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Himes Highlights New Opioid Use Treatment

Cassandra Basler
Dr. Joseph Russo and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-CT4, at The Recovery Center of Westport, an outpatient treatment facility.

More than 400 people overdosed on opioids, like heroin and painkillers, last year in Connecticut, but an addiction psychotherapist in Westport is hoping that a new time-released treatment can help opioid users get clean.

Across from a couch you might see in any other psychiatrist’s office, Dr. Joseph Russo has a sleek black exam chair. It’s there that last summer, Russo inserted one of the first Probuphine implants to a patient in New England.

“They’re actually four little sticks that are placed in a fan-like pattern in the upper arm, under the skin,” Russo said.

Those inch-long sticks, the thickness of a toothpick, give off a drug found in pills like Suboxone that help stave off opioid cravings, withdrawals and prevent overdoses. Once inserted, the implant steadily releases the drug for six months.

“It’s a very simple procedure. Maybe 20 minutes to half an hour. You use local anesthetic. You numb the area. You create a very tiny incision, and then you insert the four rods, the four sticks,” Russo said.

Russo met Congressman Jim Himes on Monday to tell him more about the implant. Russo told Himes that a recovering patient needs to take his medication daily to have a chance to stay clean.

“But if they don’t get that chance, they’ll never make use of any therapy, anything you can offer them. If they’re not compliant, really your whole treatment program is dead in the water. That’s the problem,” Russo said.

Himes says this implant is one option he’s learning about to make sure the government is investing in treatments that work.

“There’s a sort of growing sense that this is a national epidemic. I mean the fatality numbers are mind-boggling. Something in the neighborhood of 30,000 fatalities associated with overdoses every single year in the country. So I think that there is a dramatically increasing sense of urgency about what can we do,” Himes said, adding that he wants to help make access to substance abuse treatment easier and is looking into insurance coverage.

The Probuphine implant was approved by the FDA in May and costs about $4,000 for insertion. A 28-day inpatient rehab program costs roughly $30,000.

Cassandra Basler, a former senior editor at WSHU, came to the station by way of Columbia Journalism School in New York City. When she's not reporting on wealth and poverty, she's writing about food and family.