New treatment center changing way it helps addicts

Center changes rehabilitation by putting doctor at center of treatment team


SAN ANTONIO – The opioid epidemic has changed the way doctors conduct their practices.

Because the addiction is blind to race or economic status, it's become difficult for doctors to know where to draw the line when it comes to prescribing painkillers.

The epidemic also has made some doctors change the way they treat addicts. Dr. Adam Bruggeman works at The Other Side treatment center in Shavano Par and is changing rehabilitation by putting the doctor at the center of the treatment team.

"The problem with opioids -- it goes across every single person," Bruggeman said. "It's our neighbors. It's our family members. It's the people we work with. It's the people we run into at various community locations across town."

While the opioid epidemic in San Antonio may not be as bad as it is in other parts of the country, it is still a very real crisis here and around Texas, and it is very serious.

"(With) opioids ... we don't see them as a problem,” Bruggeman said. "They're something prescribed to us by someone we trust -- a physician that says it's OK to take these medications -- and ultimately, we become tolerant of them and continue to take more and take more, until ultimately, the patients cannot get off the medications."

Bruggeman has just opened a new intensive outpatient program on the city's North Side. As a physician in San Antonio since 2012, he's had firsthand experience with the opioid crisis that so many are dealing with and dying from.

"It's really hard to cause doctors to pause, but opioids have really caused us to pause," Bruggeman said. "We run drug tests on people all the time and there are certain people that you just kind of get a feeling for that are going to be positive for something you weren't expecting or something that you didn't write for, but the truth is, the people that surprise us the most are the ones we least expect."

Bruggeman said physicians are usually wrong about 30 percent of the time when it comes to identifying who is addicted to opioids.

It's not just doctors who have to be careful when prescribing opioids; the patients have to be careful, too. While they may not become addicted to the medications, leaving them stored unused in the home, or giving them to a loved one, thinking it's going to help them, could ultimately be harmful to them.

"We put them in the medicine cabinet. Those can be a real problem, whether it's teenage children or college-aged children who begin to experiment with medication," Bruggeman said. "One of the things that you can look for is the reason why people take opioids -- is to get away from things. It's an escape."

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It's important to recognize these signs of addiction to prevent someone we know or love from becoming part of a statistic. Ninety-one people die every day in the United States from opioid addiction.

"The numbers continue to climb, so much so that people die every year in the U.S. from heroin or opioid abuse, more so than die from car accidents," Bruggeman said. "And how much do we talk about texting and driving and how much do we talk about not drinking while driving? And yet, more people are dying from use of opioids, including heroin, than they are dying from these horrible car accidents that we see every day on the news."

For many, the opioid addiction leads to a more serious problem: heroin addiction. Heroin provides the same neurological effects as a lot of prescribed painkillers. It's also a lot cheaper, making it a quick and easy fix when addicts can no longer get a prescription written for opioids.

"They'll have intense cravings for the medications -- they'll count down the hours until they can get their next medications," Bruggeman said.

Bruggeman agrees that physicians and drug companies are both to blame for the country's opioid epidemic. He said every time doctors come to a solution for the opioid crisis, it's always another medication, getting them into further trouble. And the pharmaceutical industry is in the business of selling those medications, leaving it up to doctors and lawmakers to stop the industry from influencing the practice of medicine.

"I think it's given us a much stronger awareness as to how the industry has influenced our practices and has allowed us to huddle together as a group of physicians and say, 'We really need to be smart about who we allow in our doors and how we make our decisions,'" Bruggeman said.