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Help Patients To Be Their Own Advocates in Buprenorphine Treatment 

Updated: Jun 3, 2019

The day that I discovered that my father suffered from Opioid and Drug use was the day I became an advocate for him and others.

It was a typical day where he was being admitted into a treatment program. I was about 13 years old and he was being assessed and diagnosed so that he could be admitted into an inpatient treatment program.

"What is your drug of choice?"

"How much do you use daily?"

"How do you adminster drugs?

"Do you snort, shoot etc..." were all questions he had to answer during his intake process. For the first time, I heard him say (out loud) what he'd been doing/taking. Now, I could pair things that I saw, felt, smelled, heard and touched to the information that he was sharing. That's when I realized that he needed an advocate. I had no idea that I was becoming an advocate. What I did know was that I needed to learn as much I could about his illness so that I could help him to obtain tools and resources to pursue recovery from drugs and alcohol. I later became a Certified Addiction Counselor and quickly realized that there were other Dad's that needed help. There were also Mom's, Sister's, Son's, Daughter's and others who needed help. Rather than attempt to take on the world's drug proplem, I focused on helping clients to empower themselves. In addition to my advocacy goal, I also had to help clients prepare plans to prevent overdose.

Drug Overdose is the leading cause of Accidental Death for Americans under the age of 50. Opioid Overdoses make up around 2/3 of those overdoses according to the Center for Disease Control. Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder with Buprenorphine has been proven to be an efficacious approach to reducing peoblem Opioid use. It's an FDA approved medication that can be prescribed by a certified physician who has obtained a waiver from the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Buprenorphine has helped patients to significantly manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings so that Counseling can be more productive. A knowledgeable and compassionate physician, a genuine and skilled counselor plus a well rounded treatment team can help patients to turn their lives around and become their own cheerleaders. If you work in Healthcare, you are more likely than not to have a patient who is suffering from Opioid Dependence or Opioid Use Disorder. Understanding this, i’ve adapted a few tips that I hope can empower those suffering from Opioid Use Disorder to understand how to be their own best advocate, even when it feels like the tough thing to do.

•Educate yourself about the things to look for when it comes to opioid dependence. There's so much information available for you to research with a simple Google search. For example, if you are taking an opioid and you realize that after taking it as prescribed, you now need more of the medication to feel normal. Or, if you've tried to "cut down" the amount that you take and you're having trouble. Finally, listen to your family/friends. If they've been concerned about your medication use and have shared this with you, be open to their concerns. These can be signs that you need professional support. You don’t have to know every warning sign but these are some of the top ones so you are informed.

•Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to ask for help. More than 2 million people in the U.S. are suffering from the same illness and less than 10 percent of those good people get the help that they deserve. It's not necessary to suffer in silence when there are evidence based medical and clinical solutions available. Speak up for yourself. If you think something may be wrong, talk about it. We are all taught to be tough, but it is too much of a risk not to listen to your gut and say something. More than 74,000 people passed away from Drug Overdose last year. They didn't have to die. Recovery from Opioids is possible.

•Find the right doctor that will give you the time you deserve. You can sometimes tell this in your initial phone call to their office. Consider this:

•Were you greeted with kindness and compassion?

•Were you given a platform to ask questions?

•Did they seem knowledgeable?

•Did you feel like more than a number? I always say if your doctors office is trying to rush the appointment, they might wrong doctor. Don't get me wrong, we know they are busy too but if they are knowledgeable, kind and you can leave with information and instructions on getting better, the appointment will feel more productive.

•After you find a qualified doctor, who can treat you with Buprenorphine, write down your questions prior to your appointment. Many of us tend to want to just get in and out of our appointments to get on with our busy lives, but having a list of questions will help you remember them and prioritize getting the answers. Here are a few questions that you can consider:

"What is Buprenorphine?"

"How does Buprenorphine work?"

"How long do I have to take Buprenorphine"?

"Is Buprenorphine safe around my kids/pets?"

"Where can I find a great counselor?" "How much does treatment cost?"

Having this information will help you to construct a realistic plan and move towards recovery.

•Attend all doctor’s appointments, check-ups and exams, even when everything feels normal. By law, you are required to see your Buprenorphine prescriber every 30 days. This may seem like alot but this will significantly open the lines of communication and ensure that your doctor understands your issues. When taking Buprenorphine, it's easy for patients to believe that the only thing that they need to do is take medication because it may be the first time they've felt "normal" in years. Realistically, after physical symptoms are stabilized with Buprenorphine, this is when the "true work" can begin in therapy with a skilled counselor or therapist. It's important to address the clinical issues that led the patient to drug use in the first place.

•Take advantage of your health care staff including your physician, your nurse, your medical assistant, your counselor, your pharmacist etc. They work for you, don't forget this. They are there to support you through your diagnosis and treatment. They can serve as instrumental partners in helping you to understand your treatment, Buprenorphine, other medications, even pointing you in the direction of community resources you may require for additional support.

•You know YOU better than anyone else. Document or journal how you feel throughout your treatment experience. If you have questions, ask!!. There may be solutions to help you manage thoughts, feelings or side effects you’re experiencing. Taking your health and your Opioid Use Disorder recovery into your own hands can be empowering and rewarding. Above all, be patient with yourself. You may be tempted to join social media groups and read blogs regarding other people's experiences. They may have great insight to share and it's important to understand that everyone’s journey is different. By taking control, speaking up and advocating for your wellness, you too can overcome Opioid Use Disorder.

Jamelia Hand MHS, CADC, CODP is the CEO of Vantage Clinical Consulting LLC. She is also a professor, author, and treatment advocate for Addiction and Recovery issues. She speaks passionately to many family groups, treatment centers and corporate organizations nationwide and is often recruited to deliver Motivational Keynotes, Management and Staff Training on Opioids in the Workplace. Her message always includes that Substance Use Disorder is a family disease and should be treated as such. She was awarded by the IL House of Representatives for her advocacy in Opioid Overdose. For almost 20 years, she has taken great pride in being knowledgeable about resources to support recovery and has enjoyed being able to translate that excitement to anyone who will listen, especially students who are interested in working in the field of Substance Use Disorders. Please feel free to visit for information on services. #MAT #AddictionRecovery #OpioidAddiction #HeroinAddiction #OUD #SUD #Buprenorphine #Suboxone #OpioidAbuse #Opioid #OpioidDr #Zubsolv #Bunavail

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