Treatment offers an inroad in the war on drugs

The Virginia Gazette

Frank Shatz

"The need for medically assisted treatment using Methadone and Buprenorhpine (Suboxone) in the Williamsburg community is critically needed due to the epidemic of prescription opioid and heroin addiction. After opening our first clinic in Newport News, it became evident that another facility was needed in the Williamsburg area," said Dr. Richard Campana, the medical director of First Med of Williamsburg, and now also medical director of the American Addiction Treatment Center, in an interview with the Gazette.

He is among the few local physicians who treat patients with drug dependency problems. In 2004 Campana was certified to administer Suboxone, an approved drug used in the treatment of opioid dependency, which is one of the fastest growing addictions.

"Opening a private Methadone clinic is an arduous process," Dr. Campana said. To get through the federal and state requirements took him almost 2 years. He persisted, however, because, as he said, "our number one goal is to make medically assisted treatment available to more patients in the Tidewater area. Currently patients here wait months before they can be admitted to a Methadone clinic because of the long waiting list."

He explained that Methadone has been around since the mid-60's and is one of the most successful drugs ever to help patients deal with heroin and prescription opioid addictions. All the experts in the Addiction Medicine field concur that more MAT treatment is needed to deal with current opioid addiction crisis we are seeing in the country. There are approximate 2.1 million addicted opioid patients, yet only half of those patients are being treated with MAT.

"MAT treatment is considered evidenced-based medicine and very effective in treating opioid addictions," Campana said.

In a previous interview, he noted that drug addiction is still considered a stigma primarily due to public misinformation and general ignorance about the disease of addiction.

"Words like junkie, dope, addict, pothead, doper, etc. have to be replaced with chemical dependency, neuro-transmitter deficiency, mood-altering substances, etc." he said.

He believes that to bring about those changes, addiction specialists must be given an open forum to educate people. He advocates that local newspapers should provide a spot for addiction specialists to highlight specific addictive disorders and treatments available.

Dr. Campana also urges that local people in recovery from all walks of life should be given a spotlight to share their stories. "The schools should have addictionologists give talks about the disease of addiction. Judges should rely on expert opinion of addiction specialists before sentencing people to incarceration."

In contrast with past history of evaluating the effectiveness of drug abuse treatment, he said, now there are reputable authorities, such as the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, that set standards of treatment, certify addictionologists and do much research in new treatments.

"But the effectiveness of a treatment program is best judged by the people who get the treatment," Dr. Campana said. The treatment program provided by him, using Suboxone, had a 70% success rate. His patients were back to work within days of starting the treatment.

"The older patients, coming from all walks of life, do much better, partly because they are committed to recovery" he said. "Patients who have counseling in addition taking Suboxone do the very best."

In his view, the first and foremost step that must be taken is the decriminalization of addiction. Addicted people should first be given the option of treatment before being incarcerated. This starts at the court level. Patients in treatment must be monitored by random drug testing and receive after-care counseling.

By all indications, the War on Drugs, fought by the traditional methods, is unwinnable. The approach Dr. Campana advocates may provide the best hope for redemption.

Frank Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of :"Reports from a Distant Place." His book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and on Amazon.com

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