Buckhannon Medical Care strives to end stigma of substance use disorder and humanize patients in need

BUCKHANNON – Healthcare professionals at Buckhannon Medical Care have seen firsthand the impact substance use disorder has on individuals and families across Upshur County — and they’ve seen how treatment options offered locally can provide hope and the chance at a new life.

Dr. Theresa Poling, DNP, APRN-BC, FNP, and Susan Abbot, ARPN-BC, FNP, sat down with My Buckhannon recently to discuss opportunities for residents experiencing substance use disorder with the assistance of new programs available at BMC, including medication-assisted treatments and Epclusa, a hepatitis C medication.

“We’ve seen so many overdoses,” Poling said. “My kids have lost friends. Our community is losing sons and daughters, moms, and dads to this disease. In West Virginia, substance use disorder has touched most of us in some way.”

An important step in treating substance use is educating the public about the disorder and the treatment options available.

“We treat substance use disorder as a chronic disease, just like we treat diabetes or hypertension,” Poling said. “We give medications that may be short-term or may be long-term — and we do it without judgment.”

Medication-assisted treatments help reduce an individual’s withdrawal symptoms and their desire to consume opiates. According to a publication by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, a successful treatment can reduce opiate use, improve birth outcomes for pregnant women and help a patient remain employed.

“Suboxone targets the brain’s desire to become high. Patients with substance use disorder struggle with salience of reward,” Poling explained. “If you’re thirsty, your brain makes you think every couple of seconds to drink water. If you want to put down your phone and you tell yourself not to pick it up, how many times do think of it? Your brain will think of these things until it gets its reward. And that’s 1,000-fold when you’re talking about heroin and fentanyl.”

“We’re filling those receptors,” she continued. “Suboxone is a combination medicine — it has buprenorphine, which is an opioid and binds with those opioid receptors, but it also has naloxone in it, so if someone would try to melt it down or smoke it or inject it, it only activates the part of the drug that keeps you from getting high and precipitates withdrawal.”

That means that although Suboxone contains an opioid, patients are not likely to abuse it.

Abbot asks the community to keep an open mind when learning about substance use disorder and medication-assisted treatment options for neighbors, family members and friends.

“People who are on Suboxone are getting help,” she said. “They’re trying to make something of themselves. Be gentle with them. These [patients] are trying to get better.”

Part of reducing that stigma is getting patients back to their jobs while treatment is ongoing.

“I noticed that Lowe’s and Walmart are both hiring people who are on Suboxone,” Abbot said. “That is a new thing, and I applaud them.”

“What I want people to know about Suboxone is that they shouldn’t be afraid to use it,” she continued. “Suboxone rearranges the chemistry in their brain so that they can think better. Most people stop and say, ‘What was I thinking?’ They couldn’t move forward, but after they get on Suboxone, they realize that is a lie. You can get a job; you can make a comeback.”

Poling said the providers at Buckhannon Medical Care have seen that transformation firsthand.

“We’re always talking in our practice about how moms are able to be moms again, dads are able to be dads,” she said. “You can work again. You can have a normal life again. We want to decrease some of the stigma that’s out there around these medications and around this vulnerable population.”

Buckhannon Medical Care also offers patients a medication to fight hepatitis C, a viral infection that attacks the liver and can lead to liver failure, liver cancer, or even death.

Epclusa, a 90-day oral medication regime, has a 97-100% cure rate in patients experiencing any of the six genotypes, Poling and Abbot said.

Poling and Abbot both received special training on Epclusa.

“It’s an oral medication they use once a day for 90 days,” Poling said. “It used to be just gastroenterologists that could prescribe it, but there’s such a need and they don’t have enough gastroenterologists, so they opened it up to family practice. Susan and I both received training, and we work with specialty pharmacies to treat patients.”

Through the programs offered at Buckhannon Medical Care, Abbot has watched patients regain control of their lives.

“It’s very rewarding, because you see these people really turn around, even when they had given up hope,” Abbot said. “The next time they come back, they’re like, ‘Wow, I should have done this a long time ago.’”

Please see a healthcare provider at Buckhannon Medical Care to learn more about these treatment options. BMC is open Monday through Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The location is closed on Fridays.

Patients are seen by appointment only. Call 304-472-1600 to schedule an appointment or visit Buckhannon Medical Care at 11 N. Locust Street in Buckhannon.

Visit the Davis Health System website to learn more about patient services available at Buckhannon Medical Care and in the surrounding areas.

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