FINDING HOPE: Treating drug addiction for Treasure Valley veterans

From heroin addiction to recovery
Posted at 9:21 PM, Nov 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-12 00:29:40-05

BOISE, Idaho — This Veterans Day, it's important to remember many veterans who return home after service are left with physical and mental injuries in need of treatment. For some, that eventually leads to drug addiction.

At the Boise VA, the staff offers a multi-faceted approach to address addiction while treating the veteran as a whole.

"I was an IV heroin user and was really deep into my addiction," Army Veteran Allicia Arredondo said.

Like many heroin addicts, Arredondo's addiction started with a legitimate doctor's prescription to treat an injury she suffered while serving in the military. Now, she's in recovery after undergoing treatment at the Boise VA.

"I didn't want to be the person I turned into anymore," Arredondo said.

Like many addicts we've talked to in our Finding Hope series, Arredondo says the hardest part was walking through the doors to ask for help, but she quickly learned VA staff caters their treatment plans for each veteran depending on their needs.

"We provide substance abuse treatment from detox to outpatient, to residential," residential treatment program manager Tom Hogan said.

"They focus on your homelessness; they focus on spirituality; they focus on mindfulness," Arredondo said. "You have a case manager who you get therapy with; you're set up with psychiatry; they go over med management with you. They address the whole veteran."

Many veterans receiving treatment for addiction at the VA will undergo MAT, or medication-assisted treatment. "Primarily with the use of Buprenorphine -- or Suboxone -- as it's commonly known," Boise VA psychiatrist Jacob Harris said. "We have several providers in psychology and several providers in the primary care clinics that are prescribing this medication."

Harris says it's a great option for treating opioid addiction, also preventing vets from turning to heroin or buying drugs on the streets.

For those who undergo residential treatment, the focus is often much broader than addiction, also caring for PTSI, other mental health issues, and lack of housing.

"It gives them a place to spend anywhere from 28-30 days - longer or less depending on what their needs are," Hogan said. "We're able to address not only their medication and substance use issues, but things like housing and employment. It really is a place for veterans to reset their life."

Another important component to recovery is the VA's emphasis on community connections. They prioritize recreational activities as part of their addiction treatment, and regularly host group meetings where veterans already in recovery are able to mentor veterans just starting the process.