MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Amid the opioid and heroin epidemic, which killed more Tennesseans last year than any other year on record, there are also signs of hope emerging in the treatment community.
For most of Ryan Fite's life, he was a shell of a person. He did drugs for more than 20 years and said he developed an addiction to opioids and heroin for the last 12 years.
“It started out with painkiller pills and graduated to oxycontin, Lortab, then heroin,” the native Memphian said. “I was depending on where I was going to get my next fix 24 hours a day. That’s all I cared about."
The 38 year old said he couldn’t hold a job and couldn’t function without the drugs.
Now, he's getting a little-known treatment at a small, nondescript medical office in a strip mall on Hacks Cross Road.
“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Fite said.
“I’ve been in the psych field for 17 years and I’d never heard of it until about a year ago. It blows my mind because I can’t imagine why we weren’t using this before," said family nurse practitioner Nikki Russell.
Russell was talking about the injection drug called Vivitrol, a diluted version of the pill version Naltrexone.
“Everyone needs to know about it. If they have a problem with opiates, it’ll turn your life around," Fite said.
She administers the prescription injection to patients like Fite once a month. For that reason, it’s different than other treatments, she said.
“This gives you the freedom of not worrying about it for 28 days, which is nice for anyone trying to gain their life back,” Russell said.
But it also changes the way the mind thinks and craves the drug.
“It re-wires your brain. We call it hi-jacking your brain. Vivitrol allows you, it goes in and wire back to what it was before you used the drug,” Russell said.
“I’ve tried the methadone clinic. I’ve tried Saboxone. I'd never even heard of Vivitrol until a friend told me about it," Fite said.
That’s another reason it’s different; Russell explained how most treatment medicines like Saboxone use synthetic opiates to simulate the high in a controlled manner and setting. But with Vivitrol, patients must completely detox.
“Vivitrol is a full agonist. It has no synthetic in it and it goes directly to the pain receptor and stops it," Russell said.
Fite said the last four months of sobriety have been a blessing.
"I'm working two jobs now. I didn’t have a job before. I'm hanging out with friends again, have money in my pocket. Everything is great," he said.
“It’s amazing to watch the transition. Amazing to see. It’s a privilege to save a life,” Russell said.
He’s one of about 15 patients getting the shot right now at Russell’s clinic. She said TennCare fully covers the treatment and most insurance plans at least partially cover it. She also can help find patient assistance for those without insurance. She said every patient she can help makes it worth it in fighting such a deadly epidemic.
If you are interested in more information, call Consolidated Health Services of Memphis at (901) 672-8695. The clinic is located at 3315 Hacks Cross Road, suite 109.