Progress in Weekly Increments

I’m prescribing Suboxone again, not in a half empty strip mall in town, where I filled in for a number of years, but in my own office.

My clinic received a grant that helped us hire an additional social worker, a part time medical assistant with recovery experience and a part time substance abuse counselor.

For a couple of months now I have met once a week with each one of a dozen patients with widely different stories and circumstances. Unlike the last time I worked with opioid addicted patients, I am not just one of several prescribers rotating through the clinic. I am the only doctor for this, our first group.

I have followed this group of a dozen fellow human beings every single week through the cold of winter and the snowstorms outside and through the outer and inner tumult of their own lives. Our encounters are brief, pulling each member out from a group session to review how the Suboxone is changing their bodies and their lives, check the rapid drug screen results and send the electronic prescriptions to the pharmacy.

In those brief encounters, I get deep glimpses into the many lives that are starting to move away from the brink: A young woman has moved out of an abusive relationship. A young man has made a plea bargain with the District Attorney. A heroin addict is enjoying her children without the Department of Health and Human Services watching her every move. A depressed young man smiled at me for the first time two weeks ago, and someone else has stopped drinking.

Other participants have transferred in from other clinics. One was already my patient, but I couldn’t prescribe Suboxone for him without the full structure of a substance abuse program. He has a visible career in our community, and he is like a mentor or older brother to those that have just started on their own road to recovery.

My last tour of duty in substance abuse care was all individual appointments; this time, I hear everyone saying that the group is more effective in bringing out honesty and accountability in its members than one or two clinicians have been able to do before.

In my previous setting, I had to be careful not to assume the role of primary care provider and give detailed advice or prescriptions for general medical matters. Here, in my own office, I can adjust antidepressants, prescribe for insomnia and restless legs as I would any time filling in for one of my colleagues. In the same way, the staff counselor who attends the group can give advice and refer seamlessly to clients’ individual therapists here.

This time for me, the care for opioid addiction is integrated with both the provision of primary care and behavioral health. This is as it should be. It requires a certain structure and a certain level of expertise, but it is by now a basic kind of care for a very common chronic condition with, if untreated, potentially devastating consequences.

Last time I wrote about treating opioid addiction, “I don’t hate coming here”. This time, I feel good about having helped bring this service home, under our own roof, in our own community.

1 Response to “Progress in Weekly Increments”


  1. 1 Mary Symmes April 21, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    I think this is the way all addiction should be treated, given that it is a problem of thinking and feeling – living – as much as of a physical one. Congratulations! And congratulations on your previous blog entry re your writing. More, please!


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