The opioid epidemic has hit a crescendo within the US. As of 2015, 2.1 million individuals misused opioids for the first time, manifesting in over 33,000 overdose deaths. Last month, President Trump declared a "national emergency," calling for an increase to options for substance abuse treatment.
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, over 14,500 drug treatment centers exist in the United States alone. The majority of those centers are legitimate, endeavoring to help individuals overwhelmed by addiction and searching for support. Nevertheless, given the profit margins inherent in treatment centers of such high demand, a potential for abuse and corruption exists.
An investigation by NBC News uncovered a plague of insurance fraud mills in Florida, the unofficial "Rehab Capital of America." The report found that, "crooked treatment centers partner with "body brokers" and operators of so-called "sober homes" to find patients with good health insurance. Brokers and sober home owners offer those trying to get clean free rent and grocery store gift cards, cigarettes and manicures in exchange for going to a specific treatment center, which pays kickbacks for every client."
Moreover, the investigation confirmed that, "once they've reeled patients in, these treatment centers bill their insurance tens of thousands of dollars for often questionable counseling, costly and potentially unnecessary drug screens, and exotic laboratory tests. Some treatment centers not only overlook drug use — they encourage it."
Incidences of overdose at treatment centers are rampant. In May, CNN reported on two addiction counselors in Pennsylvania overdosing on opioids while on the job. Similar stories are all too prevalent amid the growing epidemic. However, treatment centers with legitimately good intentions, sincerely focused on counteracting the opioid crisis, should not be ignored.
One such location is the Northeast Addictions Treatment Center in Quincy, Massachusetts, which provides assistance to those addicted to drugs and alcohol. Located a few miles outside of Boston, NEATC's team encompasses top-tier clinicians including Dr. Amy Fitzpatrick, board-certified in internal and addiction medicine. A key aspect of Northeast's approach entails offering continued support to patients after their therapy has concluded.
"Follow-up with patients is crucial to their recovery," said Dr. Fitzpatrick. "At NEATC, we know that the aftercare plan is vital to each patient's success. We have an alumni program for our graduates and encourage them to remain connected. Unfortunately, for some patients, relapse is a part of the disease. Through remaining connected to our team and the alumni -- thereby receiving continued support -- we're able to considerably reduce the potential for relapse," she added. "Our alumni program is especially active, and the sense of community fostered among patients is unique, as the majority remain involved, post-completion, almost all of the time."
Dr. Fitzpatrick referenced another unique and vital aspect of the center's methodology: an emphasis on gradual community reintegration. She noted that, "In many treatment facilities, the necessary structure is provided during treatment. Upon completion, however, -- as everyday stressors are reintroduced -- people in early recovery often find themselves overwhelmed and ill-equipped to cope effectively."
NEATC's treatment program includes four phases. The first is highly structured, focusing on achieving stabilization. The second is considered an "in-between" phase, whereby patients can "practice" sobriety while exposed to stressors. This second phase encourages patients to undertake part-time employment while they transition to an evening program -- three times weekly -- concurrent with day treatment twice a week.
Dr. Fitzpatrick maintains that such an approach provides patients with support and structure similar to that of the day program, while working their way back to full occupational functioning and independence.
To successfully complete treatment, patients must fulfill the first two phases and then transition into the third phase, which meets three evenings each week. During this phase patients are encouraged to establish a support system outside of treatment, obtain full-time employment, locate aftercare plans, and identify recovery related activities outside of treatment. The fourth and final phase of outpatient treatment meets once weekly, supporting patients who are fully functioning in sobriety. These patients are eligible for graduation and admission to the alumni program upon demonstrating sustained recovery. Said recovery is typically seen through gainful employment, improved family relationships, and in achieving whatever individualized goals patients have identified with their clinician.
This final phase can prove considerably challenging, as financial stressors previously placed on hold are generally reintroduced. Typically, patients will choose to remain in the fourth phase for 18 weeks or more, allowing for a greater potential for success.
Joseph Vericker, Executive Director of the Northeast Addictions Treatment Center, has worked in the substance use disorder treatment field for over seven years. Like the other members of the NEATC Team, he is passionate and highly motivated to help patients succeed in both the treatment program, as well as life. He referenced an all-expense paid scholarship opportunity -- offered by NEATC -- available for prospective patients.
Individuals, particularly those in financial need, are encouraged to submit an essay describing why they are committed to becoming healthy through treatment. Up to two such scholarships are provided per month -- according to need -- and readers interested in learning more should contact the center directly.
While new treatment centers continue to appear in cities large and small throughout the country, selecting a location that places emphasis on helping those in need over profits is critical. That said, locating a treatment center of a caliber comparable to NEATC might prove arduous. NEATC, however, gladly provide referrals for patients in need. "Your health and well-being represent our top priorities, and we will do everything in our power to ensure you succeed," Vericker emphatically stated.
Additional information on the opioid crisis, including facts and statistics, can be found via the government's Health and Human Services website.
Dr. Sasan Massachi is a board certified internal medicine specialist utilizing the latest techniques available through preventative medicine. Massachi is located in Century City, Los Angeles.