Is the pandemic the right time to get treated?

Dom has kindly agreed to share his recovery journey to support others in this challenging time. He has been in our care for painkiller addiction, and has now got back to life with his partner, children, dog and career. This blog presents his own views. 

If you are somebody suffering from addiction or a family member watching a loved one spiralling out of control during lockdown you might think that this dreadful pandemic has rendered accessing successful treatment even more difficult than it was in pre-Covid times.  

Despite spiking levels of addictive behaviour and large numbers of substance abuse fuelled flashpoints in households, many are being put off from seeking treatment.  However, as somebody who was successfully treated at the BONDS Clinic a few years ago, I now understand that my rational sound of mind self today would never put my family through a day longer of suffering than I had to.

I believe that the pandemic and resulting restrictions provide an excellent opportunity for treatment for the following reasons:

  1. Lockdown affords both the individual and the family/household a greater degree of discretion when it comes to treatment
  2. Some rehab providers have developed sophisticated remote treatment services that enjoy outcomes similar or close to traditional in patient settings.  
  3. Many providers have established Covid-19 safe protocols so that they may continue to treat on an in-patient basis if remote treatment is deemed to be inappropriate for certain acute cases
  4. With household finances under significant strain, remote treatment can substantially reduce the cost of rehab.  Where remote care is not appropriate, many providers will look at flexible payment arrangements and discounts
  5. Perhaps most importantly, patients can return to their households following treatment in the knowledge that they will be surrounded by loved ones that can offer a greater degree of physical presence and support than may have ordinarily been the case during “normal” times.

As a person who has got my life back after many years of  strong painkiller addiction I have some personal recommendations of the things to look for in a treatment provider:

  1. I am an advocate of abstinence based treatment as opposed to maintenance programmes such as methadone or suboxone.  In my mind, the arguments for seeking an abstinence based treatment are fairly straightforward:

    1. You cannot break the cycle of addiction by replacing one addictive substance for another, particularly when they are the same family of drugs.  I remember one famous heroin addict comparing this technique to moving deckchairs on the Titanic
    2. I believe that therapy, which is an essential part of recovery,  is far more effective when a patient is substance free and attends sessions with a clearer and more focused mind following a successful detox
    3. I am a firm supporter in the concept of Getting Back to Life.  Treatment is an opportunity to rebuild family and professional relationships that may have been put under strain or lost during a period of addiction.  This, in my opinion, is very difficult to do in earnest whilst still under the influence of substances or still in the cycle of addiction.  Family, friends and work (including volunteering) is a fundamental driver to long term recovery
  1. The initial Detox must be as pain free as safely possible and not too drawn out. One of the main contributors to the raw fear I mentioned earlier is the sheer hell of withdrawal. Having survived severe injury, coma and sepsis I still maintain that acute withdrawal symptoms from opiates is one of the most hellish experiences a human can have. Comfortable clinically managed detox is to me essential
  2. Post Detox pain management and monitoring: this concern will be at the forefront of many who are stuck in a cycle of repeat medication for chronic pain following injury or illness.  I was recovering from life changing injuries and illness and was worried how a withdrawal from strong opioids would affect my daily pain levels.  Rather than go up, my pain reduced substantially as all the cycle of memory pain caused by constant opiate use was broken and my body began to heal.  The BONDS medical team were incredibly proficient at this
  3. Look for a treatment provider that offers long term medicated relapse prevention as part of their treatment.  There are non-addictive drugs that can be taken that will block highs and significantly reduce cravings.  The most common and effective of these is long acting Naltrexone.  Long term abstinence rates are substantially better when complimenting ongoing therapies with effective relapse prevention medication
  4. Treatment is only as good as its results.  Unfortunately, it is very common for patients to relapse multiple times before achieving their goal of abstinence. Look or ask for clinical outcome data from providers.  Very few publish these.  Many provide patient experience feedback but this is very different to solid clinical evidence on actual long term outcomes.  Treatment is expensive so it is imperative that proper research is done prior to choosing a provider
  5. One worry I did not have in 2014 was the virus safety concern and it goes without saying that providers must be able to supply clear and transparent documentation on Covid safety protocols and records when asked.

Selecting the right provider for treatment and therapy is a highly personal choice in the end.  My choice was the BONDS Clinic (Detox 5 back then) as it met all of the above criteria.  I had visited and even been assessed at many other well-known names prior to finding BONDS but none offered all of the above despite being significantly more costly.  That does not mean that patient options are limited.  Many patients choose one treatment provider to perform the detox and another to administer anti relapse medication.  

The key is to know what you, as a patient, feel you require in order to be successful and then choose your treatment wisely, with patience and care. Perhaps include those who know you best in the process of selection. I am convinced that by following this simple principal the chances of Getting Back to Life are greatly increased.

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