Hospital-assisted recovery makes big mark on small community - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Hospital-assisted recovery makes big mark on small community

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Photo courtesy of Reynolds Memorial Hospital Photo courtesy of Reynolds Memorial Hospital

In September, when Glen Dale’s Reynolds Memorial Hospital launched its BreakThru program, the staff figured they’d have between five and 10 patients a month coming in for help with getting on the road to a drug-free life. 

But over the past 10 months, Reynolds, a small community hospital with only 99 general beds and 22 skilled nursing beds, has helped more than 160 addicts get through withdrawal, including 12 repeats. Even more call and, for whatever reason, don’t follow through.

“Withdrawal, that’s what addicts are afraid of,” said Reynolds CEO Dr. David Hess. “It’s too powerful to do at home and not very safe.”

BreakThru is a medical management service for individuals struggling with alcohol or drug addiction. Hess said the hospital does screenings and assessments, just as it would for any other patient. If the patient qualifies, he or she is admitted and the medical staff will write a protocol of medications to help that patient detox.

The program is geared to individuals addicted to alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines or heroin. Hess said they don’t accept patients with addictions to methamphetamine or bath salts or even addicts with psychiatric morbidities.  

BreakThru Continuum Care Manager Barbie Whiddon said it’s an emotional time for addicts and their families.

Families, she said, typically don’t realize a loved one is using “until they start running out of whatever it is they’re using to get high and start withdrawal, and then they start showing withdrawal symptoms.” Addicts use “so they don’t have to think about it,” she said. “They feel guilty for the impact their addiction has had on family and friends.

“The families are crying, they’re upset because they didn’t know,” she said. “And the patients are crying because they’ve gotten to this point in their life.”

Once they’re admitted, Hess said the BreakThru staff monitors progress and treats any symptoms. Suboxone is prescribed in progressively lower dosages “to get them through the worst of withdrawal.”  

Chasing a high

Withdrawal is not easy — there are emotional symptoms common to all drugs: anxiety, restlessness, irritability, insomnia, headaches and depression. But withdrawing from opiates, alcohol and tranquilizers brings a special kind of hell — physical symptoms ranging from diarrhea, cramping, nausea and vomiting, to rapid heartbeat and high blood pressure. Symptoms typically begin about 24 hours into withdrawal. Experts say withdrawing from opiates is extremely uncomfortable, but not dangerous unless the addict has also dabbled in other drugs. 

Those going through alcohol and tranquilizer detox face the toughest test: Potentially, withdrawal from them can bring seizures, heart attacks, strokes and delirium tremens, more commonly known as the “DTs.”

“Most of the addicts we speak with have tried to withdraw at home,” Whiddon said. “Some say they tried 10 or 15 times at home but just can’t go through it.”

Part of what makes opiate addiction so difficult to break is the euphoric feeling from using, at least in the early stages: Michael’s House, a California-based treatment center, says opiates create artificial endormorphins; over time, they trick the user’s brain into stopping production of natural endomorphins. At that point, the only way an opiate addict can experience those positive feelings is by using more opiates.

“I hear them say they don’t use (opiates) to get high, they use them to feel normal,” Whiddon said. “They’ve been chasing a high for so long, when they don’t feel it any more then they use to feel normal, they use so they don’t get sick. That’s where we come in.”

 And opiate addiction is equal opportunity: It crosses all demographics and socio-economic backgrounds. Whiddon and fellow Continuum Care Manager Gina Minch said they’ve had octogenarians call for help with a pill addiction. Opiate addiction afflicts “people who grew up with nothing, people who grew up with everything,” Minch said. BreakThru’s patient base is primarily dealing with heroin, Oxycontin and Percocet addiction, “almost always following a trauma or accident.”

Changing mission

“It’s affecting people in all walks of life,” Minch said. “One kid from a wealthy background told us he started out smoking marijuana. He would go to buy marijuana, eventually they offered him another drug they were selling — heroin. 

“He said it only took him one time and he was addicted. He got involved with the wrong people.”

Hess said patients spend three or four days in the BreakThru program, and when they leave, the staff tries to get them into a Vivitrol program. Vivitrol is used to block the euphoric effects of opioids. It’s effective, but it’s no guarantee. Relapses, although dangerous, are not uncommon.

Before patients are accepted into a Vivitrol program, they must be drug — and alcohol-free for seven to 10 days. Those three or four days they’re in BreakThru don’t count if doctors used Suboxone to wean them away from their drug of choice.

By the time they leave, he said patients typically don’t look anything like they did when they checked in. 

“They’re feeling better and they look amazing,” he said. “That’s part of the reward for us. First, it’s the right thing to do, and second, we get to witness that transformation.”

Their success rate is solid, Hess said. Out of the roughly 148 patients they’ve had sign in, only 15 have relapsed. Of those 15, 12 returned to BreakThru to try again.

“This is part of what a community hospital’s mission should be now,” Hess said. “We’ll never do brain surgeries here or back surgeries, but we can sure treat the need and problems in our community. I think there are other hospitals feeling the way we were, somebody’s just got to step up and try to fight the problem.

“If Reynolds can pull this off, others can, too. We’re not the biggest hospital — we’re just the one that was brave enough to try it.”

This story first appeared in the print edition of The State Journal. Click HERE to subscribe.

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