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Addiction specialists emphasize importance of proper treatment

| Sunday, June 1, 2014, 12:51 a.m.

Area addiction specialists say there is a need for some types of drug treatment and changes to the amount of time that clients spend in treatment.

“We need more treatment opportunities and to have people in treatment longer,” said Dr. Neil Capretto, a Vandergrift native who has treated substance abusers for about 30 years at Gateway Rehabilitation.

The Moon Township-based, nonprofit company has 20 locations, including one in New Kensington.

“Addiction is a chronic disease,” said Capretto, who is Gateway's medical director. “We need to connect with people and have better ways to monitor them.”

Gateway and other abstinence-based programs help people who have gone through detoxification programs and aren't using substitute medicines such as methadone. Effective abstinence programs treat the addicted person's mind, body and spirit, Capretto said.

Some people say they can't afford even short treatment programs, and most insurance policies don't really help.

“We're paying more for addicts to remain addicts instead of getting them into longer programs,” Capretto said.

There is a need for more hospital-based detoxification units, said Holly Martin, a psychologist and chief operating officer for the Greenbriar Treatment Center, which has an outpatient center in New Kensington and nine centers across the region.

Greenbriar is adding detox beds at its Washington County site, but they're only for clients who are medically frail and need to be in hospital-based detoxification.

“There is a real need for hospital detox,” Martin said. “In this area, we only have two: one at UPMC Mercy hospital the other at Butler Memorial Hospital,” she said.

ARC Manor in Kittanning has 10-bed residential and 15-bed partial hospitalization programs, as well as intensive outpatient programs.

It can help patients with a combination of addiction and mental health needs and with relapse prevention. There is a women's group, and even one for people in jail.

Addicted people come from all backgrounds: poor or affluent, educated and not so much.

“We see so many bright, educated people chasing drugs,” said ARC Manor Executive Director Cynthia C. McCrea.

She said some are even misusing Neurontin or Gabapentin, often used to reduce nerve pain in diabetics.

The length of stay depends on who is paying for it, whether it's insurance with limits, or otherwise, said Jill Pless, assistant director at ARC Manor.

“After two weeks, most clients are just getting their heads clear enough to think,” she said.

Additional options

RHJ Medical Center Inc. has a methadone clinic along River Road in Parks Township, to help opiate addicts on an outpatient basis.

The company has 23 people on staff including a medical director, physician assistants, nurses and addiction counselors, said Kathy Jones, RHJ's chief executive director for Parks and a clinic in Hunker.

The Parks site isn't close to any residential area; it has been operating without incident for about seven years.Methadone is normally used to help addicts who want to get off an opiate.

People who use methadone can function normally and can benefit from counseling, Jones said.“Our goal is drug freedom if we can do it,” she said.Even when a patient gets off an opiate, they still have to deal with addiction's lasting effects.

“The body has opiate memory,” Jones said.

Psychological problems can pop up when least expected. So, dealing with relapses is reality for addicts and counselors.

RHJ has about 260 clients at Parks. Methadone clinics are in Pittsburgh, Butler, Greensburg, Blairsville and Indiana.

In the A-K Valley, at least nine physician offices and some local programs use another medicine to assist addicts.

Buprenorphine is a medicine that can help addicts to function normally and stop taking opiates.

“They can safely drive, take care of children and work,” said Dr. Ruth D. Martin, whose medical practice has been at North Second Street, Apollo, for 30 years.

Buprenorphine, known by the brand name Suboxone, is used for people who try to abandon drug use but who start using again. They want to quit, but they need help, and the medicine can be given at a doctor's office or clinic.

“It's for anti-relapse maintenance,” Martin said.

Just as some medicines are given to prevent seizures in patients with epilepsy, Martin said, buprenorphine allows patients to feel normal, Martin said.

They can stop using heroin, OxyContin or other opiates, and not have to feel overwhelmed about life's decisions such as their job, bank account or how they will pay bills.

Martin said about 200 to 250 people have completed the treatment in her office in the past seven years.

She said she hasn't had complaints from neighbors.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or

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