By Brandon Martin
Following years of rising opioid use in the area, a new treatment center is opening on 294 W. Commonwealth Boulevard in Martinsville to focus on peer recovery and medication assistance treatment.
The center will operate as a branch of Groups Recover Together (Groups) which is a community of physicians, counselors and recovering opioid users dedicated to guiding struggling opioid users to recovery.
The Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the center on April 2 to commemorate the grand opening.
Ashleigh Bowman, regional director of Groups Recover Together in Virginia, said Groups takes a casual, non-traditional path to recovery.
“We don’t expect people to come any certain way. Come as you are, we will meet you here,” she said. “We will help you establish the goals of where you want to go and work to equip you with the tools necessary to successfully navigate recovery.”
Bowman said she believes in the program because she has personally experienced the results.
“I didn’t realize it had become a problem until seven years later when I became dependent and couldn’t stop on my own. I was very lucky,” she said. “I found a very progressive doctor who put me into a treatment like what we have at Groups. I would be dead today if I didn’t have access to the $400 a week to receive that treatment.”
Bowman said the Groups approach has four major pillars: peer recovery, medication assistance treatment, individualized therapeutic health services and care coordination.
Unlike other opioid treatment programs, members of the group are prescribed Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) weekly to curb cravings and sickness.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, buprenorphine/naloxone is a medication that works in the brain to treat opioid use disorders stemming from opioids including heroin, hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl.
The Alliance states that buprenorphine has a “ceiling effect,” so the “opioid effects level off even with further dose increases which reduces the risk of misuse, dependency, and side effects. Buprenorphine lowers the effects of opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings to use opioids without having full opioid potency or effects. This helps people who take the medication abstain from other opioids.”
Naloxone, conversely, can be injected into the bloodstream to cause someone who is dependent on opioids to have uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, the Alliance said, adding that it helps discourage people who are dependent on intravenous (IV) opioids from injecting buprenorphine/naloxone.
“We look to humanize substance use and take it out of the shadows where it is treated like any other mental health issue ━ with dignity and respect,” Bowman said. “That is who we are and what we aim to do.”
Bowman said other treatment support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, don’t allow for medication assisted therapy “because you are not considered sober.”
Not having that social support can be detrimental, according to Bowman.
“It’s hard to get that peer recovery element that is integral to your success,” she said. “What makes us unique is we are not treating the substance abuse. We are treating the person. That’s why we have peer coordination that wraps around the person any support services that they might be lacking. It connects them, if they are eligible, for nutrition assistance, housing assistance, insurance.”
Bowman said the treatment also is affordable.
“What I’m really proud of with Groups is that we are here to remove barriers to care,” she said. “If you don’t have insurance, we have a sliding scale. The most you’ll ever pay out of pocket is $65 a week. That includes your weekly group, your visit with your doctor, and we have a care coordination team that helps you get insurance, get housing and they help you stabilize yourself.”
To help with coordinating the daily affairs of the center, Lisa East has been hired on as the office manager.
“As someone who has navigated recovery, I know Lisa is going to be someone that makes sure people feel safe, validated and valued,” Bowman said.
East said she took the position to help people.
“Helping people is really just what I’m used to,” she said. “There is a need for it here in Martinsville and I would love to just be a part of helping the community.”