Treating Drugs with Drugs

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A deadly opiate problem in the state is nothing new.
 
But the way professionals can treat it in North Dakota– is.
 
Some opiate addicts in North Dakota can now get help controlling their addiction–by taking a different drug.
 
It’s a “controversial” method of treatment that’s been around for decades, but is just now coming to our area.
 
“We all have people in our life who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, we just may not know it yet.
This is an illness, nobody chooses to be a drug addict,” says Dr. Melissa Henke, Heartview Medical Director. 
 
Dr. Henke knows a lot of about addiction.
 
She’s been treating addicts full-time for more than five years.
 
She has seen a dramatic rise in the number of people addicted to opiates. 
 
 “That particular population has just exploded with prescription opiates primarily but now we’re seeing a lot more heroin because it’s cheaper,” says Dr. Henke.
 
That has led to this:
Drug overdose deaths in North Dakota increased from 20 deaths in 2013 to 43 deaths in 2014 to 61 deaths in 2015.
 
“More people die from prescription drug overdose than all other illegal drug overdoses combined so it truly is a prescription drug epidemic,” says Kurt Snyder, Executive Director of Heartview.
 
To help, drug professionals at a rehab facility in Bismarck are getting what they call the gold standard of opiate treatment.
 
A narcotic called methadone.
 
“They will come into our facility, they will drink it in a liquid form, drink it right in front of you, have a conversation, there’s no way you can divert a liquid form, then they may do treatment through the course of that,” says Snyder.
 
Heartview is opening an opioid treatment program where certain people can get a daily dosing of methadone.
It will be only the second place in the state to offer this.
 
The first clinic opened in Minot this past August.
 
They already have 50 clients.
 
“Normally we wouldn’t expect to see quite so many in that short amount of time period, the good part of that is that means people are not out using in the streets,” says Mark Schaefer, Community Medical Services.
 
Treating drug addictions– with different drugs can be controversial.
 
You can become addicted to methadone alone.
 
But professionals we talked with say methadone is highly regulated and offers people a higher rate of recovery….and the chance to get their life back.
 
 “From my perspective, I can’t treat them if they’re not alive,” says Snyder.
 
“The methadone does not create a high, it lasts in the system longer so they don’t get the withdrawal symptoms and it allows them to function, the best way, they say is, “I just feel normal,” says Schaefer.
 
“I think the results will speak for themselves when people are holding down jobs, taking care of kids, paying their bills rather than living on the streets, then I would argue that absolutely, this is not trading one drug for another,” says Dr. Henke.
 
 
Right now six people drive the one hundred miles from Bismarck to Minot and back everyday to get a daily dosing of methadone.
 
The Bismarck Opioid Treatment program will be open once the Drug Enforcement Administration approves the facility.
 
They are expecting that soon.
 
In the second part of my series, treating drug addiction with drugs, I look at a group of opiate addicts who have not yet taken their first steps.
 
Amber Schatz, reporting for KX News.
 
The second part of Amber’s series is tomorrow night at ten on KX news.
 
The Minot methadone clinic has 50 clients now.
 
They expect to serve 150-200 clients in the next two years.
 

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