In 2016, 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 treatment. Now, the voluntary program has expanded to include all adult men and women.
The MAT clinic’s primary medical physician is Joseph Corser, M.D. His vast experience in chemical dependency comes from 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 said. “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®)
Medication assisted treatment combines medications 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 misunderstanding.
“Some may think this type of treatment is simply substituting one addictive drug for another,” he said. “This is not true. Taking medication for opioid addiction can be compared to taking medication for other chronic diseases like diabetes. When used as recommended by medical providers, the medication won’t create a new addiction.”
Dr. Corser said that to better understand MAT, it helps to understand the basics of opioid addiction. This addiction can create changes in the brain which lead to an overpowering urge, or craving, for the drug. Addicts may also experience a loss of control, making it more difficult to avoid taking the drug.
“By reducing these cravings and withdrawal with the help of medication, our patients can stop thinking constantly about the opioids,” said Dr. Corser. “This allows them to shift their focus on returning to a safe, healthy, productive lifestyle.”
Treating the person behind the addiction
The treatment extends far beyond medication, which is essential to a successful recovery. By bundling treatment and services, the clinic meets each patient’s specific situation and lifestyle. Options include 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
- Transportation assistance
The team at Sanford Health attempts to get to the root of the addiction. The goal is to identify what led to a patient’s circumstances.
“The majority of people with an opioid disorder had a past trauma occur in life,” Dr. Corser said. “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. That remains our objective today.
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 maintain 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 said. “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
- Sanford Health doctor on front lines of opioid battle
- Sanford Health’s Rx for opioid crisis: Fewer prescriptions
- Opioids — Local effort against the crisis: Podcast
- Sanford Health to study alternatives to opioids