Prescription Painkiller Addiction on the Main Line

The dissemination of prescription painkillers has spawned a new wave of addiction. As doctors and other healthcare professionals scramble to mitigate the damage in our region, many are succeeding in unexpected ways.

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Medical treatment is a key component to recovery, but without simultaneous counseling and community support, most patients are likely to fail. Whether coming out of a residential center or starting treatment on an outpatient basis, they need attention. “Sometimes, I know it’s going to be a hard detox and I’ll say, ‘Let’s get started in rehab,’” says DiMonte. “But I like the whole outpatient approach. People maintain jobs. Many don’t want to be on the ‘grid.’”

A block from DiMonte’s office, Dalton redirects substance abusers at his County Seat Behavioral Health. Like DiMonte, he receives court referrals. At his modest but comfortable offices, patients engage in small-group and individual counseling
sessions in a bid to recapture their lives.

“They need to know it’s a safe place,” Dalton says, adding that most patients come to therapy because of external pressure applied by parents, employers or the court. “They have to have the desire to change—particularly when they’re on [daily] Suboxone. Otherwise, they will cheat. Physical treatment doesn’t solve the head problem.”

A range of insurance companies cover such services, while the uninsured are referred to county providers like Crozer-Chester Medical Center. Beyond the walls of the counseling room, participation in a community-based support program is
regarded as critical to recovery. The classic model—the 12-step program originated by Alcoholics Anonymous and adapted by Narcotics Anonymous—leads patients, with the help of a specific mentor or sponsor, through stages of denial and recognition toward making amends and rebuilding their lives. “Therapy breaks down defense mechanisms,” says Dalton. “Patients get clarity of mind.”

But clear thinking is not easily achieved. Studies have shown that, of rehab-center patients who relapse, most do so in the first month after release. “Once-a-week therapy is not sufficient,” says Jeff Walder, a Newtown Square-based mental health specialist whose team provides on-call support for those dealing with substance-abuse issues.

That support may be as immediate as supplying a pack of cigarettes or recharging a patient’s cell phone. Response is everything. “They expect a 30-second response,” says Walder, only half-kidding. “They’re just looking for a reason to say I don’t care about them, but drugs do.”

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