The disease of addiction is very real. It is difficult to find anyone in the state who has not been impacted by addiction, which is clinically known as substance use disorders (SUD). SUD is a disease that affects a person’s brain and leads to their inability to control the use of alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription narcotics, including opioids. Today more than 18 million people across the country (1 in 12), suffer from the disease.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Massachusetts is ranked among the top 10 states in the country with the highest rate of drug overdose deaths involving opioids. In 2017, 1,913 people in the state died of an overdose involving opioids — a rate of 28.2 per 100,000 people, which is two times higher than the national average.
Emerson is working hard to address this public health crisis with the help of Dr. Stephanie Stratigos, who recently joined Emerson as medical director of the Addictions Recovery Program. Through this program, Dr. Stratigos offers medication-assisted treatment (MAT), a proven, evidence-based approach to treating and managing the disease of addiction. MAT can help decrease the risk of relapse for those in recovery, prevent overdose, and ultimately save lives.
“Medication-assisted treatment helps people live more productive lives, gain independence and re-engage with work and family,” explains Dr. Stratigos. “I have seen many people live full, happy lives with MAT.”
What Patients Experience in Recovery Treatment
Dr. Stratigos (pictured at right) meets with patients in person to learn about their medical history and lifestyle. Together, they decide if medication or other treatments, such as therapy or more intensive programs, would be the best approach.
About half of the patients Dr. Stratigos sees use medication. “The goal is for people to live their best lives,” says Dr. Stratigos. “Whether through medication or other therapeutic approaches, we support our patients and give them the best chances for success.”
If it is decided that medication-assisted treatment is the best approach, Dr. Stratigos may prescribe suboxone, naltrexone, vivitrol or sublocade and will educate her patients about how to take the medication, side effects, and the recovery process. Patients may need to come monthly for an injection or take an oral medication at home. The medications are very well tolerated by patients, with mild side effects. Often, patients are in the addictions recovery program for six months or more.
Many patients with SUDs have also been diagnosed with a mood disorder, such as depression and anxiety, or other behavioral health conditions, as these conditions can often result in drug or alcohol abuse if not treated. Patients receive counseling and behavioral therapies, along with the SUDs treatment program. This provides a holistic approach to help patients live healthier lives.
“Substance use disorders are a complex set of diseases that do not discriminate. They can affect any person from any walk of life,” says Dr. Stratigos. “These are chronic diseases that require lifelong management in the same way that a chronic condition such as diabetes is managed. We aim to eliminate the many myths and stigmas about substance use disorders. In a supportive, warm environment we give people the opportunity to focus on getting their lives back, which is the ultimate goal.”
How to Spot Substance Abuse in a Family Member or Loved One
Common warning signs of substance abuse include:
- Withdrawal from family and family activities
- Being irritable and argumentative
- Lying about what they’re doing and where they’re going
- Seeming depressed, angry, paranoid, or confused
- Sleeping a lot or not very much
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Lacking energy or being hyperactive
- Frequently missing work or school
- Trouble concentrating or forgetfulness
- Dropping old friends
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
How to Help
The best place to start if you suspect a loved one has a substance abuse problem is to encourage them to talk with a doctor. If you think a treatment center could help, you can contact Emerson’s Addictions Recovery Program at 978-287-3520 or find a facility by visiting the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website at findtreatment.gov or call the SAMHSA national helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).
To listen to a podcast with Dr. Stratigos about medication-assisted treatment, visit emersonhospital.org/podcast.