February 27, 2017 11:08 PM By Heather Abraham
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – In 2015, there were more than 3,500 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania. The state also reports that at least 10 people die every day from overdoses.
There’s no question that the opioid epidemic impacts a lot of families and for those who want help, it’s not always easy.
“It was a roller coaster,” a recovering addict, who did not want to be identified, told KDKA.
Because he wants to remain anonymous, we’ll call him John.
John said over the course of eight years, he’s been trying to get clean.
“I’ve been in inpatient treatment facilities at least 20 times,” John said.
While there is no miracle cure, we’re starting to see more treatment options available to help addicts.
Recently, the FDA approved an implant that delivers a slow, but steady dose of buprenorphine over six months. It’s called a Probuphine implant.
“It stretches out those possible weak times and gets them past them,” Dr. Frank Kunkel, of Accessible Recovery Services, Inc., said.
The implant consists of four rods and is placed under the skin of the upper arm. The procedure takes less than a half-hour. A month ago, Dr. Kunkel implanted the first Probuphine rods on a patient here in Pittsburgh.
That patient was John.
“Just stabilizes me. I know that I’m not going to have any huge cravings or physical withdrawals,” John said.
Dr. Kunkel said they’re seeing success with other patients as well.
“Relapse rates while patients are on the Probuphine rods are low compared to other similar medications,” Dr. Kunkel said.
For John, he was previously taking Suboxone daily. Traveling to receive the medication every day became cumbersome, and if he was feeling like he may use, he would simply not go that day for treatment.
“I don’t think it was remembering to take it, it was not wanting to take it,” he said.
By having the implant, John says he eliminates the cravings and desire to use.
“If they don’t take their medicines on Wednesday or Thursday, they might use other opiates on Friday,” said Dr. Kunkel. “It eliminates a lot of diversion. Problems we’re having with this medication, Suboxone and buprenorphine on the street.”
Dr. Kunkel said the implant is not for everyone. Under their program, the patient must be on 8 mg or less of Suboxone or other buprenorphine product for at least six weeks. He also says the patient must be committed to therapy as well.
Dr. Kunkel said while they just recently started offering the implant, they get over 100 patient treatment requests a day.