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Hazelden’s New Medication Assisted Treatment

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A Suboxone Maintenance Program

Methods for drug and alcohol treatment have experienced many nuances since Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith helped to found Alcoholics Anonymous in 1934. Their approach, a 12-Step spiritually-directed methodology, has enabled literally millions of alcoholics learn to quit drinking and live a new life in recovery. The AA model has also diversified into different addiction recovery groups for narcotic addicts (NA), cocaine addicts (CA), over-eaters (OA) and so on. Advances in medicine have added a helpful component to the 12-Step approach, but only in a supplementary manner for the majority of treatment centers. However, the news last month that addiction treatment center, Hazelden, launched a Suboxone maintenance program has caused quite a stir in the addiction treatment community. The program is called Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), and will be introduced in the two Minneapolis, Minnesota, facilities on December 31, 2012. Four other Hazelden locations will adopt and integrate MAT program in 2013.

Hazelden Pulling Up Its Roots?

Founded in 1947, Hazelden is known for their successful drug and alcohol treatment centers. Their addiction treatment philosophy has held faithfully to the core tenants of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous since its inception, and has inspired this same mental health model in other substance abuse facilities world wide. The fact that Hazelden has incorporated a Suboxone maintenance program into their treatment practices means a radical deviation from their prior philosophy. Medication assisted treatment will be specifically targeted to opiate abusers and will be used in conjunction with 12-step recovery methodology. Suboxone, or buprenorphine, has been traditionally utilized as a primary aid in opioid withdrawal symptoms, and discontinued after symptoms dissipate. Suboxone is a derivative of an opiate; long term use still is considered a type of chemical dependency. The news of Hazelden’s Suboxone maintenance program also implies that perhaps the treatment center condones a lifelong dependence on a drug to maintain “sobriety”, should the individual be unwilling to abstain entirely.

Question Of Ethics

There are many ethical questions that have cropped up since the story broke about Hazelden’s medication assisted treatment program. Even with all of the parameters and precautions that Hazelden has and will institute as this method gains traction, the bottom line is that patients will be conditioned to take a drug to stay off the other drugs for the rest of their lives. This assertion may be met with skepticism, but in reality, this program is potentially permanent replacement therapy. Hazelden’s chief medical officer, Dr. Marvin Seppala, says that, “[Hazelden] will never change from being a solid, 12-step based program.” This is a great sentiment, but compromising on the extent of Suboxone and other replacement therapy means a compromise in method. Sure, you may live the rest of your life not getting high while taking Suboxone, but isn’t true sobriety a recovery from all substances? With diligence and hard work, the spiritual approach that AA encourages has proven successful for thousands of individuals without the prolonged use of chemical substitutes. It is a guarantee that while Hazelden institutes their opiate replacement therapy, the AA approach will still prove successful. Lifelong Suboxone use means a lifelong dependence on pharmaceuticals; the same dependence which drives many people to drug and alcohol treatment centers to recover from in the first place.

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