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Home » AHN focuses on recovery, not addiction in treating substance abuse disorder – Pittsburgh Business Times – The Business Journals

AHN focuses on recovery, not addiction in treating substance abuse disorder – Pittsburgh Business Times – The Business Journals

When the opioid epidemic began ravaging western Pennsylvania, Allegheny Health Network realized it needed to step up its efforts to help — and change its strategy.
The 14-hospital network, owned by Highmark Health, had previously done what hospitals had traditionally done in the past: Being there to intervene, if possible, in overdoses and other drug abuse-related medical issues.
The main location for treatment was the emergency department, which is designed to treat medical emergencies, but not so much the intricacies of substance abuse disorder.
But that’s not getting at the full scope of the problem. Studies show only about 11% of people with substance abuse disorders ever get to see a substance abuse professional, which means that many don’t show up for help except for an overdose.
“We were treating the symptoms of substance abuse disorder and not the substance abuse disorder itself,” said Dr. Mark Fuller, an addiction medicine specialist and executive director of AHN’s Center for Recovery Medicine.
That led to a change in approach. Fuller said AHN wanted to change what it did to be more proactive, more welcoming and to reach out to the people who need help.
The focus is just what the name Center for Recovery Medicine implies: Instead of highlighting the addiction, the programs highlight recovery.
Recovery medicine specialists are available to the emergency departments, which aren’t trained to treat substance abuse but see a lot of people struggling with substance abuse for either unrelated medical issues or for overdoses. The recovery medicine specialists consult with doctors and nurses just like any other specialist. They’re seeing people who have hit bottom, others who want to wait and get treatment later, and still others who are ready for more treatment. They’re taking a proactive approach and talking to people, building relationships that can either happen with immediate treatment or later down the road. And it’s not automatically a trip to inpatient rehab.
“That’s the other major shift for us. Many treatment programs are engaged in admitting patients to their care, which is fine,” Fuller said. “We’re less interested in that and more interested in matching the patient to the level of treatment that is right for them. It’s powerful, and it gets the right outcomes.”
That means that, depending on the situation, recommendations might be for 28-day inpatient treatment, methadone or other courses of therapy.
The proactive approach is also used in clinics and elsewhere in the community, where patients can come confidentially to get an evaluation or physical exams.
“It’s another case of meeting the patient where they are,” Fuller said. “A lot of folks are intimidated by hospitals and clinics and are put off by the stigma.”
Breaking down the stigma of substance abuse disorder and dealing with it in a range of approaches are crucial, Fuller said.
“There is a groundswell movement to embrace a recovery, to see individuals who have substance abuse disorders not as broken, evil, low-will-powered folks but instead people who are struggling with a life-threatening, serious condition that is worthy of treatment and is effective.”
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