Opioid Addiction Recovery Centers Have a Growing Problem

The New York Times recently published an article chronicling the shift of opioid addiction recovery centers from abstinence-based programs toward medication-based programs. The author highlighted JourneyPure at the River, an addiction treatment center based in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, as an example. While the article touted the benefits of a medication-based treatment approach, it only briefly glossed over its flaws.

If we are ever going to conquer the opioid epidemic, it’s important we take a more critical look at each aspect, especially when it comes to treatment. While “medication-assisted treatment” may sound like a good idea on the surface, its merits quickly crumble when examined more closely. The glaring problem? Two of the three federally approved medicines to treat opioid addiction are… well, opioids. 

Why would an addiction recovery center give its patients more of the drugs they’re trying to kick?

The reason for this is two-fold: the agonizing effects of opioid withdrawal have led to high relapse rates, with many patients repeating multiple stints in rehab centers when their initial abstinence-based treatment approach didn’t stick. Tragically, some patients overdose and die when treatment fails. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 70,237 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2017, of which 67.8% involved opioids.

This is why many opioid addiction recovery centers are reluctantly shifting their approach to opiate-based medication treatment in response; they lack a better option.

This shift is occurring on a national policy level, too. Alex Azar, President Trump’s Health and Human Services secretary,has embraced treating opioid addiction with federally-approved opioid-based medications like methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. In fact, the Trump administration allocated $1 Billion to increase access to treatment this year, but only for treatment centers who offer medication-based treatment. This is problematic for one inescapable reason: Azar is a former pharmaceutical executive and lobbyist.

When it comes to treatment for opioid addiction, there is one question we should all be asking.

While there is evidence that medication-assisted treatment helps patients reduce their amount of illicit opioid use and decreases risk behaviors (like injecting heroin, which can lead to the transmission of diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV), the largest question surrounding the opioid epidemic and the way we treat addiction remains unanswered:

Why should the opioid manufacturers who fueled the epidemic that is responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Americans get to profit off of the cure?

I would not deny anyone the medication they need if it helped them get sober, but it bothers me that there is not a word of criticism of the companies who created this epidemic continuing to profit from its treatment.

For example, Purdue Pharma, which manufactures the powerful brand name opioid OxyContin and has been under fire for colorful pills on trayallegedly fueling the opioid crisis, also manufactures buprenorphine, one of the federally-approved drugs used to treat opioid addiction. The same is true for other pharmaceutical companies, like Hikma Pharmaceuticals, which manufactures methadone in addition to oxycodone and codeine.

Given this troubling revelation, why are the New York Times and the United States Government endorsing such programs with such an abundance of praise yet such a lack of criticism? Insurance companies are also getting on board. Daniel Knecht, vice president of clinical strategy and policy at Aetna, says that medication-assisted treatment is “…really the linchpin of our strategy going forward — I can’t overemphasize that.”

There’s so much more to the story.

There is one other blinding fact the New York Times article fails to address: medication-assisted treatment is dangerous for the unborn children of pregnant addicts.

As a lawyer who represents families affected by the opioid crisis, I have written many articles about Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, a type of severe drug withdrawal in newborns who are exposed to opioids while in the womb. The initial symptoms of NAS include extreme irritability, shaking, seizures, projectile vomiting, sweating, refusing to feed, slow weight gain, blotchy skin, and more. Andthe long-term effects are just as heartbreaking. Children born with NAS can face lifelong learning disabilities, language delays, hearing impairments, psychiatric illness, and more.

This is why medication-assisted treatment in opioid addiction recovery centers can be so problematic. With governmental policies and opioid addiction recovery centers moving toward medication-based recovery programs, we are putting more innocent babies at risk of developing NAS. The number of babies born addicted to drugs in Tennessee has skyrocketed in recent years, and mothers using methadone are no exception.

What if you have no choice in your treatment?

While the New York Times article addresses treatment protocol for free civilians at opioid addiction recovery centers, what about incarcerated women who are pregnant and have little or no say in their drug treatment?

One of my clients, a young child who suffered from NAS, was in this situation. Her mother was an addict and incarcerated while pregnant with her. Every morning at 4:00am they woke her mother up, took her to a clinic where she was given methadone, then took her back to her cell. This means that my young client was exposed to methadone, an opioid, every single day while in utero.

Not surprisingly, this infant girl plunged into withdrawal shortly after being born, and suffered the agonizing symptoms of NAS. Thankfully, my pastor and his wife adopted her, but her struggles will not end there.

If you have an opioid injury, speak to an attorney you can trust.

As an attorney Tennessee has trusted for over thirty years, I have watched as the opioid epidemic has swept our great state. In fact, Tennessee is one of the hardest-hit states in the nation. My law firm, Darrell Castle & Associates, PLLC, has served Memphis, Nashville, and the Mid-South areas for decades with a winning track record.

TN NAS LawyerAbove all, I believe that major opioid manufacturers must be held responsible for their role in the opioid epidemic. They should not be allowed to profit from the suffering of so many families. Likewise, I believe the victims of this epidemic should not have to pay for the high cost of medical care often associated with opioid injuries like NAS. For this reason, I am offering free legal consultations to the families of any children born with NAS.

If your child or that of someone you know is struggling with NAS, or had it as a newborn, call us right away. Our team at Darrell Castle & Associates, PLLC is ready to fight for you and your family. Contact us online today or call 901-327-1212 to speak with a TN NAS Lawyer you can trust.