Communities re-established and strengthened. Lives saved. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”

Best wishes,

Cary

Sara’s Recovery Story

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All of us have a story. Not all of us live long enough to tell it.

Sara came to Liberation Programs in need of our help and because we were there for her, she can tell hers.

She took her first drink at only 13 years old. What followed were many years of heavy drinking, well into her adulthood. In 1990, she joined the U.S. Navy. During her eight years enlisted, she found it easy to hide her excessive drinking – which continued unabated throughout her naval career. When she left the military, she was able to get sober and remained so for about 14 years.

Then Sara became involved with a man who became physically and emotionally abusive, suffering 26 black eyes, four broken ribs, and two broken noses at his hands. “He threatened to throw me out of the house. He threatened my life. He told me I had nowhere to go. I believed him.” Every day, Sara felt like her partner was waging psychological warfare against her as he prevented her from seeking help.

One day Sara finally reached her breaking point and called the police. A sense of relief came over her when her abuser was taken away, but what happened next devastated and stunned her: child welfare removed Sara’s two children from her care as a result of the domestic violence in her life. Shattered and not knowing where to turn, she walked into a bar.

Eleven long, agonizing months followed where Sara self-medicated with binge drinking and drugs, thinking that it was the only way to dull the emotional pain of years of abuse – trauma now made still worse by the unbearable separation from her little ones.

May 10, 2015 was excruciating for Sara – it was the only Mother’s Day she’d spent without her children. But she also began to feel hope for the first time in ages when she made the courageous choice to become addiction-free once more. She reached out to Liberation Programs where staff in the Families in Recovery Program (FIRP) helped her understand she could get her children back after she became more grounded in recovery.

Sara moved into a sober house where every day she committed herself to getting better – spending countless hours in group sessions, unpacking and trying to understand the trauma she had experienced. In a year’s time, she had made tremendous progress.

Even so, Sara knew that she still had more work to do. Ready to move on to the next stage of her recovery, she reconnected with FIRP. She remembers, “When I first came to the program, I was scared to death. I didn’t want to be around anyone – I truly didn’t like myself. My anxiety was out of control.”

People who know Liberation Programs well know that our philosophy has always been about treating the whole person. So, in addition to helping Sara gain more tools to support her recovery, FIRP helped her reconnect with life and the world around her. They encouraged her to take walks outdoors and go to outside meetings. When her godmother passed away, staff made arrangements to take Sara all the way to Portland, CT to attend the funeral.

Like Sara, many of the women at FIRP have become separated from their children due to crises and traumatic circumstances. At Liberation, we are in the business of treating the whole family, because addiction doesn’t just affect the addicted person, but it touches everyone in their life. FIRP is one of the very few programs in Connecticut where women can keep their children with them while they are in treatment. The staff members at FIRP were there to support Sara as she took the painstaking steps to get her children back.

After four successful months in the program, Sara moved into transitional housing where she continued to work hard on her recovery for another year. And her hard work continued to pay off.

Today, Sara has regained part-time custody of her two beloved children and they all live together in Sara’s own three-bedroom apartment. Sara has an excellent job as an office manager of a furniture store and she has become a Recovery Support Specialist, certified to hold group sessions to help others suffering the ravages of addiction and past trauma.

Now Sara is able to look toward the future with hope. She wants to continue helping others, and plans to get her master’s in social work and become a certified counselor.  Sara credits our program for its pivotal role in her recovery: “FIRP is not just a set program, but a place where the staff tailors treatment to match your individual needs. They let me know how much they valued me as a person and believed in my recovery.”

This approach to treatment is part of Liberation Programs’ philosophy of care. We understand that to effectively help people break free from addiction, we need to value them as individuals and demonstrate our belief that recovery is possible for everyone.

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