Stopping the Spiral of Opiate Dependency

Gulf Coast Healthy Living Magazine Volume 3, Issue 2 - Summit Group

It happens more often than you might think. A patient goes in for a surgical procedure or struggles with chronic pain and is prescribed a pain medication. Often, that medication is an opiate such as Vicodin, Percocet or Oxycontin. Many patients take these medications to control their pain without any problems, but others may develop a dependency that can be extremely dangerous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription pain medications claim more lives due to overdose than cocaine or heroin.

Individuals struggling with prescription pain medication dependency come from all walks of life. Many are functioning in society with families and jobs, because at first their dependency is manageable. Eventually, however, the patient develops a tolerance and needs more of the medication to achieve the same effect. When a medication dependency becomes the focus of a person’s life, there is little room for anything else. Financial problems develop. Marriages break down. Jobs falter. In a best case scenario, at this point the individual realizes that his or her dependency isn’t sustainable and reaches out for help at a place such as Summit Group. At Summit Group, physicians treat patients who are dependent on prescription pain medications and other opiates by using a three-prong approach that combines medication (Suboxone), drug dependency counseling and treatment of the underlying problem, be it pain or an issue that led to recreational use. This outpatient program provides comprehensive, integrated care that has proven to be very effective.

Image of Robert Althar.

Are You at Risk for Pain Medication Dependency?

    • Feeling that you have to use the medication regularly – this can be daily or even several times a day
    • Failing in your attempts to stop using the medication
    • Making certain that you maintain a supply of the medication
    • Spending money on the medication, even though you can’t afford it
    • Doing things to obtain the medication that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing
    • Feeling that you need the medication to deal with your problems
    • Driving or doing other risky activities when you’re under the influence of the medication
    • Focusing more and more time and energy on getting and using the medication

Source: MayoClinic.org

“Patients come in while in withdrawal. We evaluate them completely and then I treat them with Suboxone. Within two to three hours, they’re no longer in withdrawal,” said Dr. Althar. “Patients say they feel ‘normal.’”

Suboxone renders opiates ineffective. Also, if a patient takes an opiate while also taking Suboxone, the opiate will make them sick. The patient no longer has any incentive to use the drug.

"The patient is given enough Suboxone to use at home for a week, then return to Summit Group for another evaluation. This phase makes sure that the patient’s symptoms are controlled, that they’re doing well, aren’t using other drugs, and that the patient is properly treated with the right dose,” said Dr. Althar.

The patient continues on this highly customized treatment plan for six months to a year, is evaluated monthly and treated with a gradually diminishing dose of Suboxone. During this time, the patient will undergo counseling to address the issues that led them to the dependency in the first place. Also, if the underlying problem still exists, it is addressed. Chronic pain can be managed through physical or occupational therapy or with the help of a neurologist. If use of the medications was recreational, the patient will see a substance abuse therapist.

“Patients are taught how to fill the time they once spent supporting their dependency on more positive activities,” said Dr. Althar. “At the end of the program, patients are able to merge into ‘normal’ society.”