A new way of treating opioid addiction

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Tony Fantozzi, a physician’s assistant at the Northwest Community Health Center, speaks about Medically Assisted Therapy at a Libby Community Roundtable, Thursday. (Luke Hollister/The Western News)

Doctor Daniel Nauts, a Montana Primary Care Center Associate, gave a presentation about a new way of treating opioid addiction and about the state of fentanyl use in Montana at a Libby Community Roundtable, Thursday.

The rest of the country has seen a dramatic increase in overdoses due to synthetics, he said. About 70 percent of overdoses in the eastern United States are related to fentanyl.

“This is the calm before the storm,” he said. For Montana, “it’s only a matter of time.”

But Nauts said to be wary of statistics because they can dehumanize people, and opioid addictions cut across all socioeconomic groups. Rural areas have higher overdose rates.

Medically Assisted Therapy combines counseling with behavioral therapy to combat opioid abuse.

Tony Fantozzi, a physician’s assistant at the Northwest Community Health Center, said he has around 16 patients going through MAT.

The service includes counseling with a mental health professional, work with a clinical pharmacist and involvement from a behavioral health specialist, as well as a case manager, he said. There are always four-to-five people involved with patients.

Everyone works together to help patients maintain the MAT treatment, he said. Healthcare workers see patients frequently during the process.

“That first month is crucial,” he said. “If they’re going to relapse, they generally do [it] within the first month.

Part of MAT involves the narcotic pain reliever buprenorphine.

It is the only medicine, aside from methadone, that keeps people with opioid use disorder from withdrawing, he said.

Buprenorphine has a “ceiling effect,” he said. It keeps them maintained at a baseline level without requiring higher and higher doses.

Unlike other opioids, a patient cannot accidentally overdose with buprenorphine, he said. “It’s real good stuff,” and within minutes can lessen withdrawal symptoms.

“[MAT is] not perfect but it’s the best we got and we’re saving lives,” he said.

Mary Nelson, with Northwest CHC, said there is a variety of ages addicted to opioids.

It is “so cool” to be working with the MAT service, she said. People are wanting to do this and they appreciate help, she said.

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