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Finding Hope: Medication-based addiction treatment center helps Idahoans in recovery

Posted at 5:04 PM, Apr 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-11 19:36:01-04

Recovery from addiction isn't one-size-fits-all — but finding what works can be life-changing.

In this week's Finding Hope, Idaho News 6 visited Ideal Option – a local addiction treatment facility using medication-based care to help its patients achieve sobriety.

Miles Fuller, 29, started treatment at Ideal Option in Boise last year. Fuller has lived with opioid addiction for more than a decade after trying drugs to seem "cool" around his high school friends.

"I didn't know what I was getting myself into," Fuller said.

Fuller's family has a history of addictive tendencies, which he said likely contributed to his reliance on opiates.

"It was like this loving embrace that came over me, and I didn't have the capability to say, 'No, I don't want to do it again.' Or, 'Maybe this is bad," Fuller said. "It felt good. I felt loved. I felt embraced. I felt like that was what I needed."

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated two million Americans are abusing opiates like heroin and fentanyl.

Most of Ideal Option's more than 660 Idaho patients are addicted to prescription opiates like OxyContin, meth or fentanyl. Penny Buckland, a provider at Ideal Option, said the "vast majority" of new patients coming to the center are addicted too fentanyl.

WHAT IS FENTANYL?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than morphine. The CDC estimates that between October 2020 and October 2021, more than 105,000 Americans died of drug overdoses. Two-thirds, 66%, of those deaths were linked to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the CDC.

The fentanyl epidemic is a growing issue nationwide – and Idaho isn’t immune to its challenges. On Monday, DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank A. Tarentino III told Idaho News 6 last year that the amount of fentanyl seized in Idaho grew by 400%.

Since 2019, Tarentino said the amount of fentanyl confiscated in Idaho by the DEA increased from 50 grams to 12,000 grams – a 2,400% uptick. He added that the DEA is seeing more fentanyl mixed with street drugs like counterfeit pills, cocaine, and heroin – which has caused increased overdose deaths nationally.

“The traffickers are pushing their product – whether it’s cocaine, powder, heroin, or other types of drugs – and are mixing it with fentanyl to increase the high, the addiction aspect, and make more money,” Tarentino said. “A lot of times, victims are unknowingly ingesting lethal fentanyl.”

The U.S. Department of Drug Enforcement Administration reported last week that the agency had already seized almost 2,000 lbs. of fentanyl and one million fake pills.

Related: Health officials worry opioids overdoses could spike again as COVID cases rise

Courtesy: Ideal Option Idaho 2021 Annual Report

Ideal Option operated clinics in 10 states to deliver "cost-effective, outcomes-based addiction treatment that improves patients' lives while materially reducing the financial and social burden associated with untreated, or ineffectively treated, substance use disorder."

Related: Sober living home focuses on acceptance, recovery despite pushback from neighbors

OPIOID, FENTANYL OVERDOSES CLIMBING

According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, 164 Idahoans died from opioid overdose in 2020.

Idaho lawmakers and health care professionals have recently pushed back against fentanyl and opioid use. In early March, Gov. Brad Little unveiled Operation Esto Perpetua – a collaborative initiative between elected officials, law enforcement, and the public – to cut the travel of fentanyl and meth into the Gem State.

According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, 164 Idahoans died from opioid overdose in 2020.

Idaho lawmakers and health care professionals have recently pushed back against fentanyl and opioid use. In early March, Gov. Brad Little unveiled Operation Esto Perpetua – a collaborative initiative between elected officials, law enforcement, and the public – to cut the travel of fentanyl and meth into the Gem State.

Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue sits on the operation's law enforcement panel. He said the rise in fentanyl seizures is unexpected and highly concerning.

"It's staggering and frankly frightening," Donahue said. "Even as a law enforcement officer and executive, it's staggering what we're seeing. We've never seen fentanyl like this."

Preliminary DHW data reported that 44% of last year's overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids – like fentanyl. In 2020, only 21% of overdose deaths in Idaho were linked to synthetic opioids. Two years ago, in 2019, it was only 12%, according to DHW.

Police and first responders across the Treasure Valley routinely carry Narcan, an opioid overdose antidote.

"People do not understand the general public do not understand just how critical of a situation we are in," Donahue said.

"We're not going to arrest our way out of this. We're not going to incarcerate our way out of it. But we're not going to rehab our way out of it either. The numbers are too large," he said. "You have to go upstream and cut off the supply to give the people a fighting chance."

IDEAL OPTION: A FIGHTING CHANCE THROUGH TREATMENT

While there are many kinds of addiction treatment, Ideal Option is one of the few places using medication to reach recovery. Buckland said the medication-based care is helping her patients achieve sobriety.

"People are able to stabilize and able to go about their lives. They're able to work, hold down a job, take care of their families, go to school," she said. "(They can) do all those normal kinds of things that people do without their addiction running their lives."

Like opiates, Buckland said the medication releases chemicals in the brain that curb opioid cravings and withdrawals. However, she said the prescribed dose wouldn't stimulate a "high" or cause an overdose.

"If the brain is feeling stable and normal, you're able to function normally and feel normal," Buckland said. "You're able to feel good."

Fuller is prescribed Suboxone, which combats opioid dependence by relieving a person's cravings and decreasing withdrawal side effects.

"Suboxone has really made a positive impact on my life," Fuller said. "(It) enables me to go to work every day, stick to my commitments and be a man of my word."

Ideal Option patients are drug tested regularly and meet with support units multiple times a week. As their recovery progresses, Buckland said individuals visit less frequently.

Jenna Dodele, a peer outreach specialist at Ideal Option, recovered from her addiction through the clinic. Now stabilized, Dodele helps patients find their path to sobriety.

"People think that recovery is a straight line, that it's linear. It's not," she said. "It has a cycle to it. To understand that process, and to be non-punitive with that process — because it is a process, is one of the kindest things that you can offer someone."

In 2021, patients at Ideal Option reported:

  • 88% less total opioid use  
  • 96% less fentanyl use  
  • 93% heroin use 
  • 84% methamphetamine use 
  • 71% benzodiazepine use  
Courtesy: Ideal Option Idaho 2021 Annual Report

Brian Bradford, 34, has been a patient at Ideal Option for over a year. He became addicted to opiates after being prescribed painkillers for a back injury when he was 18 years old.

"I was just lost in a dark world of addiction, suffering, and, you know, pain," Bradford said. "It's great not to have to deal with that anymore."

Related: Couple helps those that struggle with addiction

Bradford isn't the stereotypical person with addiction depicted in movies or TV. He has a supportive family and a roof over his head.

"I am truly rich. Once you realize rich stands for 'Realize I Create Happiness," Bradford said. "With four kids, two dogs, and a loving wife, I'm happy all the time. I'm the richest man in the world."

If you or someone you know is dealing with substance abuse, call the Idaho Care Line at 2-1-1.