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For those struggling with addiction in south Arkansas, one new program seeks to ensure people can safely stop using certain drugs and alcohol, aiming to set them on the path to sobriety.

The Medical Center of South Arkansas opened its new inpatient substance abuse medical withdrawal service in early November. The program is meant to treat addictions to alcohol, opioids and benzodiazepines, which is a class of drug often used to treat anxiety or panic disorders and goes by several different brand names, including Xanax and Valium.

Amy Triplet, chief nursing officer with MCSA, said the program, which is voluntary, ensures people are medically-supervised during the withdrawal period, which can be life-threatening depending on the addiction and rate of drug use.

“Addiction is a national problem,” Triplet said. “It’s very important if someone is going through withdrawals to be medically managed in a safe setting because … you can have a whole array of different symptoms that you might experience.”

Some of the more serious symptoms of withdrawal, which are different depending on the addiction and drug of choice, are anxiety, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, muscle twitches, heart palpitations and a variety of emotions, she said.

Triplet said drug-induced death rates are on the rise in Arkansas, with more than 400 deaths in 2017. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Arkansas providers wrote 111.2 opioid prescriptions per 100 people in 2015.

“The devastating effect of the opioid and other addictions is real,” Scott Street, CEO of MCSA, said in a news release. “We are compelled to respond to the needs of our community accordingly. We believe medical withdrawal management can make an important difference for people who are seeking help.”

Triplet said doctors, nursing staff and the entire health care team has received specialized training to take care of patients dealing with addiction. And the program works to ensure confidentiality and dignity for all patients, she said.

“Addiction is a chronic disease just like you would have diabetes, just like heart failure, anything like that,” Triplet said, adding that those in the program are “infused” into the overall medical population at MCSA so no one can be easily identified as someone seeking treatment for addiction.

When someone is referred to the program, either through another program, an employer or by simply choosing to seek treatment themselves, Triplet said they are screened by an in-take coordinator. Triplet said the screening simply ensures the program is appropriate for that person and that the person is committed to taking it seriously. Once the screening process is through, the person will be given an appointment time to go to the hospital to be admitted and go through their treatment plan.

Triplet emphasized that the treatment plan does not stop once a person leaves the withdrawal service; the staff help come up with a personalized treatment and discharge plan meant to help ensure each person continues in recovery. The in-take coordinator will keep up with each person for up to one year after they are discharged, she said, both to make sure the after-care plan is working and to measure patient outcomes.

“The important thing to us is that the person who is going through these withdrawals have a follow-up care plan,” Triplet said.

Triplet said so far, the average stay for patients in the program is about three days. While it is individualized to meet the needs of each patient, Triplet said the program is not meant for extended stays, which is why they will refer patients to other services as part of the overall treatment plan meant to the needs of each person.

“There’s a lot of different resources that we have in the community, which we have to work closely, hand-in-hand, with, because depending on the patient, they may need an intensive outpatient program, they may need to have further hospitalization or a longer period of time,” Triplet said. “There’s all kinds of scenarios.”

If a patient wants to have family members or friends or anyone in particular involved in their treatment plan, Triplet said the staff will work to include them to the extent each patient desires.

Triplet said the first three weeks of the program have gone very well, but they want to continue efforts to educate the community on both addictions and the resources available. She said they can house up to 16 patients at one time in the program, adding that the program is covered by insurance providers.

Anyone interested in learning more about it can reach the medical withdrawal management program at 870-863-2491.

Madeleine Leroux can be reached at mleroux@eldoradonews.com or 870-862-6611.

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