Starting Nov. 1, people with substance abuse problems and an underlying chronic medical condition will have a new avenue to safely withdraw from drugs and take the first steps to beat their addictions.
That's the date University Hospitals Portage Medical Center will roll out its Medical Support Program, which will help addicts go through withdrawal and point them in the direction of additional, local resources to beat their addiction.
Participants must be adults with an underlying medical condition and insurance accepted by UH. They may call 844-541-2087 for screening, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The program is voluntary and private, and those accepted must be in withdrawal from substance abuse, whether heroin, prescription painkillers, alcohol or another drug of abuse. It is based on the "harm reduction" method of treatment, and treating addiction as a chronic illness instead of a behavioral problem.
The program is a first of its kind in the University Hospitals system. It is "not rehab," said M. Steven Jones, president of UH Portage Medical Center in Ravenna, but an elective first step for people with addiction to "get the drugs out of their body."
Those who finish the program will be referred to treatment facilities, Jones said, or to doctors who can prescribe medically-assisted treatment -- or MAT -- drugs such as suboxone or Vivitrol.
Renee Klaric, program manager, said the initiative is "treating withdrawal symptoms medically," at the hospital, something it is geared to do by evaluating and stablizing the patient, then offering follow-up care.
"The hospital deals with the medical issues," she said. "People who are going through withdrawal, some are medical stable and some are medically unstable. We are looking for people who want to withdraw because they want to get healthy ... To treat (addiction) as a disease, we believe, is the most appropriate care."
Participants in the program must have an existing medical condition, such as diabetes, heart disease, hepatitis or other chronic illness. The screening process involves determining medical and insurance eligibility. Participants must be in withdrawal, 24 hours clean and agree to a next-day appointment, followed by laboratory screenings and bloodwork and up to a three-day hospital stay, Klaric said.
"If they are 'medically unstable,' we can admit them," she said. "If they just want to camp out because they're (craving) the drug, that's what we're not going to treat."
After their hospital stay, the patient will be referred to a local treatment facility or doctor for additional follow-up care. Klaric said the program is "highly individualized" because each patient's need and experience is also highly individualized.
Treatment "depends on the medical issue and the individual, addressing where they're at in their stages" of recovery, she said. "Do they have a job? Are they disabled?"
With luck, patients can go back to their daily lives, their jobs and children, while getting medical support on the road to recovery, Klaric said.
Suboxone, an opioid "agonist," eliminates the withdrawal symptoms of opioid abuse and stops the euphoria -- the positive feelings -- people with addiction experience when they abuse drugs.
Though it has a potential for abuse, suboxone has been shown to be effective in treating opioid addiction when used under the care of a physician.
Locally, Coleman Professional Services already has a small suboxone clinic, and Townhall 2 is starting one.
Klaric said UH Portage not only wants to find more area physicians interested in doing MAT, but is looking forward to working with established, local and regional healthcare providers, both medical and behavioral, to battle addiction.
"We want to contribute as a hospital can," she said.
Record-Courier staff writer Mike Sever contributed to this story.
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