MAY 2003

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Pioneers In Drug Addiction Treatment
From Poleznaya Gazeta (The Useful Newspaper)
Boris Carnegie

In recent years, newspapers, television and radio programs have increasingly promoted the medication Buprenex as a treatment for drug addiction. The SOS Foundation has become a pioneer in the treatment of addiction with Buprenex. The foundation has developed a program entitled Iskhod (End) for the treatment, and physical and psychological rehabilitation of heroin addicts.

I met Sergei Kovalyov in the foundation’s main office in Manhattan’s Empire State Building. Entering the building, I felt a surge of emotions. The architecture and interior of the Empire State Building arouse joyful, life-affirming feelings in me. It is hard to believe that this is where the SOS Foundation treats drug addiction, such a bleak illness.

Q: I recently read an article in an American newspaper that there are more than 1200 different organizations and programs for the treatment of drug addicts and alcoholics in New York. The new program Iskhod seems to be more of the same. As a well-known specialist in the area of prevention and treatment of drug addiction, can you explain what distinguishes Iskhod from the other programs?

Kovalyov: The program is oriented specifically to the Russian-speaking population in New York. Unfortunately, however, such treatment comes too late for many of our young people. In our community, the problem of drug addiction has assumed massive proportions. It is not a matter of a few families, but of a community-wide disaster. Statistics show that drug addiction occurs not only among 20-40 year-olds, but adolescents as well. Drug use by children increases by the day. There are many treatments programs, but the results have not been impressive so far.

Q: The medication Buprenex is an integral part of Iskhod. Is Buprenex really a miraculous solution? Will it effectively cure drug addiction?

Kovalyov: Buprenex is clearly effective for treating depression and deterring patients from resuming drug use. It restores positive emotions, and physical and emotional energy. But it is not the only means to treat addiction. The belief that this ‘miraculous solution’ will cure drug addiction forever is false! Buprenex by itself has not cured a single drug addict. Taking Buprenex only leads to new addiction. The patient’s lifestyle remains the same as it was during his heroin addiction. Burprenex can even worsen the situation; the patient starts taking the medicine, but he soon devises a pretext for abandoning treatment and resumes his heroin use.

Q: How can drug addiction treatment be successful?

Kovalyov: The creators of Iskhod considered the pros and cons of prescribing Buprenex and developed a unique treatment-rehabilitation program that has proven to be successful. The success of the program does not rely solely on Buprenex, but on a multi-faceted approach. You are probably aware that in America, medical professionals have narrow specializations. Such a situation is entirely inappropriate for the treatment of drug addiction, a complex illness. We need specialists in multiple spheres: cardiologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, dietitians, social workers and so on.

Q: What is the greatest challenge in drug addiction treatment?

Kovalyov: I would name three primary challenges in the treatment of heroin addiction: motivating the drug addict to begin treatment, keeping him in treatment for the duration of the program and of course, preventing him from resuming drug use. But those are, of course, only the main difficulties.

Q: Does Iskhod have specific advantages over other programs?

Kovalyov: Unquestionably! I would go so far as saying that similar program similar to Iskhod does not exist just in New York, but anywhere else in the country. Iskhod is the first comprehensive program, which incorporates all of the innovations in medical treatment, and traditional and alternative therapies for psychological and social rehabilitation. This is a triumph for a group of specialists in our Russian-speaking community. I am confident that we will see an improvement in the results of treatment of heroin addiction.
You should remember another significant factor: the program was developed by an international team in the field of drug addiction specifically for Russian-speaking immigrants in the United States. Iskhod takes in to account the language, psychological and social peculiarities of that population.

Q: How have patients reacted to Iskhod?

Kovalyov: There is enormous interest in the program. We receive calls everyday from 120 to 150 people inquiring about Iskhod. We are unable to satisfy the needs of such a vast group of potential clients. We get calls from outside of New York, where similar programs do not exist. Iskhod already has a waiting list. We have to turn away potential clients for objective reasons. There are also subjective reasons for turning away patients, mainly the inability of the patient to pay for treatment. Insurance policies generally cover doctor visits. Most insurance policies will also cover the cost of medicine. By the way, Medicaid is by far the most suitable healthcare insurance for our program. Insurance companies in other states will not pay for the treatment. As a result, most patients outside of New York have difficulty taking part in Iskhod.

Q: What are the requirements for participation in the Iskhod program?

Kovalyov: Iskhod is a multi-faceted approach to treatment. There are the usual procedures that are prescribed to every patient, such as detoxification. In addition, we undertake a large number of procedures that correspond to a patient’s individual and psychological condition.
There are general conditions and requirements for participation in the program: the program only treats patients who have abused heroin. Furthermore, the client must have Medicaid or another form of insurance, which covers traditional forms of treatment: doctor visits, medicine and so on.
In addition, the client is expected to be able to pay for alternative methods of treatment and rehabilitation, which traditional insurance policies do not cover.

The minimum length of the program is a month and a half. We discuss all aspects of the treatment in our meetings with parents. In the past, these meetings took place once a month. But the increased interest in Iskhod has compelled us to hold meetings twice a month, every second and fourth Tuesday. We not only meet with parents, but with young people who are using heroin. Our experience has shown that in the course of the meetings, young people very frequently make the decision to begin treatment.

Q: What do you do for parents whose children refuse to seek treatment?

Kovalyov: A drug addict needs to be extraordinarily motivated to seek treatment. In order for parents to motivate their children to seek treatment, the parents must first understand what drug addiction is. The SOS Foundation has a special school for parents. In our courses, we train the parents to speak to their children about seeking treatment for drug addiction.

Translated from Russian by Elizabeth LeBras

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