Saginaw Valley State University clinic offers different approach to opioid crisis

BAY CITY (WJRT) - (11/20/2017) - Opioid abuse is a massive problem that is deadlier and costlier than anyone ever imagined.

In a report released Monday by White House advisers, the most recent dollar figure is more than $500 million for related health care and criminal justice costs.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention say that each day, more than 90 Americans die after overdosing on opioids.

Saginaw Valley State University is trying to make sure future medical professionals have the tools they need to help bring those staggering numbers down.

"It's a difficult thing to decide to show up and say, 'I have a substance abuse issue,' when you know all the stigma all the negativity that people hold in their mind and in their hearts about people with substance abuse disorder it's going to be squarely put on your shoulders," said Ricardo Bowden, executive director of Peer 360 Recovery Alliance in Bay City.

He knows all too well that feeling of judgment. He is a person in long-term recovery.

"What that means is that I haven't had any alcohol or any other drugs for over 20 years," said Bowden.

His nonprofit organization helps those in recovery maintain their sobriety. They also work to educate others on addiction. Many of the staff are like Ricardo, in recovery.

"All too often, when people have substance abuse issues, people who talk to them talk down at them. They talk to them with anger and they talk to them disrespectfully, which creates distance on the part of the individuals and they're less likely to be open about what their needs are and the struggles that you have," said Bowden.

But the Bay Community Health Clinic in Bay County is working to change that attitude, one medical professional at a time. It's a clinic run by students and educators from four Michigan universities, including Saginaw Valley State University.

They've partnered with the staff at Peer 360 for guidance on how to better reach those in crisis.

"They decided to ask us because we have real life experience. We are able to bring to those simulations the experience from our own lives and so with that we believe we've brought a more realistic experience to students at SVSU," Bowden said.

Feedback from students shows the program indeed helps reduce the stigma and negative perceptions of people battling substance abuse issues.

"They've lived that life and so they actually work with us and helped us to improve curriculum, so we could do a better job of providing and meeting their needs," said Kathleen Shachman, the Harvey Randall Wickes Endowed Chair in Nursing at Saginaw Valley State University.

She overseas the clinic in which her nursing practitioner students train for real-life experiences in the field of medicine.

"One of the things that we've really incorporated into our curriculum here at SVSU and also in the clinic is that we really teach how to identify and recognize substance abuse and then how to refer them to treatment," said Schachman.

Joel Strasz, the health officer for the Bay County Health Department, said what makes the Community Health Clinic stand out is the detailed care patients receive.

"It's not like a regular doctor's office where you go and you just, you're sick and you go see a doctor and they give you some medicine and send you on your way," he said. "This is really kind of a holistic multi-functional clinic."

The clinic doesn't just treat the primary problem the patient has, but they also try to get to the root of the problem and how or why it started.

"We've got social workers on board, occupational therapy, we've got RN's, we've got a pharmacist from Ferris State and we've also got mental health professional from Bay-Arenac Behavioral Health, as well," said Strasz.

Ultimately, Scachman said the goal is to stop opioid abuse before it has a chance to start.

"Many people become addicted to substances is because of chronic pain, and so we try to help patients manage that without resorting to opioids," he said. "So that's one of the first things is prevention. We want to prevent substance abuse, so we really use our entire team to help support that role."

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