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Center offers therapy for opiate addiction

by Mary Helen Yarborough
Public Relations
These drug addicts are unlikely to end up in an alley or asleep on a sidewalk. Many of these addicts are executives, homemakers, community leaders or just ordinary, hardworking individuals who became addicted to prescription painkillers.
Therapists from left Geoffrey Cheek and Sheldon Weinstein, Lisa Wimberly, and Austin O’Malley discuss opiate addiction group sessions.

In response to this fast-growing population of drug abusers, the MUSC Center for Drug and Alcohol Programs (CDAP) Outpatient Services offers a highly specialized therapy to treat opiate addiction with the use of the new drug buprenorphine (trade name, Suboxone) taken orally in pill form.
The drug is the first opioid (or opiate) medication approved under the Children’s Health Act of 2000 (DATA 2000) for the treatment of opiate dependence in an office-based setting. DATA 2000 permits qualified physicians to obtain a waiver from registration requirements of the Narcotic Addict Treatment Act to treat opiate addiction with opiate medications or using a combination of these drugs that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for opiate addiction or dependence.
CDAP is one of a handful of centers certified to use this new drug as part of group therapy at its West Ashley center. CDAP’s newly-expanded facilities enable six groups of 12 members each to be treated under the program weekly, according to Lisa Wimberly, R.N., a licensed professional counselor and CDAP out-patient clinical coordinator.
“Opiate dependence has become a huge problem,” Wimberly said. “People whom you wouldn’t ordinarily suspect as having a substance abuse problem have become addicted to prescription pain medication.”
The increase in this drug-dependent group is reflected by the physical vulnerabilities of the Baby Boomer generation, Wimberly explained. Common pathways to painkiller dependence include joint injuries, i.e. lower back, knees, neck, hip, foot and hand injuries.
The injured end up trading one problem for another; and the addiction often is harder to cure than a dislocated rotator cuff. Some are violating the law to obtain these painkillers or are resorting to doctor-shopping to keep the prescriptions coming. Consequently, legal, employment or relationship problems lead to addiction treatment, according to Wimberly, adding that others are being referred by their doctors or loved ones.
Using buprenorphine as part of therapy must be closely monitored by certified medical personnel. CDAP requires patients to undergo counseling as part of their drug treatment.
Buprenorphine is a partial opiate agonist, so its opiate effects are limited in comparison to full opiate agonists, such as oxycodone or heroin. “In other words, it won’t get you high, but it will get you by,” Wimberly quipped, explaining that it will prevent the withdrawals but not provide the euphoria of full agonists.
The drug therapy includes the use of naloxone to discourage people from dissolving the tablet and injecting it. The drug therapy helps suppress symptoms of opiate withdrawal and decrease cravings for opiates. It also has proven effective in reducing opiate use by patients who remain in treatment.
For more information about the buprenorphine therapy, or to learn more about CDAP programs, call 792-9162; or visit


Friday, May 22, 2009

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.