Opioid crisis: Sanford Bemidji steps up fight

"We want to break the cycle of substance use in families and replace it with a healthier, sustainable cycle.”

By: Kim Tubbs .

Hydrocodone acetaminophen tablets lying on a prescription form. Hydrocodone is a popular prescription semi-synthetic opioid that is used to treat moderate to severe pain. Hydrocodone is said to be one of the most common recreational prescription drugs in America.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Two years ago, Sanford Bemidji launched efforts to combat the opioid crisis in Minnesota. It began through a collaboration with First Steps to Healthy Babies and focused on the addressing opioid use disorder in pregnant women by offering a medication assisted treatment (MAT) clinic.

Since then, Sanford Health has worked closely with the Minnesota Hospital Association to create best practices for treating these women. Now, they are taking that standard of care and expanding the voluntary treatment program to include all adult men and women.

The MAT clinic’s primary medical physician is Joseph Corser, M.D. He brings vast experience in chemical dependency through his practice and teaching with the University of Minnesota.

“Initially focusing on pregnant women was a great start in the fight against the opioid crisis,” Dr. Corser says. “But many of these new mothers would return to homes where other family members were also using opioids, creating challenges in recovery.”

Opioid drug names

Opioids are drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant. Prescription opioids are used mostly to treat moderate to severe pain. Opioids can also make people feel very relaxed and “high,” which makes them desirable for non-medical reasons. This is dangerous because opioids can be highly addictive, and overdoses and death are common. Heroin is one of the most dangerous opioids, and is never used as a medicine in the United States.

Common prescription opioids:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin®), oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana®)
  • Morphine (Kadian®, Avinza®)
  • Codeine
  • Fentanyl

Breaking stereotypes

A medication assisted treatment is the use of medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to help treat opioid use disorders. According to Dr. Corser, MAT has faced a certain level of controversy, which he attributes to misunderstandings surrounding this type of treatment.

“Some may think this type of treatment is simply substituting one addictive drug for another,” he says. “This is not true. Taking medication for opioid addiction can be compared to taking medication for other chronic disease like diabetes. When used as recommended my medical providers, the medication won’t create a new addiction.”

Dr. Corser says to better understand MAT, it helps to understand the basics of opioid addiction. This addiction can create changes in the brain, which leads to an overpowering urge, or craving, for the drug. Addicts may also experience a loss of control, making it more difficult to not take the drug, even when it’s harmful.

“By reducing these cravings and withdrawal with the help of medication, our patients can stop thinking constantly about the opioids,” adds Dr. Corser. “This allows them to shift their focus on returning to a safe, healthy, productive lifestyle.”

Treating the person behind the addiction

Another member of Sanford Bemidji’s MAT team is case manager Alyssa Bruning, R.N. She says the treatment extends far beyond medication, which is essential to a successful recovery.

“We bundle our treatment and services to wrap around our patients’ specific situations and lifestyle,” she adds. “We offer a variety of approaches including counseling, behavioral therapy, support groups and meetings.”

The MAT clinic is fighting the opioid crisis through services including:

  • Daily medication given at the clinic
  • Case management
  • Education and care planning
  • Outpatient treatment
  • Support
  • Transportation assistance

Dr. Corser also adds that the team at Sanford Health attempts to get to the root of the addiction, trying to identify what led to a patient’s current circumstances.

“The majority of people with an opioid disorder had a past trauma occur in life,” he says. “So, it’s not about what’s wrong WITH you, but instead what’s happened TO you.”

Making a positive impact

When the program launched, the primary objective was to send babies home from the hospital with their mothers, Bruning says.

“That remains our objective today,” she adds. “We want families together, living in safe, healthy environments.”

Goals of the MAT clinic:

  • Treating physical dependence on opioids
  • Restoring normal function in patients
  • Reducing risk-taking behaviors
  • Reducing opioid cravings
  • Creating healthy outcomes that allow parents to keep custody of their children
  • Creating individualized support and care that builds on patients’ strengths, so they can take responsibility for their own wellness

“When it comes to the opioid crisis, we are focused on the bigger picture for our patients, and our community,” Dr. Corser says. “We want to give patients the resources they need to get back out and be productive members of society. We want to break the cycle of substance use in families and replace it with a healthier, sustainable cycle.”

More stories on opioids