Benefis Addiction Treatment Patients Say ‘Thank You for Saving My Life’

Drug and alcohol addictions are like cancer in that everyone is affected or knows someone who is, says Dr. Deborah Rose, who specializes in addiction medicine at Benefis Health System.

Addiction medicine addresses the complexities of an individual patient’s situation while also tackling a huge public health problem.

“It takes a lot to get a patient into rehab, but it can improve individual, family, and community health,” Dr. Rose said. “People do better if they stay on medication and do counseling.”

With help from a three-year grant, the Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) Clinic began seeing patients in late December 2018 and has enrolled 145 patients through February 2020.

A study of those patients showed that three months in the program led to improvements in drug/alcohol abstinence, employment rates, social connectedness, stability in housing, and other benefits.

The patients say it best:

“Thank you for saving my life.”

“It really saved my life, family, finances … very grateful for Dr. Rose.”

“I found the help I have been looking for a long time here and I feel even more positive about my recovery. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

“Thank you for supporting people like myself because, without this program, I would be back where I started.”

Dr. Rose works with a team of nurses and counselors. She practices integrated medicine to get to the root of what makes people tick and to see what sources of strength they can draw on as they move forward.

The MAT program treats addiction to opioids such as heroin, codeine, Tramadol, morphine, oxycontin/oxycodone, cough syrup, and Kratom, an unregulated supplement.

Benefis uses two FDA-approved medications to treat opioid use, buprenorphine, which helps with cravings and withdrawal so people can stabilize, and naltrexone, an opioid blocker.

“Abstinence approaches for opioid use disorders aren’t successful,” Dr. Rose said. “Opioid use changes the brain over time. If we try to make people white-knuckle through, it just doesn’t work.”

Medication has limited effectiveness without resolving issues that have helped drive the addiction.

“We don’t just heal people with medication. There has to be a component of counseling to move forward, a relationship with the doctor and counselor that is nonjudgmental and trauma-informed,” she said. “That’s how people get better.”

Treatment is a matter of life and death, with 128 people dying every day in this country from an opioid overdose, according to the CDC. Nearly 450,000 people have died from opioids in the last 20 years.

Treatment also is about quality of life.

Dr. Rose has heard “soul-crushing stories” from patients. She sees how the brain feels better with drugs, with the chemicals soothing the demons of childhood chaos and trauma – and creating many more problems.

“It’s like a recipe for how you create a disturbed human being,” she said. “If they didn’t have a mental health problem before, they will with ongoing drug use.”

The MAT Clinic focuses on opioids, but Dr. Rose also sees patients who need help with addiction to cannabis, alcohol, and methamphetamine.

“It’s not unusual for someone to try one and then the other,” she said. “Addiction ruins lives.”

Rose aims to nurture a culture of compassionate care across Benefis Health System for patients struggling with addiction.

“Addiction is a chronic illness, a brain disease to a certain extent,” she said. “Very few people just get Vicodin after going to the dentist and get hooked,” but usually other factors set the stage for addiction.

Among those factors may be genetics, though there doesn’t seem to be an “addiction gene,” and stage of life.

“We’re seeing an alarming increase of binge drinking among retirees,” Dr. Rose said. “They have time on their hands and are developing addictions, whether gambling addictions or eating disorders or even heroin and meth addictions.”

Addiction is not a given no matter one’s circumstances, and Dr. Rose has great respect for patients who turn things around.

“The people who keep coming back, by some miracle or grace, want to get better,” Dr. Rose said. “It takes a lot to rebuild a life, but it’s beautiful to see.”

“It takes a lot to rebuild a life, but it’s beautiful to see.”

–Dr. Deborah Rose

Amid treatment, her patients come to her with stories of the “best Christmas ever,” with money that would have gone to their addictions now going to presents and feasting and with more harmonious family moments.

“They know it’s a lifelong thing,” Dr. Rose said. “It takes a long time to develop other ways of dealing with stress. It’s really hard work. It’s a brave thing to do.”

People interested in taking part in the program should know they’re welcome, Dr. Rose said.

“They don’t need a referral. They’ll be asked questions on the phone to make sure it’s the appropriate place for them,” she said.

“People do get better. They can,” she added. “That’s the moral of the story, but they need a lot of support and help.”

 

The Medication-Assisted Treatment and Recovery Support in Northcentral Montana project is supported by grant number 1H79TI081486-01 ($1,429,263.00) to Benefis Hospitals from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).