Forum addresses ongoing efforts in opioid battle

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Seth Fredericks talks of his past struggles with addiction and describes the services available that combine the efforts of the courts and health care professionals to find solutions for persons suffering from opioid addiction. The panel discussion was presented at the Genetti Hotel by the Council of Republican Women Tuesday.

After getting arrested for a felony committed while on drugs at age 16, Seth Fredericks figured he’d give up his “fun” long enough to graduate Lycoming County’s juvenile drug court program just so he could have his record expunged.

Two and a half years of being clean later, his grandmother, who had cared for him throughout his teen years, got sick and passed away. With no father figure or other source of comfort to turn to, Fredericks returned to drugs, alcohol and crime.

Several turbulent years of drug abuse, including an overdose that nearly killed him, led Fredericks back to county prison where he was offered a choice: serve over two years in state prison or take a chance on the county’s adult drug court program.

“Drug court taught me to be a grown up, to be accountable, to be a man,” Fredericks said. “It’s one thing to be clean and not use, it’s another to change your life and change the person that you are. That’s what drug court helped me do.”

Fredericks was one of several speakers who participated in a Road to Recovery forum during the Williamsport Lycoming

County Council of Republican Women’s meeting Tuesday evening. He, several county judges and Dr. Todd Fausnaught gave an overview of ongoing efforts in Lycoming County to stem the tide of the heroin and opioid epidemic.

Since joining the drug court program, Fredericks is nearly three years clean and has become a certified recovery specialist for the West Branch Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission, working with UPMC Susquehanna’s warm handoff program.

The warm handoff program works through a partnership between West Branch and UPMC that allows UPMC to notify a West Branch certified recovery specialist 24/7 if an overdose victim has come into the emergency room. The specialist then can meet with the patient and try to get them help.

“I don’t care if it’s their hundredth time,” he said, “maybe this time will be it. They’re not dead yet, there’s still a chance.”

County judges Richard A. Gray, Marc F. Lovecchio and President Judge Nancy L. Butts explained the various courts they oversee that are meant to help people with substance use disorders find their roads to recovery.

There are several structured courts made for people struggling with abuse disorders, mental health problems or both, including drug, mental health, DUI and Vivitrol courts. Typically, candidates for these court programs are referred by county prison staff, court staff or adult probation staff.

Each court has a rigorous set of steps every participant must complete to graduate, including either community service or “proactive activity,” which could be anything from running a marathon to painting a picture, said Lovecchio, who oversees Vivitrol court.

Vivitrol takes away cravings and eliminates any high that typically would be caused by opioids if used while on the medication, he said.

Fausnaught and Clean Slate work closely with West Branch and the county, providing outpatient medication-assisted treatment for people with opioid or alcohol abuse disorders.

Patients are prescribed medications such as Buprenorphine, commonly known as Suboxone, or Naltrexone, known as Vivitrol, to break their dependences.

“When people take these medications, overdose rates go down, hepatitis rates go down, HIV rates go down,” Fausnaught said. “The cost of health care goes down in areas where these are prescribed.”

Clean Slate patients start off visiting weekly, and have their medication checked and urine drug tested with each visit, Fausnaught said. The goal is to keep patients on the “lowest effective dose” for at least one year, which is the time during which relapses are most likely, he said.

“It’s not a panacea,” Fausnaught said. “But, for a large amount of people, they can be life-changing medications.”