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VA program helps those battling substance abuse

Overcoming an addiction can be a monumental task without support, but substance abuse services at the Salisbury VA Medical Center offers veterans a helping hand on the journey to recovery.
The medical center offers several levels of treatment options for veterans depending on the amount of support they need, said Tom Stagg, substance abuse services coordinator.
“The first thing we do is talk to the veteran to see exactly what they need and what they are seeking in treatment,” he said. Stagg said they will then make a recommendation for an appropriate level of care.
“Our first option is to offer outpatient services, which is when patients come and take part in one or two groups a week,” he said. “Those are for people who may need a little extra support, who may have finished another level of care and it can be considered part of their aftercare plan, or people who just need support who haven’t been through a program.”
The next level of possible treatment is an intensive outpatient program where veterans take part in three, three-hour group sessions per week for 12 weeks.
“Intensive outpatient is for people for whom our regular outpatient service isn’t enough, but they haven’t reached the level of need to come into a residential program,” Stagg explained.
He added, along with more regular sessions, those in the intensive outpatient program are also able to be prescribed medication to help them with certain drug addictions.
“We can offer suboxone, which is an opioid replacement therapeutic regimen, on an outpatient basis. It’s for people who are addicted to pain medications like oxycontin, oxycodone, lortab or heroin,” said Stagg.
The medical center also offers the Substance Abuse Recovery and Rehabilitation Treatment Program (SARRTP), an intensive 35-day residential program where veterans area treated seven days a week.
Stagg said that SARRTP is a level of treatment for those who haven’t been able to stay sober at the other levels of care, or have barriers that make it impossible for them to participate in the lower levels of care.
No matter which level of treatment veterans are in, therapy plays a major role in the healing process.
“We use a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy, where through motivational interviewing you allow them to challenge their old beliefs about their addiction or substance abuse,” Stagg said. “They may say, ‘My problem’s not that bad,’ yet when you look at their history, it’s affected their family or work life.
“By challenging that, we allow them to see that these things are connected to their drug or alcohol use, and that maybe they need to eliminate that from their life. It lets them buy into participating in their own treatment, rather than us just telling them how it’s been a problem,” he added.
Every veteran who seeks help through substance abuse services also has access to a multi-disciplinary team including psychiatrists, physicians’ assistants, a social worker, psychologists, addiction therapists and a peer specialist.
Stagg said patients can count on his team being there for the long haul.
“I think substance abuse is the most misunderstood disorder in the mental health field because recovering from addiction is a lifelong issue. It’s not something where you go through 35 days or intensive outpatient treatment and then you’re done — there’s continued follow-up,” he said. “We track the people who have finished one level of care to see if they have stayed sober, and if they haven’t, what can we do to offer them more support in an effort to stay sober longer.
“Our biggest job is to give them hope that things can be better, and that’s what we do.”
Patients can talk to their physician to get a referral for substance abuse treatment or stop in at the clinic on the fourth floor of Building 4, Tuesdays or Thursdays, between 8 and 11 a.m. for a walk-in clinic.

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