Rehabilitation Centers Combat Opioid Crisis
by Destini Lattimore
Delta Digital News Service
JONESBORO — Three Jonesboro rehabilitation centers are working diligently to combat the opioid crisis in Northeast Arkansas.
Stockton Medical Group, Northeast Arkansas Treatment Services and Northeast Arkansas Regional Recovery Center are fighting the crisis by offering necessary health care to Northeast Arkansas residents.
The opioid crisis refers to the rapid increase in the use of prescription and non-prescription opioids in the United States. Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Since 1999, the rate of opioid-involved overdose deaths quadrupled. In Arkansas, the number of drug overdose deaths per 100,000 in 2013 was 11,900-14,400. More people died from drug overdose in 2014 than any year on record and the majority of those deaths involved an opioid. On average, 78 people nationwide die every day from an opioid-related overdose. Heroin deaths surpassed homicides in 2015 and over 30,000 people died from opioid-related overdoses.
Stockton Medical Group of Jonesboro opened its doors in August 2016. The family-owned rehabilitation center also has other locations across the state.
Office manager and Substance Abuse counselor Nicholas Mastowski said he thinks Arkansas is a high-risk state and hopes his work in the field will help the lives of Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas residents.
“Opioid addiction touches every aspect of life. There are no socio-economical boundaries,” Mastowski said.
Stockton Medical Group, an outpatient opioid rehabilitation center, administers a buprenorphine prescription and behavioral therapy to its patients. Patients receive counseling and group therapy sessions led by Stockton’s licensed and certified counselors. The federal Drug Enforcement Administration requires patients to comply with group therapy and counseling requirements to receive medication-assisted treatment.
As one of the certified counselors on staff, Mastowski works one-on-one with the patients.
“We are very patient-oriented,” he said. “We try to treat them as normally as possible.”
While medication-assisted treatment is beneficial to patients, it is often negatively viewed by outsiders.
“We are trying to break the stigma associated with medication-assisted treatment, which is very prevalent in Northeast Arkansas,” he said. “The response is not as welcoming or open-minded.”
Battling this stigma has been one of the most difficult parts of the business, Mastowski said. He said he thinks this stigma is rooted in the closed-minded, faith-based community in Jonesboro.
While he is now helping NEA residents with their addiction, Mastowski was once on the other side. At 13 years old, he began using drugs and alcohol recreationally and just three years later, he was taking hydrocodone or oxycodone every day. By the time he was 18, he’d developed a serious dependency to opioids. Once he was kicked out of the University of Central Arkansas, his drug abuse habits increased.
“I went from four or five pain pills every day to 400 milligrams of pain medication to eventually trying heroin,” Mastowski said.
When he was 19, Mastowski decided to work on his sobriety. It took him five years to get sober after 10 years of drug abuse.
“I did not utilize this style of treatment,” he said. “When I was trying to get sober, it wasn’t as well-known.”
Mastowski went through an abstinence-based addiction rehab process that requires immediate discontinuance of any drug abuse.
“Opiates took a hold of me,” he said. “If I didn’t have the drugs, then I’d get sick. Withdrawal is sort of like the flu, but a hundred times worse. The only way to make it better is to suffer for an extended amount of time.”
Once he was in recovery, he re-enrolled in school. Now a certified social worker, Mastowski makes it his mission to give back. He has given presentations at various events and schools talking about the dangers of drug addiction.
“Now that I’m in recovery, I have to do whatever it takes to be successful,” Mastowski said. “I take nothing for granted.”
Northeast Arkansas Treatment Services encountered a similar struggle with battling the stigma that comes with medicated-assisted rehabilitation, but hopes to aid its patients as much as possible despite public opinion.
NEA Treatment Services, a home-reduction rehabilitation center, aims to eliminate the riskiest behaviors and slowly reduce the patient’s exposure to medication.
“Most people think of substance-abuse treatment as a residential treatment where you follow an abstinence-based model,” Director of Clinic Operations Benny J. Leija said. “Quit everything immediately and you don’t do it again.”
