Published on Pacific Coast Business Times in Health Care on August 26, 2016

By Alex Kacik

The city of Santa Barbara honored Recovery Road Medical Center co-founders Dr. Joseph Frawley, left, and Dr. Sherif El-Asyouty to celebrate the company’s 10-year anniversary.

The city of Santa Barbara honored Recovery Road Medical Center co-founders Dr. Joseph Frawley, left, and Dr. Sherif El-Asyouty to celebrate the company’s 10-year anniversary.

As the country is in the grips of an opioid epidemic, a Santa Barbara health care provider is poised to help fight the rampant abuse.

Recovery Road Medical Center is an outpatient program that treats alcohol and drug addiction, chronic pain and mental health disorders. The center has provided coordinated medication and therapy to treat a patient’s whole health over its 10 years in business.

Their work plays a larger role in health care as more and more people become addicted to opiates, said co-founder Dr. Joseph Frawley.

“It used to be when you talked about opioid overdoses, it was someone who came from a poor neighborhood, they didn’t have parents,” he said. “Now, if you ask a millennial if they know someone who has died of an overdose, they will say ‘yes.’ That can be Montecito, Hope Ranch — that’s the epidemic nature of this problem.”

Recovery Road prescribes Suboxone, which helps curb abuse by blocking the effects of other opiates — unlike methadone. Suboxone, coupled with counseling, has uniquely helped wean patients off of opiates, co-founder Dr. Sherif El-Asyouty said.

“When you look at someone like Prince, really his life could have been saved with this treatment,” he said. “You feel almost personally responsible.”

In 2003, El-Asyouty was the first doctor to use Suboxone at Cottage Hospital, where he met Frawley. Frawley participated in the research that helped get the drug approved in the U.S.

“(El-Asyouty) came to me and said the community needs an intensive outpatient program for dual diagnosis,” Frawley said. “Many patients who have addiction problems are also dealing with depression and other mental health problems. It’s simple to get the drug out of the body but it’s difficult to get it out of the memory.”

A shift in health care delivery has caused an increase in pain medication prescriptions.

When the Joint Commission, which accredits health care organizations, required that medical professionals ask about a patient’s pain when checking vitals, it caused a surge in opiate prescriptions, Frawley said.

“But chronic pain is different than acute pain,” he said. “My goal is that people with chronic pain get evaluated for depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder because the pain will otherwise be amplified over time.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provides incentives to hospitals based on positive feedback from patient satisfaction surveys. The surveys include how their pain was managed and if the providers did enough to help.

CMS recently proposed to remove the pain management questions from the hospital incentive calculation, which could help reduce opioid prescriptions.

The Obama administration is also calling for an additional $1.1 billion to expand access to treatment, drug monitoring programs and opioid research, among other initiatives.

Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999, totaling 14,000 in 2014, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationwide, more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed daily, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data shows.

Health care providers under the Medicare Part D program collectively prescribed $121 billion in prescription drugs in 2014, which is a 17 percent increase from 2013.

Prescription opioid abuse costs an estimated $55 billion in health and social costs, according to the HHS.

“You are wasting resources if you don’t treat addiction immediately. It becomes a revolving door through the ER and jail,” El-Asyouty said. “Also, as an employer, it’s more cost-effective to send an employee to treatment rather than retrain a new employee.”

Recovery Road has about 11 employees that serve several hundred patients a year. It has been in its 3,000-square-foot location at 3891 State St., Ste. 205 for about five years since it outgrew its Carrillo Street location.

Yet, the Recovery Road program is still underutilized, El-Asyouty said.

“There’s still a large stigma with addiction,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have this disease and suffer in silence. We hope they know that there are options.

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