2015-12-24 / Front Page

Heroin: A community problem, a community solution

Recover Together opens new opiate treatment center in Biddeford
Special to the Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — People battling opiate addiction in the Biddeford area have a new resource in Recover Together, an addiction treatment center that opened last week at 469-C Elm St.

“Our main objective is to make sure people who are struggling or dealing with addiction are aware of it,” said Joy Sun, chief operating officer of Recover Together. “The only thing harder than overcoming addiction is having to do it alone.”

Recover Together was founded in 2014 by Jeff DeFlavio after he discovered that millions of people who suffer from heroin addiction are often unable to find health care providers to serve them. The organization also has a location in Auburn and five in New Hampshire.

The business model is simple: A low cost of $65 per group session, with no other hidden fees or charges. Recovery can be sought with the help of others in group therapy, and medication can ease people onto the path of sobriety.

“The current approach to treatment is broken. Most physicians feel outmatched by opiate dependence, and patients are stuck without help. Recover Together bridges the gap,” Sun said. “Our specialized addiction teams support physicians in their clinical decision-making, ensuring that patients get the best care and doctors aren’t left wondering if they made the right decision.”

Maine has seen a marked increase in opiate use, especially heroin, during the past several years. According to the Maine Department of Safety crime logs, 368 people were arrested for sales of opium, cocaine and derivatives in 2014 in the state, while 737 people were arrested for possession.

This statistic is one of the reasons Recover Together chose Biddeford for its newest location, Sun said.

“We chose Biddeford for a number of reasons,” Sun said. “It’s an area that has been hard-hit by the opiate epidemic, where not many treatment resources are available. A lot of our clients don’t have access to treatment otherwise, so where we are located is important.”

Oftentimes, there will be a waiting list for people to be seen at treatment clinics that can stretch as long as a year, but Recover Together will provide necessary treatment within a week of visitation.

“We believe there is a small window of time when people will contact us, because the moment they call is the moment they’re ready to recover,” she said. “A lot of people that come to us have been waiting months and months for help, only to find themselves relapsing and needing immediate assistance.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, out of the 36 million people who abuse opiates worldwide, 2.1 million of them live in the United States. In addition, four out of five new heroin abusers become addicted through prescription opioids. For many, the cost of addiction treatment may be too much, but Recover Together is hoping to help change that.

“There are a lot of providers in the state that don’t share that mission as us, and will charge $500 or more for entry into their program,” Sun said. “For us, it was important to be transparent and have no hidden fees. We don’t accept insurance, because it allows us to keep our cost down.”

Sun also expressed the importance of determination during treatment. Clients are expected to meet certain expectations, such as participating in group therapy meetings each week and taking Suboxone (buprenorphine/ naloxone), a prescription drug developed to treat opioid addiction through replacement. Suboxone triggers the same receptors as opiates, but provides a safer and less likely option to addiction, because the rate it enters and leaves the brain is slower and more manageable.

“Suboxone is meant to transition people off of the stronger drug, and we understand that positive results don’t happen overnight,” Sun said. “It takes about 18 to 24 months of general guidance. We also do a weekly drug screening to make sure progress is being made by the participant. Our program is modeled around accountability.”

According to Recover Together’s website, medication isn’t the only solution, but it lends a helping hand in a person’s recovery. Medication replacement therapy (MAT) reduces a person’s risk for infections transmitted via IV use, reduces the annual mortality rate by a third, and decreases health care costs by more than 60 percent per patient, the website states. With Suboxone as a MAT, people have the chance to wean themselves off the addictive drug.

Sun said that group therapy is the number one treatment focus for those affected. In addition, those in attendance will be asked to provide a urine sample to test for drugs once a week.

If there is no sign of Suboxone in someone’s system, they will be discharged immediately without a taper. Random and mandatory pill counts can be requested, and must be proved within 24 hours. Failure to show up to group therapy can also affect a client’s treatment plan.

Sun is adamant that participation in recovery isn’t just an individual challenge, but one shared by the community – that’s why group therapy attendance and honesty is so important, she said.

“It can sometimes feel scary to share your thoughts and feelings with the group, but over time, the group will prove to be a pillar of your sobriety,” said Sun. “Group focuses on concrete skills to help prevent relapse, all while being surrounded by people who understand you from their own experiences with addiction.”

For more information, or to get help for opiate addiction, call (844) 63-SOBER.

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