Offering Hope and Help in Treating Opioid Addictions
By Grace Bennett
Inside Chappaqua’s “connection” to Silver Hill Hospital, a not for profit, full service psychiatric hospital situated on a bucolic campus of New Canaan, CT, is really a connection to a wonderful Chappaqua resident and friend, Janine Crowley Haynes. Janine has sought help at Silver Hill to help manage her bipolar disorder. A few years ago, we featured her book, My Kind of Crazy. In it, Janine chronicles her story with fortitude and good humor.
Most recently, Janine–a volunteer on Silver Hill’s Development Committee–was eager to acquaint me with Silver Hill directly; she has told me that it is a special place of healing and new beginnings. On our ride to Silver Hill, I asked Janine to help me choose a focus for my interview with Sigurd Ackerman, M.D., president and medical director. She suggested the newest program, the Chronic Pain and Recovery Center, because there are few like it in the country and there is a pressing need for the treatments it offers.
According to Dr. Ackerman, the Chronic Pain and Recovery Center is designed for individuals with chronic pain and some additional, co-occurring problem. The co-occurring problem may include chemical dependence or abuse, depression or anxiety, social isolation, de-conditioning of muscles, weight fluctuation and sleep disturbance–all in addition to physical pain. “Our pain center programming has evolved to address chronic pain as well as these additional problems patients with chronic pain experience. Often, the co-occurring problem is an overuse or misuse of pain medication. For many, their lives have become ruled by their use of pain medication,” said Dr. Ackerman.
“Many commonly used pain medications, called opioids, are synthetic narcotics that have opiate-like qualities,” Dr. Ackerman explained. “Like opiates, they are very effective in relieving pain. However, for many, they provide a “high” and the user finds him/herself driven to repeat the experience over and over apart from the need for pain relief. The real problem is that medication tolerance develops which means to obtain the same pain relief or the same high, it requires more of the medication. So, while these medications can do great good when used properly, they can lead to great harm when misused, creating serious problems within families, at work or even problems with the law.”
Some people take initiative to help themselves…they contact Silver Hill because they want to get off the pain medication and have failed on their own. Others are urged to do so by sometimes very frustrated, frightened family members. “It’s not always a physician referral,” stated Dr. Ackerman. Others end up in an emergency room with an overdose…and find their way to Silver Hill for focused treatment. Whatever the route, a patient at Silver Hill, emphasizes Dr. Ackerman, receives services with a first-rate staff. “The clinicians on our staff who treat these problems are true experts.”
The first treatment goal is to target the reason for the chronic pain. “You need to begin with a thorough evaluation of the pain itself.” A next step is helping patients detox from the pain medication by working toward a dose that’s the minimum amount possible to continue to address pain symptoms.
What follows is a reconditioning of the patient’s approach to pain management…one that doesn’t necessarily involve a medication. “From working with a physical therapist to teaching lifestyle changes, there are many ways to learn to manage pain besides grabbing a pill.” The goal may not necessarily be a complete elimination of the drug either. “If the patient needs pain medication, we teach how to administer it safely. In a family situation, we might advise that one responsible person be in charge of medication administration,” said Dr. Ackerman. “Our overall objective is to separate the person from medication being misused, to improve function in valued activities and engage in a life full of meaning and purpose.”
Finally, and perhaps most critically, at Silver Hill, there are treatment teams and adjunct programs to address what are very often underlying psychiatric reasons for opioid addictions. “Some chronic pain sufferers may be depressed and stay depressed or develop fears and those fears rule their day,” he said. “So a patient coming to us often doesn’t just come seeing us about their pain and their medication problems but also about the depression and anxiety in their lives too.”
To learn more about Silver Hill and its variety of residential treatment programs, visit silverhillhospital.org.
Grace Bennett is the publisher and editor of Inside Chappaqua Magazine.