ASSMCA ramping up its efforts against opioid addiction

By John McPhaul

The Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Administration (ASSMCA by its Spanish initials) announced measures for combating cases of opioid addiction on Monday.

Over the past two decades, Puerto Rico has seen a dramatic rise in opioid overdose deaths, as has the mainland United States. But though an increase in the number of overdose cases involving this type of drug has been reported on the island, they have not reached the critical levels seen in the States.

Notwithstanding, the ASSMCA administrator, Dr. Carlos Rodríguez Mateo, announced on Monday the measures he has taken to fight opioid addiction and the accompanying risk of fatal overdose.

“For our agency, each life is important, so we want to do everything humanly possible to safeguard the well-being of each citizen and prevent more deaths from this cause,” the ASSMCA chief said in a written statement.

With this in mind, the agency has trained 11,783 people in the proper management of an overdose and how to properly administer intranasal Naloxone (Narcan) in order to continue saving lives. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Naloxone is a drug that quickly reverses an opioid overdose.

First responders from municipal, commonwealth agencies (including the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, or DCR), at-risk individuals and their families, professionals who provide behavioral health and substance treatment services, non-profit staff, and faith-based, community leaders, university students and inmates are part of the group of people who have been trained.

In addition, the agency delivered some 14,499 Narcan kits to people trained by the ASSMCA and to entities with which it has collaborative agreements to prevent an increase in opioid overdose cases.

“We want Narcan to be on the street and everywhere the real need is,” Rodríguez Mateo said. “That is why we have strengthened our ties with community organizations to prevent these types of deaths. They are closer to the streets and that is where lives can be saved.”

The ASSMCA administrator also announced the arrival on the island of the federal State Opioid Response (PR SOR) project, which is made up of nine service programs aimed at strengthening and expanding the services of the health system that meets the needs of people suffering from a substance dependence disorder.

Through PR SOR, ASSMCA provides various services, among them being counseling to DCR inmates six months before their scheduled release to prevent relapses in the use of opioids. It also offers peer support services to people in recovery from a substance abuse dependency disorder.

“Our goal with this project is ambitious because we want to attack different fronts to tackle the cases of opioid overdose that occur in Puerto Rico and improve the quality of life of these people,” Rodríguez Mateo said. “To achieve this, it is essential that we educate the public on this issue, so we will be launching an educational campaign in the coming months to prevent the misuse and abuse of opioids.”

In addition to the aforementioned efforts is the vaccination against hepatitis B that will be offered to some 3,000 patients who are positive for the HIV virus and hepatitis, and who suffer from a substance dependence disorder.

Likewise, the agency will implement, through PR SOR, an evidence-based model (Wellness Plus) in medication-assisted comprehensive treatment centers, as well as in residential treatment centers and drug court facilities.

“This model seeks to complement and strengthen the services that our patients receive,” the ASSMCA administrator said, “as well as provide them with tools so that they learn to empower themselves in their recovery process and can be more resilient. Life requires a balance and with this model our patients will also learn how to achieve this within their recovery process.”

Another ASSMCA project planned for the coming months involves the collection of unused opioid drugs at about 200 island pharmacies in Puerto Rico.

“In this way we prevent these drugs from falling into the hands of third parties for whom this drug was not prescribed, or from being used incorrectly,” Rodríguez Mateo said.

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