LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – As heroin addiction continues to ravage families and communities, not just in Louisville but around the nation, there's been an increased focus on Medication-Assisted Treatment or MAT.
Paula Porter has worked at The Morton Center, which offers counseling and therapy groups for individuals and families struggling with substance abuse issues, for 19 years and serves as its clinical director.
"It's a huge issue and it's causing lots of fatalities," Porter said of heroin. "That's the seriousness of it."
She knows the damage it can cause.
"It's frustrating sometimes to see the client that we work with be in such pain and the families be in such pain," Porter said.
It was just last week that the clinic started MAT.
"We started it to try to meet the needs of our clients because clients were having such terrible cravings, and withdrawal symptoms, that they weren't staying in treatment," Porter said.
MAT includes the use of drugs like Suboxone and Vivitrol to help with addiction and cravings.
These drugs differ from the better-known drug Methadone. Clinic say Methadone is considered an on-going treatment, while the new drugs are designed to wean users off drugs completely.
Still, the use of Suboxone and Vivitrol is highly debated around the nation, and even within Louisville.
For instance, The Healing Place uses Vivitrol but is opposed to Suboxone.
Dr. Burns Brady is a leading addiction expert and served as a volunteer medical director for the center.
"One has no risk," Brady said. "The other has a significant risk."
His team's research found a high risk for Suboxone to be abused just like heroin.
"Eighty percent are saying, 'Yeah, we took it to get high. We took it to get high and we could get as high as we wanted to get,'" Brady said.
"It's not that I'm not concerned about that," Porter said. "I think that the way we've designed what we're going to do is going to have some really tight controls. They're going to have to participate in our structured program."
The Morton Center isn't alone. Seven Counties also uses Suboxone. There's been a spike in Suboxone prescriptions nationally, which Brady said, is due to marketing.
"That doesn't make any sense unless you understand the marketing, and the payoff, and the money that is involved," Brady said.
Still, Porter feels it's an important option for clients.
"That's the main reason we're looking at it, is it helps people stay alive," Porter said.
Another important factor in the decision for clinics to use Suboxone is it's significantly cheaper than Vivitrol for someone on commercial insurance. However, government-funded insurance, like Medicaid, picks up the full cost for either.