Canyonlands offering medication-assisted treatment for those addicted to opioids

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: The caring workers at Canyonlands Healthcare, from left, Traci Turner – medical assistant, Kari Stewart – certified applications counselor, Melissa Tanton – southeast district manager, and Selena Esqueda – receptionist, are ready to help those ready to stop using opiates. 

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – Canyonlands Healthcare Safford has increased the level of its efforts to assist those with opiate addiction by adding medication-assisted treatments (MAT) at its integrated clinic located at the Southeastern Arizona Behavioral Health Services (SEABHS) building at 1615 S. 1st. Ave.

Canyonlands is a nonprofit organization funded by the federal government and accepts patients with the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).

The center began prescribing Suboxone and Subutex to help with withdrawal symptoms and help in the recovery process. 

Suboxone is the name of a drug that combines buprenorphine and naloxone to help reduce the symptoms of opiate addiction and withdrawal while also blocking any high a person would get from opiates. Subutex also has buprenorphine but does not have the naloxone.

Melissa Tanton, southeast district practice manager, said the medically-assisted treatment has been in operation since March and has produced good results.  

Canyonlands also works hand-in-hand with Awakening Recovery Center (ARC) to assist with counseling and provides physicals for Community Medical Services (CMS). Both facilities opened in May with Awakening providing a full-service intensive outpatient counseling using abstinence-based therapies while CMS uses medication-assisted treatment through the use of Suboxone or methadone as well as counseling.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald

Canyonlands’ integrated facility is open Mondays and Thursdays for the program. Patients battling opiate addiction come in on Mondays to receive a prescription for their medication and counseling via a video conferencing system, which includes a camera that follows a patient as they converse with the counselor.

“They are counseled every time that they come in, but if we see somebody that needs more intensive or wants to get into a recovery program, that’s when we will refer to (a facility) like Awakening . . . It’s a neat little niche that we’ve found having them come into the community,” Tanton said.

Canyonlands Certified Application Counselor Kari Stewart agreed and said the various resources that they can work with help to meet the community’s needs.

“Really just getting them into a lifestyle of recovery is our main focus,” Stewart said.

“Our main goal is we like to be a piece of the puzzle of the addiction that is being faced here in the (Gila) Valley. Basically, (we) just help people find their road to recovery mainly. And that looks different for every addict . . . It’s cool to be a piece of the puzzle to be able to help people because recovery is so different for everybody. I’m just really happy that we are offering these services because it’s there to help people and they really need it.”         

The prescription lasts only until Thursday when the patient must return to the facility to renew the prescription and continue the program. Those interested in receiving help with an opiate addiction can make an appointment by calling 928-428-1500.

“Anybody who wants to quit should just call and ask,” Tanton said. “If they are scared about withdrawal symptoms or things like that we can accommodate.”

Each patient’s recovery program is tailored to their needs, beginning with making them comfortable in the intake facilities, which includes a couch and is temperature controlled.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: The counseling room features a couch and a video system to interact with a counselor via teleconference.

When patients first come in, the facility performs a physical examination and prescribes nausea medication as the patient must go 12 hours without using opiates. Patients are also tested for a variety of diseases.

Medical Assistant Traci Turner said the MAT treatment has been successful.

“It seems to be working for most of them,” she said.

During the first assessment, the provider will start the patient on the smallest amount of Suboxone. The patient receives a prescription and they must return to the facility and take the first dose in front of the provider. The patient is observed for an hour to see how the medication works. If everything goes well, the patient is released and then returns the following Thursday to repeat the process of getting a new prescription and taking the medication in front of the provider again. The system is set up that way to avoid possible abuse of medication or for black market street sales. So far, the program has had good results, according to Canyonlands.    

Tanton recalled one of the first patients they began on the MAT treatment and how he was so frustrated and said he was about to go use opiates because he couldn’t handle the withdrawal. The facility got the patient on the treatment and has responded extremely well.

“Just last Thursday he walked in and he was smiling and happy,” Tanton said. “For people who are terrified to do it or don’t think they can afford to or just can’t handle it – don’t know what it’s about – it’s worth calling and finding out. It’s really good to see when they can change. I didn’t know that it would affect me that way; to be that happy for someone.”