A Look Into YKHC's Opioid Treatment Program

Feb 24, 2017

The Yukon Kuskokwim Ayagnirvik Healing Center.
Credit Dean Swope / KYUK

Last week, Governor Bill Walker declared the state’s opioid epidemic a public health disaster and issued administrative orders directing all departments of the state government to apply for federal funds to address the crisis. As the executive branch is mobilizing in hopes of mitigating the epidemic, KYUK is checking in with the opioid treatment program at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel for an update.

In October 2016, YKHC opened its newly constructed Yukon Kuskokwim Ayagnirvik Healing Center, which some refer to as the alcohol treatment center. But inside the new building people can also get help for opioid addiction. During the last four months, 18 individuals have begun receiving this treatment. 

Andre Taylor, Behavior Health Clinician, calls the program life changing for the patients.

“With opiate withdraw, you just get sick and sick, and then there’s the constant craving," said Taylor. "And there was no other option and this provided a solution, and for most people, a new life. Opportunity for new life.”

Before this program began, people who needed help treating their opioid addiction could receive behavioral health counseling at YKHC, but not addiction medication to help that process. YKHC Vice President of Hospital Services Jim Sweeney says they would refer people out of the region for that.  

“Basically help to coordinate getting them into a treatment program somewhere else in the state," said Sweeney, "and that is something that we don’t want to do, because we want to try to keep our healthcare as close to where the people are as possible.”

Last summer, the health corporation budgeted for the new treatment program. Now people can stay in the Delta and receive the drug suboxone with their counseling, a medication that helps stabilize the brain and prevent people from feeling withdrawal sickness as they treat their addiction. Dr. Nicholas Flickinger is one of two physicians at YKHC who are certified to prescribe the drug.

“We have the film that goes underneath the tongue to dissolve. That was the best option to use," said Flickinger. "A lot of data has shown that there’s really good success rates with the suboxone.”

Once a patient comes to the treatment center, talks with a clinician, and decides to begin suboxone, it takes about three days to find the correct dosage with which to start a patient.

During that time, the patient has either entered a residential treatment program or an intensive outpatient treatment program. Residential is six weeks; intensive outpatient is 16 weeks, nine hours a week.

"So typically three to four days a week, they would be coming for three hours a day,” said Taylor.

Residential patients have to go on to the intensive outpatient program after they complete their the residential program. After that,  patients enter an eight to twelve week program. All that adds to about nine months, if someone doesn’t relapse or run into other holdups.

“Then they would go into an alumni group, in which we would track them once a month with a three-hour group," said Taylor. "So throughout the duration of their treatment of taking suboxone, they would always be engaged in some type of counseling services.”

YKHC Vice President of Communications Tiffany Zulkosky says the corporation has not had any communication with the Governor’s office about his disaster declaration or executive orders, but the corporation is happy to act as a resource for rural, tribal health.

To find how you or someone you know can receive opioid addiction treatment, call 907-543-6772. If you’re in a village, you can also see the a YKHC behavioral health aide who can connect you to treatment in Bethel.