In November 2020, Comprehensive Healthcare’s Yakima-based Opioid Treatment Program (OTP) began offering a new medication option intended to chemically break the chain of addiction: suboxone treatment.
“Suboxone essentially stops the cravings for drugs. What remission is to cancer, suboxone is to substance use disorders. It effectively blocks the desire to get high, because individuals are not in withdrawal,” said Christopher Butler, the director of care services at Comprehensive Healthcare. “Overall, it reduces cravings and helps people get their lives back together to focus on goals beyond getting high.”
Suboxone is a medication made up of two compounds – buprenorphine to limit cravings for opioids, and naloxone, an anti-overdose drug. It is widely regarded as a safe, protective option that enables some clients to qualify, through ongoing treatment, to take the medication home for long-term management.
Funding from a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) expansion grant will enable the OTP to scale its suboxone treatment and integrated services. Shortly after the program launched, about 20 clients per month received suboxone treatment at the Yakima site, and the number may grow to more than 300 individuals over the next three to five years. Leaders also are working to make suboxone treatment available at other Comprehensive Healthcare locations throughout Central Washington.
Although suboxone is new to the organization’s services, treating individuals with substance use disorders is not. The OTP has provided methadone treatment, medication management, group and individual therapy, case management and other integrated substance use disorder treatment services for decades.
Like suboxone, methadone is used to block the addictive effects of opioids. Providers may prescribe suboxone or methadone depending on a variety of individual factors – such as how long a client has struggled with addiction, or how frequently they use, which can be a different measure for different people.
According to Butler, the full-spectrum, evidence-based approach helps clients find recovery by effectively managing their condition, helping to put them in control of their addiction.
“Our OTP offers everything in-house in Yakima, all of the behavioral health components that people might need – case management, substance use professionals, therapists, peer support specialists, nurses and doctors,” Butler said. “If we don’t have it, we establish relationships with others who can support. We’re here to partner with clients and remove any barriers that may be keeping them from receiving the help they deserve.”
Many individuals with substance abuse disorders also need mental health support. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about half of those who experience a substance use disorder during their lifetime will also experience mental illness, and vice versa.
The goal, Butler said, is to keep clients engaged in treatment, building skills to manage addiction over the long term – and the OTP is seeing high retention rates. According to an October 2020 report from the Washington State Health Care Authority, Comprehensive Healthcare’s client retention rate was 88% for substance use treatment, the highest among peer providers in the state’s Hub and Spoke Opioid Treatment Network.
“We know that people who stay on medications and stay in treatment longer see health and wellness dramatically increase,” Butler said. “The need for these services is clearly present in our surrounding communities, and we’re grateful for all of our partners and those at the state level who are working with us to help provide resources so more people can begin the journey to living substance-free.”
Comprehensive Healthcare is planning to expand substance use disorder services to other service area locations. Six providers will be credentialed to provide services so that all locations within the six counties served will be able to offer suboxone and other medication assisted treatment services.