Drug overdoses kill more people in Wisconsin than car crashes, but a new procedure could be the breakthrough many addicts and families are looking for.
Milwaukee County is on pace to set a new record for drug related deaths this year.
A recovering addict, Raynell Hammer, had a life just like anyone.
"I worked as a manager at McDonald’s, I had a car, I had a license, house," Hammer said.
But her addiction didn't care.
"I started taking them and then I noticed I needed them to get out of bed and stuff like that and so on and so forth. There were lots of days that were really bad where I couldn't get out of bed. Throwing up, I mean everything, shaking," Hammer said.
After a routine trip to the dentist to get a tooth pulled, she was prescribed Percocet and Oxycontin, two powerful painkillers. She became addicted and shortly after her life fell apart.
"Rock bottom, really bad. I stopped taking care of myself, I let myself go. First went was the house, I stopped paying rent because I started buying more pills," she said.
And for the next eight years she was in an out of treatment facilities. By the time she reached the Healing Corner in Brookfield, she was desperate.?
Dr. Siamak Arassi, medical director at Healing Corner, knows the harsh reality of people trying to quit their addiction. It's never quick and easy.
Arassi was the first doctor in Wisconsin to provide a new implant used to treat addiction, called Probuphine.
The implant consists of four small rods placed in the upper arm, slowly releasing medicine in the patient's system.
"It's a very efficient way, you get the same constant medication all of the time," Arassi said.
The FDA approved the Probuphine implant a year ago. The implants go in one arm for six months, and new implants are placed in the other arm for another six months. The process is repeated for up to two years.
Using an implant eliminates the possibility of patients abusing the prescription.
"They report that they feel normal, they're doing great," Arassi said.
“You don’t have to go to the pharmacy to fill it. You don’t have to carry it around,” said Constance Panos, who recently had the procedure done in February.
The new treatment also takes away the option of selling or trading the medication for other drugs and eliminates the risk of kids getting their hands on the medicine.
In Milwaukee County seven children have died of opiate overdoses in the last 20 months.
“At this point in my journey, I’m very optimistic,” said Justin Diblasi, another patient that’s been sober for almost two years.
"We embarked on it just because it was a right way to do it and more effective way to help people with addiction," Arassi said.
"The kids are very proud of me and I'm proud of myself," Hammer said.
A Probuphine treatment costs $5,000. Some insurance companies do cover it but Arassi says getting coverage can be challenging.
The company that makes the medication says about 85 percent of patients using the implants report they are opioid-free. That's compared to a 71 percent rate in patients using oral medications.
Visit the Probuphine website to learn more about the treatment.
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