Health & Hope is a newsletter designed to educate and inspire Western Montanans on life-saving procedures, community events and services to keep you and your family healthy.

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Caring for the vulnerable with no strings attached When an individual struggling with drug dependency contacts the Kodiak Community Health Center's Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) program, chemical dependency counselor Helen Shepard says the first thing their staff does is make sure the individual is safe. Second, and perhaps most important, she adds, is they show the patient they are seen, that they matter. "With MAT, we are meeting patients where they are in that moment," she says. "When we have a patient who comes in or calls, we try and get them in as fast as we can, because if we don't grab them when they call, we can lose them." Shepard has spent more than 10 years working with those who struggle with substance use disorders, and it is not easy. While she has helped hundreds of clients recover from chemical dependency, she knows that relapse is a very real possibility. But after joining the MAT team at the Kodiak Community Health Center last year, she's hopeful that newer treatments could yield more successful results. In 2022, Providence Health & Services Alaska provided $17,500 to help support the Kodiak Community Health Center's MAT program, which since 2019 has been offering medical intervention for those struggling with drug addiction. MAT is an evidence-based treatment that greatly increases opioid recovery rates. Providers can treat patients with the medications suboxone or sublocade to help block the rewarding effects of opioids. Depending on the treatment, the block can last up to six weeks, giving patients time to work through their addiction. With only one other clinic on the island, family medicine specialist Dr. David Silbergeld said KCHC's program is in great demand. "The challenge in our community, and many small communities in Alaska, is that there is a drug problem," Dr. Silbergeld says. "This program is awesome because we need it. There is so much stigma around substance use, and this is a way we can help. It's always remarkable to see our patients motivated to get better. There is no judgment here, just help." Unlike traditional programs that often have requirements attached to participation – such as eliminating contact with peers, attending counseling or staying sober – KCHC's MAT program is a harm-reduction model with a no-strings-attached philosophy. "That is the foundation of the KCHC MAT program," Shepard says. "If they want counseling, I will offer it. If they just want to see a doctor, we can do that. Our goal is immediate treatment."

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