Treatment options often lacking for opioid addicts

April 29, 2018 06:49 PM

It's tough enough kicking an opioid addiction, so the roadblocks to getting into treatment create frustration and anger and can be deadly.
"In this community, in the state of New York, even we do not have rapid access to treatment,” said Dr. Melissa Weimer, Chief of Behavioral Health and Addiction Medicine for St. Peter's Health Partners at SPARC.  

That includes access to medication like methadone and naloxone to reverse an overdose. Once focused on alcoholism, SPARC's mission evolved to treat opioid addiction, now accounting for 25 percent of their patients and growing. 
As Weimer points out, the window of opportunity to get an addict into treatment is narrow. Recovering opioid addict Richard Jackson puts it bluntly. He says access to treatment should be like access to a blood transfusion and available at the moment of need.
“Being an addict for the length of period of time I've been in addiction, two months, this is like 20 years,” he said.
“We know that if they can't access those services right away they're waiting for maybe two weeks,” said Weimer. “Studies have shown that those are the patients who are continuing their use and they are dying on these waiting lists.”
SPARC has made changes to accommodate that population. It's now open 24/7. There's no minimum length of stay and insurance isn't a factor. In short, three of the big barriers to accessing treatment have been removed. But there are only 18 beds and on most days they're full.  
A recent Siena College Research Institute poll of some 1,400 New Yorkers asked about barriers to treatment. Of those who said their lives have been touched in some way by the opioid crisis, 29 percent in the Capital Region say there's not enough space in treatment facilities. Forty-eight percent say insurance refused to cover the cost of adequate treatment. Forty-three percent say treatment programs don't work with individuals for a long enough period and 42 percent say there's not enough follow up. 
Lynn, who asked that we not show her face, has had to scale all those barriers. 
“My insurance, the facility never had beds, or it was months from then and I relapsed again,” she said.
Lynn got hooked after being prescribed hydrocodone for a back injury she suffered at work 13 years ago. 
John's addiction started four years ago when he took some of his girlfriend's prescribed opioid pills for pain. As a mason they made him feel better and more able to work. Neither thought they'd be chasing a cure from the medicine that helped ease their pain.    
Those two, along with Richard, are finally getting the support they craved at Camino Nuevo, a methadone treatment center in Albany. It combines drug treatment with emotional support. 
"It's understanding addiction as a chronic illness and that we need to manage it as such and we need to really meet our patients where they're at," Weimer said.
Weimer, along with other experts in the treatment field, say they don't have enough resources, reimbursement rates have lagged, and there aren't enough addiction care providers from doctors and nurses to counselors.

More on the poll:

Statewide Crosstabs

Capital District Crosstabs



WNYT Staff

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