One of the newest treatment centers to combat the opioid crisis in Luzerne County is the Medication-Assisted Treatment Addiction Clinic at Geisinger South Wilkes-Barre.
The facility is similar to a methadone clinic, but uses buprenorphine (Suboxone) or naltrexone (Vivitrol) to help suppress withdrawal symptoms and cravings for opioids.
Unlike methadone, those drugs can be administered in an office setting or prescribed to take home. Additionally, patients don’t have to show up every day like a methadone clinic. Each client’s routine is different.
Since opening in September, the MAT clinic has seen 278 patients and about 60 percent of those them are still with the program today.
“We are saving lives and doing good in the community,” said Jordan Barbour, director of addiction medication for Geisinger Health System. .
The MAT clinic at Geisinger South, located on the fourth floor of the medical arts building, was Geisinger’s second to open in Pennsylvania. The first was in Geisinger Bloomsburg Hospital.
Geisinger’s MAT clinics are staffed by seven full-time employees per site — including a board-certified addiction physician, advanced practitioner, addiction-trained clinical pharmacist and a dedicated case-management staff.
Doctors also serve as counselors, Barbour said.
“Our doctors are not going to walk in a room and spend five minutes with a patient, write a prescription and leave. They are going to talk to them about their disease,” Barbour said.
The opening of the new clinic came during a year when Luzerne County experienced a record number of 151 fatal drug overdoses, most of them tied to opioids like heroin and fentanyl.
However, the clinic is also trying to lessen clients’ use of other drugs that have a medium or high risk of abuse.
When patients enter the program, they average two such medications. After 90 days, they average 1.2, including the suboxone, Geisinger officials say
“A unique part of our program is we are decreasing the number of prescription medications patients are on in addition to addressing their opioid addiction,” Barbour said.
The program is strictly monitored. Patients who abuse their prescribed-medicine maintenance are discharged from the clinic. Clients are routinely tested for drugs.
Some clients visit the clinic several times a week. And some, who are doing well, are asked to visit far less.
“If they are doing fantastic, we can see them once a month,” Barbour said.
City officials welcomed the new clinic.
“Opioid addiction is a nationwide epidemic and Wilkes-Barre is not immune,” Wilkes-Barre Mayor Tony George said. “People with opioid addictions — our friends, family, coworkers, neighbors — need help. I have faith that Geisinger’s new clinic will provide treatment to patients in a controlled environment, while being respectful and responsible to the residents surrounding the hospital.”
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This story is part of an Associated Press project. America is in the midst of the deadliest drug epidemic in its history and Pennsylvania is at the epicenter. In 2016, more than 2,200 Pennsylvanians died of opioid overdoses, the fourth highest rate in the US, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Opioid deaths made up about half of all drug overdoses in the state that year. The death toll from opioids abuse has climbed so high that the governor’s office this year issued an emergency declaration. That designation calls for increased coordination and tracking of the work of health and safety agencies dealing with the public health emergency. Newsrooms have been documenting the epidemic’s soaring numbers for close to two decades. Now, a special project marshalling their combined strength is focusing on what Pennsylvanians around the state are doing to try to reverse this most deadly trend. These are stories of community support, outreach, care and prevention. All are about hope.