Breaking cycle of addiction

20/08/2008 - 22:00

The Fresh Start Recovery Program in Subiaco has survived 11 years of minimal government funding and private sector support.

Breaking cycle of addiction

The Fresh Start Recovery Program in Subiaco has survived 11 years of minimal government funding and private sector support.

George O'Neil, who runs the not-for-profit rehabilitation clinic, says luckily for his opiate-dependent patients, the private company that provides the naltrexone implants he inserts there does so regardless of whether the clinic can pay for the drug or not.

Go Medical Industries Pty Ltd, based in Subiaco, has invested some $50 million in Fresh Start, which to date has provided naltrexone to 5,800 patients in WA.

Dr O'Neil, who pioneered naltrexone implants in Australia, believes the treatment will play a significant role in eliminating opiate addiction because it stops cravings for extended periods (about 300 days), unlike methadone programs.

It costs about $5,000 a year to treat an addict at the clinic, and with a paid staff roster approaching 80 workers, Dr O'Neil said Fresh Start's resources were severely stretched.

Although the clinic seeks to recoup treatment money from its patients, Dr O'Neil doesn't push the issue and less than 10 per cent ever repay the clinic.

To keep it operating, Fresh Start chief executive Jeff Claughton and Dr O'Neil have embarked on a campaign to recruit organisations to 'sponsor an addict to share the load'.

"We have an organisation that treats people for addictive conditions and we basically treat people regardless of their economic circumstances," Mr Claughton said.

He said corporations could sponsor the type of addict of their choice and can have a role in determining what their money was used for.

"If 10 companies commit $10,000 per month then this will cover an estimated 50 per cent of the medication costs and will help us continue the program," Dr O'Neil said.

"As the company producing the implants now has increased regulatory costs...it will be necessary to find some companies to share in the costs of delivering these implants to patients trying to give up opiate addiction.

"It will be very difficult for this community if this program gets to the stage where only the patients with money are treated. Most heroin addicts have no money."

Although naltrexone holds the promise of breaking the cycle of addiction and is seen as an alternative to a lifetime of dependency on drugs such as methadone, some within the medical profession remain sceptical.

The idea has the support of the state government, which provides $1.3 million in funding to Fresh Start each year, however the government's own Drug and Alcohol Research Committee has warned that naltrexone may not be a suitable option for all addicts.

Naltrexone works as an opioid receptor antagonist, and according to Dr O'Neil prevents drug users from feeling the effects of illicit substances and from overdosing.

"We have been committed to developing recovery rather than using treatments that may prolong addiction," Dr O'Neil said.

"In Australia, with respect to heroin addiction, the Commonwealth currently funds procedures and medications that maintain comfort and addiction by funding legal opiates such as methadone, morphine and buprenorphine, a morphine-like substance.

"These medications may prolong the length of opiate dependence."

A 2007 survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 23 per cent of people aged 15-24 reported using illicit drugs during the 12 months prior to the survey, almost twice the number aged 25 and over (11 per cent).

In 2005-06, 11,700 people aged 15-24 were hospitalised for drug-related conditions, with women accounting for nearly 60 per cent of admissions.

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