The Kodiak Area Native Association is expanding its substance abuse services to include medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, for opioid addiction.
Funding for the expansion was secured in March, when the organization got a $325,000 grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
KANA was one of five health centers in Alaska awarded the grant.
KANA public relations coordinator Sarah Harrington said former director of behavioral health Mira Baldwin spearheaded the expansion efforts before relocating off island.
“When we looked at our intakes for patients who are coming into our behavioral health department seeking treatment, we saw a much higher rate of people coming in with opioids as their drug of choice, compared to … five, 10 years ago,” said Baldwin, who continues to act as a consultant for KANA.
They were also having trouble getting those people to stay in treatment.
“Conquering addiction is a hard thing to do,” Baldwin said. “Heroin has one of the longest phases of difficulty in terms of coming off of the drug.”
That is where MAT comes into play.
Drugs prescribed by physicians who have taken a specialized course can help ease cravings and symptoms of withdrawal, allowing the patient to focus on therapy.
KANA will offer suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone.
“(For) a person who is really motivated to get better, it’s going to be a valuable tool for them,” Baldwin said.
Suboxone will only be prescribed to patients who are also undergoing the recommended outpatient care, typically from six to nine hours of counseling per week, she said.
The combination of medical treatment and counseling means it takes greater effort to ensure coordinated care.
“We have a nurse case manager now … who specifically is committed to helping with case management for patients who need that coordination in order to get the most appropriate care,” Baldwin said.
In addition to establishing MAT and increases in coordinated care, KANA’s service expansions will include early prevention and education.
All patients will be asked to complete a short questionnaire to help nurses and physicians screen patients for substance abuse problems.
“One of the things that we find, and that has been proven over and over again, is that when people have a mental health problem or a substance abuse problem, frequently rather than seeking out … therapy or substance abuse treatment, they will go to their doctor,” she said.
“One of the things this grant does is helps fund a substance abuse counselor who is located right in the medical clinic and is immediately available to receive these patients.”
The screenings could lead to a quick discussion on healthy habits for someone who does not have a significant issue, or a recommendation for ongoing care for someone with a more serious addiction.
Substance abuse services through KANA are available to anyone in the community. To take part in the program, a medical appointment or an appointment with a substance abuse counselor should be scheduled. The patient will eventually need to meet with both to find the best treatment plan, Baldwin said.