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Horizon’s STOP Program Addresses Addiction as a Brain Disease

Provider introduces a new recovery program in Apache Junction

By Molly Haak

There were 52 suspected opioid overdose deaths in Arizona in a two-week period last June, and the numbers are predicted to climb.

Governor Doug Ducey has declared a state of emergency due to the epidemic, and Horizon Health and Wellness is working to combat this devastating disease with the launch of “Project STOP”—Substance abuse Treatment and Opioid addiction Program.

“Project STOP” is a program designed to treat addiction by utilizing a combination of medication (Suboxone®), counseling and case management services.

A graduate of the program, Michael (not his real name), started using heroin in his teens after being introduced to it by his peer group. Three years later, realizing it was time for him to stop his use, Michael came to the program. His life had become solely about using and preventing withdrawal symptoms. His family suspected something was wrong and arguments were frequent. “If I wasn’t on Suboxone, I would still be using heroin,” Michael said. When asked what was most helpful about the group counseling process, Michael said, “Having discussions with other people who have been there. I’m grateful that I was able to find treatment so early in my addiction.”

In 2016, Horizon became one of 23 federally qualified health centers to receive a federal grant to assist with providing access to medical and behavioral health services for individuals who are struggling with opioid addiction. Recently, Horizon received an additional grant to expand services.

Dr. Annette Lusko, Horizon’s prescribing physician said, “The opioid epidemic has affected so many lives—here at Horizon we have a responsibility to the community to help put an end to this epidemic. We have had successful graduates of our program and patients still working on their future success. I am so proud of every one of our patients that have the courage to take back their lives from opiates. My hope is not just to save lives, but to change lives.”

Pain and addiction are “psycho-physiological” disorders—meaning they affect the mind and the body. For many people suffering this disorder, effective treatment must target both.

Many struggling with addiction began by taking prescription narcotics for valid reasons, and some have resorted to heroin use to manage their pain. The addiction potential for these medications is high and affects people from all races and all socio-economic classes.

“Project STOP” starts with a screening process, then within a day or two patients can be placed on Suboxone®, a medication that allows for stability. Once stable, participants can then address their psychosocial needs through counseling as a way to achieve long-term success.

Research has demonstrated that detox-only and short-term medication treatment is not sufficient in treating this disease.

In “STOP,” patients can remain on Suboxone up to one year—the program is designed to be long enough for individuals to get the tools they need for long-term success. However, it is the agency’s philosophy that for many, being on medication year after year may not be the best fit.

Unlike many methadone programs, Horizon’s program is designed to be intensive with regard to counseling services and a shorter length of treatment overall.

Most participants initially require intensive outpatient services (IOP), which involves 9 hours of group counseling per week.

IOP is a four-month process, and after completion, participants can attend once a week, all while on Suboxone®. Individual counseling can be supplemented throughout treatment if needed. A Case Manager is also involved, connecting participants to resources in the community, such as job preparation and finding sober social support.

“All the staff, Dr. Lusko and even the people who take my blood pressure have been so helpful,” Michael said. “They are accepting of me and really take the time to talk to me.”

Michael hopes to get a good job and have a family one day. He believes that this program has helped steer him in the right direction. When talking about his future, Michael added, “I want to be able to do things on my own, without medication and without going back to using.” Michael has come so far in treatment. His last comment? “I want to continue growing.”

Our community has felt the effects of this opioid epidemic, and Horizon is here to help. Individuals under AHCCCS will have no fees for these services. Medicare and private pay should contact their insurance companies to determine cost. For more information or to be considered for the program, contact Molly Haak, LCSW at 480-474-5666.

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