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New clinic addresses the opioid crisis

Suboxone offers comprehensive treatment and support for addiction-related illnesses

Ridgecrest Regional Hospital– Community leaders in healthcare, education, emergency response, and more were on hand for the Feb. 16 launch of the Ridgecrest Regional Hospital Suboxone Clinic — establishing the most comprehensive local avenue of support and treatment for those struggling with addiction.

“Overdose deaths remain a leading cause of injury-related death in the United States,” reported the Centers for Disease Control in a 2022 report. Deaths involving opioids and stimulants have significantly increased recently — particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report acknowledges that these overdoses result in a significant economic toll on individuals, healthcare systems, and communities. And now, medical professionals are modifying how they look at and treat addiction.

The new RRH Suboxone Clinic will administer Suboxone — one active ingredient that removes opioids from receptors and another that reduces cravings— to those struggling with opioid-related addiction.

“Addiction is not a moral failing — a chronic disease that requires medical treatment,” said Dr. Stephanie Crapo, director of RRH Emergency Medicine.

Historically, drugs that treat addiction have been highly regulated and restricted, so patients who turn up in the emergency department may not have access to these potentially life-saving treatments — which potentially reduce mortality rates for people with opioid-use disorder by a factor of four. And for those in remote areas like Ridgecrest, patients did not have local options for follow-on treatment and support.

The new clinic is part of the California Bridge model, which aims to grant 24/7 access to high-quality treatment of substance use disorders in all hospitals by 2025.

Dr. Hani Chaabo, medical director of the new clinic, shared with community partners how Medication-Assisted Treatment has improved care for people with addiction.

Suboxone is not only highly effective but much safer to administer. However, medical treatment is only one part of the story.

“Addiction research has shown the importance of optimizing environment and social connection in achieving long-term recovery,” said Dr. Chaabo. “When we value our life, we don’t seek to escape it with other substances.”

He shared the results of a study conducted by the National Institute of Health, which explored the effects of drugs on rats. The results showed that rats almost entirely eschew drug use in favor of spending time with another rat.

With that in mind, part of the local treatment will focus on support and a sense of patient belonging. The clinic will offer access to counseling, assistance navigating the healthcare system, referrals for resources and support, and a place for loved ones to participate.

“Our focus will not be on shame or judgment, but the motivations behind our addictions,” said Dr. Chaabo. “Suboxone is a Bandaid. Addressing and treating our patient’s mental, emotional, and physical health is the true solution.”

Patients receive one-on-one counseling from Dr. Chaabo, and his nurse Brandi Froede will also help team up with patients looking to equip themselves with proven coping techniques. “Down the road, we would like to add another addiction counselor who can meet with patients individually as well as for group therapy,” said Chaabo. “One of the trends we have seen in addiction treatments is the mental health benefits of the group setting. I think it will be a tremendous asset to offer that locally.”

Although the California Bridge model is still relatively new to many rural communities, Dr. Chaabo noted that he offers the exact model he trained in during his residency in West Virginia. “Our community clinic was so successful that West Virginia has been implementing the program all over the state.”

According to Stephen Fine, clinic manager, Narcan treatments were administered to 142 Ridgecrest and Lake Isabella patients last year alone. Anecdotal evidence indicates the number of eligible patients for MAT in the area is much larger.

Having an opportunity to admit patients from emergency rooms into local clinics allows earlier intervention — “which is proven to work,” said Dr. Crapo.

“Overdose death is a significant health concern all over the country, which is no different for our town,” said Debbie Edwards of Ridgecrest Addiction Awareness, one of many community partners for the clinic.

“In the past, struggling addicts would have to travel to Lancaster or Bakersfield for MAT to help with the harsh effects of withdrawal during detox. Ridgecrest Addiction Awareness is grateful to the hospital for addressing the need for Suboxone treatment locally.”

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