Dr. Marvin Seppala, chief medical officer of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, visited Congress today to testify about the ongoing opioid epidemic in the U.S. and defended the organization’s approach to addiction treatment.
“Individuals who are dependent on opioids face unique challenges that often undermine their ability to remain in treatment and ultimately achieve long-term abstinence,” Seppala told members of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, according to his written testimony.
These patients are hypersensitive to real or imaged pain and vulnerable to stressful events, he said. Anxiety, depression and intense craving for the drugs can continue for months or years.
Seppala, who lives in Wilsonville, highlighted Hazelden’s 12-step treatment protocol. It includes the latest in addiction research, group therapy and patient education. The protocol can also include the medications Vivitrol, which blocks opioid receptors in the brain, and Suboxone, which partially stimulates the receptors and is used for both detox and maintenance of opioid dependence.
“Some see medication assistance and abstinence as diametrically opposed, and we have been criticized by those who support an abstinence-only approach for altering our program in this manner. We do not see a conflict,” Seppala said. “Even when medications are part of our protocol, abstinence is still the objective.”
Patients in Hazelden’s Comprehensive Opioid Response-12 program are much more likely to complete residential treatment, with a discharge rate of 7.5 percent for those who leave treatment earlier than recommended. This is less than the general population, which has a 13.5 percent “atypical” discharge rate, Seppala said.
Oregon leads the nation in the abuse of painkillers. In 2012, 1,500 Oregonians were hospitalized due to drug abuse, with about 500 of those due to prescribed opioids.
Hazelden has treatment facilities in Newberg and Beaverton.
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