Clinic serves people struggling with addiction who are stuck on waiting lists

Dozens use ACR Health's clinic each week, but they also have a waiting list

SYRACUSE (WSYR-TV) - As drug rehab services try to keep up with demand for treatment, more people are turning to a local health clinic for temporary support to avoid an overdose.

ACR Health recently expanded their services to make more room, but 85 people are still on their waiting list.

Anthony Zawacki visits the clinic every week, hoping to stay clean. Three years ago, he began treating back pain with heroin.

"My family lost trust in me. I lost my wife due to it. I totalled my car due to it. I sold everything that I owned," Zawacki says.

He tried traditional rehab and relapsed, more than once. The intense daily therapy and group counseling made him crave heroin.

"The more I talked about it personally, the more I thought about it. So, the less I talk about it, the less I think about it and I've been doing better since I came here," he adds.

Zawacki is given the drug suboxone to avoid the pain of withdrawal.

The somewhat controversial medication can be addictive and is sometimes sold on the street. 

Supporters of the treatment say it allows some people to stop using a more destructive opioid, like heroin, and lead more functional lives. 

Federal regulations limit the number of patients who can be treated by each licensed doctor. ACR Health faces the same limits. 

Nurse practitioners test clients to determine if they're taking prescribed doses or possibly selling the drug. 

Recently, the FDA approved a monthly injection that would allow doctors and clinics to take more control over the treatment.

Some critics believe people struggling with heroin addiction should avoid using suboxone.

Zawacki is not confident he could avoid a relapse without it, at this stage in his recovery.

He's been getting weekly counseling during visits at ACR Health. The schedule makes him feel less overwhelmed and more independent.

Many experts admit that heroin addiction is difficult to treat. Successful plans may be tailored to the individual.

Some people perform better with more aggressive in-patient care with constant monitoring.

"There are more individuals who have substance abuse issues and need help than there are beds available," says Alexandra Punch, Director of Drug User Health at ACR Health.

Punch says the agency's clinic aims to bridge the gap, giving users an alternative to heroin while they wait for rehab. 

65 people are treated at the clinic any given week, people who may otherwise turn to the streets.

"I think that a lot of them would probably overdose and die, or never get into any type of treatment at all and just continue to use, continue to hurt their family members, continue to hurt themselves," she says.

Zawacki hopes to rebuild his life enough to go back to work soon. He lost several jobs while he was using heroin.

"Those three years I was very depressed and everything was awful and I hated everybody and now it's starting to get a lot better," he says. "I have hope."

The goal is to find a physician with room to add Zawacki as a patient. Once that happens, ACR Health can cross one more person off of their waiting list.

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