Matt Wildrick/The Commuter.

Heroin recovery

By Trevor Roberts

Heroin deaths in Maryland have spiked in the last six years with the death toll in 2011 coming in at under 300 deaths to just under 800 deaths in 2015, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Hygiene.

Effective drug addiction rehab reduces the number of deaths, and it is important that people who are addicted get clean without having the desire to relapse, according to recovery professionals.  Ali Gros, director of operations at Serenity Treatment Center in Frederick, says that of the patients who successfully complete their treatment program only a “small percentage” have to come back.  She adds that of that small percentage most of the patients will check back within three months.  

Gros says a patient’s willingness to change is key in the recovery process, adding that the most important part of treatment is that patients need to find other ways to cope.

Andrew Salatino knows the recovery process firsthand. Salatino turned to marijuana to escape his world, but moved onto heroin by age 13. His then girlfriend, five years his senior, eased him into trying heroin, which he snorted the first time.

“I was like, this is what a drug is supposed to do,” he recalls, “You just lose it. Your mind just turns off and your body goes into a complete euphoria. And you just lay there…It was this magical substance that just made everything go away.”

Salatino is not using heroin now and is currently a graduate student in forensic psychology at George Mason University.  Initially, Salatino says he was unable to find a bed in a treatment center because he was a minor.  The way Salatino was able to find treatment was through a private wilderness treatment program that he was in for three months before being released to a boarding school specifically for recovered addicts.  

Salatino has a critical view of the treatment programs in the United States saying, “Treatment programs in the U.S. are kind of behind in implementing new methods for treatment programs.  We are stuck on NA and AA, which are very disruptive socially and almost cult like.”

Gros says she recognizes that people may be skeptical of NA and AA because these groups are theistic.  But she says that she still will recommend these groups to patients and that it really depends person to person whether or not that NA or AA is a good choice.

In Salatino’s opinion there is not a lot of evidence that supports the effectiveness of AA or NA.  His statement is backed up and rejected by the conclusion of a study done by NIH in 2009 on the effectiveness of AA.  Part of the study shows that AA is effective but other parts question that effectiveness.

When NA was reached out to for comment, Doug Jarret, a member of NA’s public relations team, issued the following statement:

“We are not in a position to respond to questions on a study that was performed by another organization…NA has a set of traditions that we follow in all of our affairs, and we never deviate from these traditions. Among them is our tenth tradition which states, ‘Narcotics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the NA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.’ With this tradition in mind we cannot provide comment on the NIH study.”

Salatino also suggests that instead of using groups like AA or NA to assist with treatment methods that more evidence based practices should be used.  Mindfulness based relapse prevention is the first thing that comes to his mind. Salatino says that this technique, “Teaches you to be cognitive and use coping skills. [Like saying to someone who smokes weed frequently] ‘Maybe it’s not a good idea to smoke three bowls before work.’”

According to Gros, the drug Vivitrol has begun to be used to treat heroin addicts, but only as the patient’s request.  Vivitrol is administered through injection once every 30 days.  Before receiving Vivitrol patients have to be clean for seven to ten days otherwise they will go through immediate withdrawal.  Within the 30 days after receiving the injection, Vivitrol acts as sort of a shock collar for the patient, giving them an immediate withdrawal if they choose to take an opiate such as heroin.

“We have seen a lot of success with Vivitrol,” Gros said.

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