NIH study validates local opioid treatment plan as a nationwide model

  • Dr. Ruth Potee Contributed Photo

  • Dr. Ruth Potee Contributed Photo

Recorder Staff
Monday, January 01, 2018

GREENFIELD — A recent National Institutes of Health study has set off some waves in the opioid treatment community nationwide. In Franklin County, though, there’s likely only a little ripple, local opioid expert Dr. Ruth Potee said.

That’s because the study has led national health officials to recommend the type of medically assisted treatment for addiction that is already happening locally.

The study found similar outcomes when patients were given craving-suppressant Suboxone, or when given a a different drug (naltrexone), known as Vivitrol.

What this means is two different types of drugs are considered to work equally well once the person begins treatment, helping someone potentially get off their opioid addiction. Both of these treatments are known as “medically assisted treatment.” This broadens options for doctors and those in recovery.

While the study has generated the buzz of national headlines in the past month, Potee saw it more as a reinforcement of the idea that medically assisted treatment is better than no treatment. It’s something that has already been going on in Greenfield’s Franklin Recovery Center since it opened 18 months ago.

“The more tools in the arsenal to treat addiction, the better,” Potee said. “No one is going to deny that.”

Similarly, the study drew rousing support from the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Nora Volkow, to signal to professionals to advocate for medically assisted treatment.

“Studies show that people with opioid dependence who follow detoxification with no medication are very likely to return to drug use, yet many treatment programs have been slow to accept medications that have proven to be safe and effective,” Volkow said in a press release. “These findings should encourage clinicians to use medication protocols, and these important results come at a time when communities are struggling to link a growing number of patients with the most effective individualized treatment.”

Potee leads the clinical direction of the Behavioral Health Network-run Franklin Recovery Center, which assists people with short-term and more long-term recovery means. When she started curating the treatment plan for the center that opened in July 2016, Potee worked to make sure that all treatment assistance plans were on the table.

“The state didn’t even know what to do with our protocols when we opened,” Potee said. “There were so many options. They hadn’t seen it before.”

Now, the Franklin Recovery Center is a model statewide. “Within a few months of opening, the state said everyone has to follow this model of care.”

Potee has had a similar effect on the Franklin County House of Correction, which was the first in the state to treat the medically assisted treatment people like any other inmates with a prescription. Now the local jail is the pioneering model in the state for this.

Questions and answers on study

As far as this NIH study goes, Potee has always leaned toward Suboxone versus Vivitrol, partly because of how she sees the results play out in real life.

The way the two drugs are given are different, with Suboxone administered as a strip you place under your tongue, compared to a shot, for Vivitrol. The bigger difference, though, is the conditions that need to be in place to take Vivitrol, which creates a barrier toward its potential success in patients, Potee said.

For Vivitrol, she said, it’s particularly hard to get the first shot because someone needs to be able to document 10 days of abstinence prior to it. Then they need to come back for a second shot in a month, which about 20 percent of people tend to do, Potee says; in the study, the shots needed were fully administered.

“We have not seen success rates as high as described in this study ... it feels to me that there had to be encouragement for the second shot,” Potee said.

Regardless, Potee said this is useful information for primary physicians in the region, who should be thinking about offering these types of services. She says not enough physicians do so at the moment.

“What I want to hope is that every treatment center recognizes the role that medicines play,” Potee said.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:


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