Monday, September 13, 2010

Treatment works!

Yesterday I had a win!

A patient I have been seeing for several years had reduced off opiate substitution pharmacotherapy. I'm not normally so happy to hear of someone stopping treatment, as addiction is of course a chronic, relapsing condition. In this case, however, I'm chalking it up as a success.

I first started seeing this patient (lets call her Ms X for sheer originality, and to keep all identities well hidden) at a time of crisis for her. She had been on/off pharmacotherapy for some time but had been struggling trying to stay in treatment and dosing. This was in large due to her partner who was a drug dealer, and supplied her with various drugs in order to keep her dependent on him. He had just been arrested for dealing and was looking at a substantial period of incarceration, and she was left sick, in withdrawal, and homeless.

Ms X was from a country town, where her parents still live. She had a young son from a previous relationship whose care she had given over to her parents. At the time I met her, she had not seen her son for close to a year, although she had maintained enough of a connection with her parents to keep in phone contact.

Ms X restarted opiate substitution pharmacotherapy, and we linked her in with a case manager as well as some psychological therapies. After a short period of time in crisis accommodation, she found some more stable (although still transitional) housing through one of the housing services. With support, she gets free of illicit drugs.

After a few months, she moved back to the country town to live close to her parents and her son. This period of time close to the support of her family and away from her old drug using haunts was pivotal in getting her well. She started a new relationship with a non drug using person, and now has her son back in her care.

A few months ago, her new partner was transferred by his work place to Melbourne. She is living with him in the suburbs. She has not used illicit drugs for 2 years. Her son goes to the local school. Opiate pharmacotherapy becomes an inconvenience and an embarrassment for her in her local community. We therefore work out a gradual dose reduction schedule to get her off treatment - she completed this reduction 4 weeks ago.

I saw her yesterday 1 month off treatment and still drug free. The withdrawals from stopping treatment have now resolved, and she reports no cravings or thoughts of drug use. She sees a counsellor for ongoing relapse prevention regularly. She has plans to return to study part time next year.

I have a real sense of optimism for her future success.

It's a win, and I'll take those where I can.

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