THOMASVILLE — A new program at Georgia Pines is looking to combat opioid addiction by infusing two different harm reduction strategies.

The Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) program offers three medications approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration to minimize opioid withdrawals.

Those medications are combined with rehabilitative services including counseling, case management, education about overdose risks, Hepatitis C and HIV testing and infectious disease prevention. Together, the program's goal is to help opioid users kick their addiction with ease.

"The benefit is that they are closely monitored and we offer treatment alongside being prescribed the medication," said Jamekah Brooks, program coordinator.

Participation in the program is based on a sliding scale determined by income. Brooks said that should be beneficial to individuals with low income or who lack private insurance.

"If they don't work, nine times out of 10 they're going to pay zero," Brooks said.

The opioids the program prescribes — Subutex, Vivitrol and Suboxone — are considered less addictive and are specifically designed to block cravings and withdrawal symptoms, which can be life-threatening.

Opioid users looking to kick their habits themselves face the challenge of potentially deadly withdrawals which are far more severe than with other drugs. They can include flu-like symptoms, severe nausea, diarrhea and cold sweats.

"It can be very severe, and that's what keeps them using because they want to avoid all of those withdrawal symptoms," Brooks said. "These medications are given to kind of help ease those withdrawal symptoms and also curb the urges to use."

Individuals interested in participating in the program are encouraged to contact 229-225-3944.

To be admitted into program, individuals must be at least 18 or older and have a primary substance abuse diagnosis for an opioid-related disorder.

The program was kicked off with a soft opening in May in partnership with the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD) in response to the nation's growing opioid epidemic.

Data from the federal Department of Justice shows that opioid-related overdose deaths in the United State increased by 45 percent between 2006 and 2010, constituting an "urgent and growing public health crisis."

In 2017 there were 1,014 deaths involving opioids in Georgia alone, more than half of which involved prescription opioids.

DBHDD recommends people struggling with addiction contact the Georgia Crisis and Access line at 800-715-4225.

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