Recovery Force finding new way to help in addiction battle
Updated: Jun 8
When prescription drugs led to his younger brother’s death three years ago, Robert Catalano Jr. was surprised at how behind Atlantic County was in treating addiction. The clinical psychologist and Holy Spirit graduate had worked in the field for years in Pennsylvania. He even battled his own addiction to alcohol and cocaine. There are few alternatives for those seeking treatment. Beds are full. Local hospitals offer detox programs but they’re only three days. That’s enough to get the drugs out of the addict’s system, but not real treatment for the addiction itself.
Seeing the opiate problem where he grew up reach epidemic proportions while treatment lags brought him home with a plan. The result was the Recovery Force of Atlantic County. It is the area’s first in-home recovery treatment that brings consultants to the addict and their families. Catalano and his partner go to homes and work with the addict and loved ones, along with matching them up with a doctor to help them get treatment. The Recovery Force works with those who can prescribe medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, such as suboxone, which helps with the effects of withdrawal. “Some people say it’s trading an addiction for an addiction,” Catalano said. “But it’s trading an addiction for a normal life.” There are 21 doctors in Atlantic County who can prescribe this treatment. Only three take insurance, Catalano said. For the rest, it’s cash only. That can be about $400 to start a treatment regiment, then an average of $170 per month to continue. The nonprofit group will help those who can’t afford it.
“There are still barriers,” Catalano said. From suboxone to methadone to vivitrol, MAT has a stigma, even in the recovery community. “It’s judged very highly,” says Taylyr Ehrlich, 21, who has been on a methadone program for about two years. “I view it differently than some people view it. It’s something that I believe saved my life.” The 2016 “Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health” talks of MAT’s benefits, Catalano points out. While many adhere “to an abstinence-only philosophy that avoids the use of medications, especially those that activate opioid receptors,” Surgeon General Vivek Murthy writes. “Such views are not scientifically supported. “The research clearly demonstrates that MAT leads to better treatment outcomes compared to behavioral treatments alone. Moreover, withholding medications greatly increases the risk of relapse to illicit opioid use and overdose death,” he continues. “Decades of research have shown that the benefits of MAT greatly outweigh the risks associated with diversion.” Still, most Narcotics Anonymous groups do not allow anyone on MAT to run meetings, and don’t count use of these medications as clean time. Ehrlich doesn’t mention methadone at meetings. “It’s so judged in a way that It’s like a cover-up,” she said. Only when Ehrlich goes to meetings at the methadone clinic can she be fully open and tell others how it’s helped her in a way attempts at abstinence — and 16 trips to rehab — couldn’t. She was on methadone successfully before, but relapsed when she went off of it. But on Sept. 25, 2015, she decided she couldn’t do it anymore. The next day was her first clean. She will celebrate two years next month. “If it wasn’t for methadone, I wouldn’t have resolved the things within myself as quickly, or may be not at all,” Ehrlich said. Catalano has seen suboxone, bunavail and zubsolv have the same effect. Like most drugs, there is a street value for these treatments, so a family member or friend of the person in treatment has to agree to be in charge of the medication. They need to both make sure the person takes it, and insure it’s not sold or traded. One client, Catalano recalled, tried to let those in meetings get to know him before admitting to medically assisted treatment. But when he told the man he hoped would be his sponsor, “the guy turned his back on him,” “There are no support groups for people like us because it’s so frowned upon ,” Ehrlich said. That’s why the Recovery Force is also having Opiates Anonymous meetings at 7 p.m. every Thursday at its Brigantine location, 3201 Bayshore Drive, Unit B. The group allows for MAT. The Recovery Force of Atlantic County is dependent on contributions, and determined to help both addicts, and those who love and worry about them. “(Help and services) shouldn’t be only for people who have money,” Catalano said. “We’re going to change that.”