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Multi-faceted treatment urged for drug addicts

| Tuesday, July 21, 2015, 10:33 p.m.
Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Beaver County, advocates for more robust treatment programs to deal with heroin and opiate addiction while testifying at a 2015 hearing at The Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Dr. Capretto lost his battle with bladder cancer on Saturday, June 9, 2018.
Sean Stipp | Trib Total Media
Dr. Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Beaver County, advocates for more robust treatment programs to deal with heroin and opiate addiction while testifying at a 2015 hearing at The Center for Rural Pennsylvania. Dr. Capretto lost his battle with bladder cancer on Saturday, June 9, 2018.
Pennsylvania State Senator Gene Yaw listens to testimony during The Center for Rural Pennsylvania public hearing on heroin and opioid addiction, treatment and recovery services at the Fred M. Rogers Center, Saint Vincent College on July 21, 2015.
Sean Stipp | Trib Total Media
Pennsylvania State Senator Gene Yaw listens to testimony during The Center for Rural Pennsylvania public hearing on heroin and opioid addiction, treatment and recovery services at the Fred M. Rogers Center, Saint Vincent College on July 21, 2015.
Carmen Capozzi listens from the audience to testimony during The Center for Rural Pennsylvania public hearing on heroin and opioid addiction, treatment and recovery services at the Fred M. Rogers Center, Saint Vincent College on July 21, 2015. Capozzi started Sage's Army, a non-profit organization that raises community awareness of drug addiction, after his son Sage Capozzi who lost his life to addiction.
Sean Stipp | Trib Total Media
Carmen Capozzi listens from the audience to testimony during The Center for Rural Pennsylvania public hearing on heroin and opioid addiction, treatment and recovery services at the Fred M. Rogers Center, Saint Vincent College on July 21, 2015. Capozzi started Sage's Army, a non-profit organization that raises community awareness of drug addiction, after his son Sage Capozzi who lost his life to addiction.

Heroin addiction treatment needs to include more than just medication or short-term in-patient rehabilitative care, drug treatment experts and Ohio officials told Pennsylvania lawmakers Tuesday.

Addiction to heroin, prescription pain medication and other opioids should be looked at as an illness, such as cancer, that needs multifaceted treatment, outside support and years of monitoring, presenters said.

“We're not treating a computer with a virus,” said Neil Capretto, medical director for Gateway Rehab, near Aliquippa. “Addiction is a chronic disease.”

Lawmakers gathered at St. Vincent College near Latrobe on Tuesday for the first of three public hearings statewide, convened by The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a research arm of the state legislature, looking at improving addiction treatment.

Drug-related deaths in Westmoreland County are up more than 47 percent in the first six months of the year and show no signs of slowing, according to Coroner Ken Bacha. Through June 30, his office confirmed 39 overdose deaths and 24 probable overdose cases awaiting confirmation through toxicology results. At that rate, the county is on track to break its overdose death record of 87, recorded in 2014, and reach 128 by the end of the year, Bacha said.

To stem the drug abuse epidemic, Capretto said addicts need a minimum of 90 days of treatment that includes continuous monitoring. A key to keeping people in treatment that long is the use of medications as part of their recovery plan, he said.

“When you retain (the person) longer, you can do the other important work” of addressing family, work and legal issues, Capretto said. ”A lot of health care and insurance systems treat it like the flu ... a short-term condition.”

Private insurance coverage varies, but even when a person has coverage, deductibles in the thousands can cause them to walk away from rehab, said Kellie McKevitt, executive for behavioral health services with Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services.

To improve what state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Lycoming County, termed a “fragmented” treatment system, lawmakers could look to Ohio for ideas. Ohio is in its first of a five-year initiative dubbed “Recovery is Beautiful.”

As Ohio's governor and attorney general cracked down on so-called prescription drug “pill mills,” cheap heroin became more prevalent, and the state found itself facing an overdose epidemic, said Cheri Walter, CEO of the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities.

Recovery is Beautiful focuses on comprehensive, long-term treatment that coordinates social, family, housing and educational services. Treatment has to be accessible, as well as “culturally and gender sensitive,” she said.

Ohio's program, which began in October, stresses peer support and aims to keep people in recovery housing, such as a halfway house, for as long as two or three years, Walter said.

Beyond that, the initiative is trying to erase the stigma of treatment.

“We need to talk about and celebrate people in recovery” so others who need help won't be afraid to get it, Walter said.

Ashley Potts, a certified recovery specialist with the Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission, said long-term help is crucial to avoid relapses.

Potts, a recovering heroin addict who also smoked cigarettes and marijuana and drank alcohol, said substance abuse alienated her from her family. She said she dropped out of school and was convicted on felony theft charges after stealing to fund her drug habit.

After 216 days in detox, in-patient treatment and a halfway house, Potts said she'll be nine years clean in September.

“I firmly believe in the long-term treatment. I could not stay clean in short-term treatment,” Potts said. “I don't think even 90 days is enough.”

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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