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Category: 2017
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Telegram & Gazette
Date: 12/18/16

Simply put, the scope of the current opioid epidemic is staggering. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more people died from drug overdoses last year than in any year on record. And, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin), has nearly quadrupled since 1999. No community is immune. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health recently reported that 209 people lost their battle with opioid addiction last year in Worcester County alone. That's 17 people a month or four people each week.

To help combat this serious problem locally, Spectrum Health Systems Inc. plans to open a new outpatient treatment center in Millbury. While strides have been made in eradicating the stigma surrounding addiction issues, myths still exist about what an outpatient center may mean for community residents.

First and foremost, it's important to understand that addiction to drugs and/or alcohol is not a character flaw or moral weakness, but rather a chronic disease that requires ongoing treatment and support. Unfortunately, the shame and stigma surrounding people suffering from this disease often make it more difficult to access necessary treatment, which is especially problematic as the demand for services continues to climb.

The public mistakenly believes that outpatient treatment centers attract people with drug addictions to their community, when in fact most already reside there. Spectrum and the state DPH work hand in hand to identify locations based upon data indicating an existing need for services in that particular area. Once a clinic opens, the rate of those suffering from an addiction disorder tends to decrease in the area because lifesaving treatment is finally made available to them.

Community members often voice concern about public safety and the potential for loitering. Spectrum has more than 40 years' experience in the delivery of opioid use disorder treatment, including methadone, testing and counseling services. In this time, incidents involving clients have been so rare that a number of police chiefs in communities where our outpatient centers are located have stated that the programs have caused no new issues in their communities.

Most clients who come into the OTP, enter treatment to help them get back to work, school and family, and have little interest in lingering around the methadone program site. Spectrum supports efforts to help clients return to work by reserving the first 30-60 minutes of morning program time for workers, to help them get in, get out and get back to work. These hours, called "Workers' Hours," are highly sought after by program participants. Milford Police Chief Thomas J. O'Loughlin was recently quoted in the Telegram & Gazette as saying: "They [Spectrum Health Systems] run a very tight ship. There's no hanging around, either on their property or near the area."

Another common concern voiced by local residents is the perceived threat of increased crime in the surrounding area. In fact, Spectrum's services help turn around the lives of those struggling with addiction. Research shows outpatient treatment centers, such as the one opening in Millbury, help to decrease crime, needle sharing, drug use, and overdoses within the community. Imagine the potential gains to individuals and their families, as well as on community resources, such as police and fire departments should more treatment centers be approved within communities across the country.

The positive impact has also been seen on the national level, where more treatment admissions and increased federal spending on substance abuse treatment have been matched by a decline in the number of incidents of violent crime, according to a 2008 Justice Policy study.

Milford Chief O'Loughlin has received just three calls regarding Spectrum's outpatient site in its 15 years of operation. That treatment center, much like the new Millbury location, is sited in an area that is accessible to both public and private transportation. Since participants are monitored and treated at a site daily, it's important that public and private transportation is available.

Medication Assisted Treatment, a common method for sustaining recovery, is also widely misunderstood by those outside the addiction community. Drug addiction is a chronic illness that affects a person's physical and emotional health. Methadone and buprenorphine, two medications commonly prescribed for addiction, are administered to clients to alleviate the physical sickness associated with withdrawal. Without these medications, many individuals return to drug use despite their desire to stop.

According to a 2008 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a combination of methadone treatment and a comprehensive program of rehabilitation was found to be associated with marked improvements for clients in areas such as jobs, returning to school and family reconciliation. The researchers noted that careful medical supervision and many social services were necessary, and stressed that both the medication and the supporting program were essential to success.

At Spectrum, recovery medications are dispensed daily to individuals in the early stages of recovery at a licensed outpatient treatment center. Treatment is individualized, and after a period of stabilization, all clients are encouraged to work toward the lowest dose that keeps them safe and drug free. Clients undergo individual and group therapy, and are monitored with drug screening. Some clients require longer term treatment to avoid relapse. These services will be available in Millbury once it opens in the coming year.

A day at one of our outpatient centers is very structured and closely supervised by professional staff. Clients receive a medical examination upon admission, ongoing medical monitoring, daily on-site dispensing, comprehensive clinical assessments, individualized treatment planning, educational services, and individual, group and family counseling. Also, they are required to abide by a Good Neighbor Contract, affirming their commitment to act responsibly in the community.

The treatment and recovery process at Spectrum is a thoughtful one for all involved - from the individuals seeking treatment to the communities where outpatient clinics are located. Addiction knows no boundaries. It's up to all of us to come together to help those afflicted by addiction to find the treatment they need for leading a life of recovery.


-- Kurt Isaacson is CEO of Spectrum Health Systems, which last month obtained Millbury Planning Board site approval for a new outpatient treatment center in the town for up to 200 clients per day. The center would see about 175 clients per day and employ a staff of 12. Spectrum is a private, non-profit substance abuse and mental health treatment provider, which is headquartered in Worcester and which has inpatient and outpatient facilities throughout Massachusetts.