Home-reduction centers take a different approach to drug addiction rehabilitation. This type of rehabilitation focuses on the patient’s safety and ensuring that, if they are going to continue the drug-related behavior, they do so in the safest way possible.
When patients come to NEA Treatment for drug rehabilitation, the first step is the induction phase. During this time, patients are medically stabilized. Then, they are required to see a counselor and attend group-therapy sessions. Because the process varies from patient to patient, there is no way to determine an average length of time for this type of rehabilitation.
Leija said he thinks medication-assisted rehabilitation provides the most effective way to eradicate drug addiction. The long-lasting effects of methadone allow the patients to eliminate withdrawal symptoms and the need to find more pills throughout the day. The medication is also administered under supervised conditions to confirm that the patient is using the medication responsibly.
“Everything is moving in that direction,” Leija said, referring to home-reduction rehabilitation.
This rehabilitation process is already a popular method overseas. In Europe, some clinics provide patients with a safe place to “shoot-up” with clean needles.
“The empirical research I have looked at shows that abstinence-based therapy is effective about 7 percent of the time,” Leija said.
This means 7 percent of the patients experience a year of sobriety after residential treatment. This number is significantly lower in comparison to home-reduction treatment patients, like those who are treated at NEA Treatment Services.
“If they do everything that is asked of them, our patients are 50 to 60 percent more likely to reach sobriety,” Leija said.
It’s also important to the staff that patients don’t feel pressured to immediately quit their drug use. The doctors and counselors work with patients at their own pace to encourage improvement.
“We meet patients where they are,” Leija said. “They may not be ready to quit.”
NEA Treatment Services also recognizes the need to work with patients as long as it takes for them to reach sobriety.
“I think that’s truly unique to this program that we don’t kick our patients out,” Leija said. “I’ve worked in abstinence-based programs where, if you mess up, they kick you out.”
With over 1,600 U.S. methadone clinics, the rehabilitation centers offer several benefits outside of drug-addiction. The presence of methadone clinics in cities reduces crime, specifically property crimes. IV needle use is also decreased in the community. HIV and venereal disease rates are reduced, as well.
“Opioid treatment programs are very beneficial to the community as a whole,” Leija said. “We’ve done some outreach to the community and we’ve talked to different people about the benefits of what we do.”
Northeast Arkansas Treatment Services serves about 225 patients. Leija said the goal for the rehabilitation clinic is to help all patients reach sobriety.
“We’ll take one million little steps as long as we reach our goal,” Leija said. “Our goal is abstinence.”
Northeast Arkansas Regional Recovery Center is a residential facility that also administers outpatient services to its patients.
The recovery center is funded by Mid-South Health Systems, which predetermines the duration of the rehabilitation process for each patient.
“Everyone is different,” said Lisa Holland, NEARRC substance abuse counselor. “Somebody may get 21 days, somebody may get 28 days and some may have 40 days.”
NEARRC has been operating more than 30 years, Holland said. Patients go to the treatment facility to undergo in-patient rehabilitation. Patients with opioid addictions may be required to undergo a period of detox before coming in for residential rehabilitation. The facility houses up to 40 patients.
“They go to classes throughout the day,” Holland said. “They work on identifying risky behaviors, triggers and cravings.”
Patients are assigned a counselor through a comprehensive treatment plan. Once their residential treatment is completed at NEARRC, most of the patients continue outpatient treatment through Mid-South Health Services.
Holland started working in the facility after she had completed her own drug rehabilitation journey at NEARRC. She is currently in recovery.
“I had gotten on methamphetamine,” Holland said. “It took over my life. I lost my home and myself, as well.”
Holland went through treatment at NEARRC and has been clean since May 2011.
“I just wanted to give back to the community,” Holland said. “My counselor helped me so much when I came through.”
As these issues steadily increase, Arkansas rehabilitation centers must brace themselves for an uphill battle and hope to save more lives.