WESTERLY— It didn’t take Christa Beauchamp long to select a topic for the master’s-level feature-writing course she is taking. The assignment called for a trend piece or exploration of some aspect of contemporary life in today’s society.
Beauchamp decided to write about Vivitrol, a form of the medication naltrexone used to treat opioid addiction that she believes is under-used and poorly known in the treatment field. The magazine-style piece also takes a look at other types of medication-assisted treatment such as methadone and Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone).
In recovery herself for several years, Beauchamp has become well-known in the region for her work with organizations such as Groton-based Community Speaks Out, Stonington-based Shine a Light on Heroin, and her now-completed tenure as a member of the Westerly Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force. She has advocated for education on the use of Vivitrol, which has been available since 2010, as a potential tool in the battle against the abuse of heroin and other drugs for years.
“Not a lot of people know about Vivitrol, and it wouldn’t take much. There are these little barriers that seem really huge because without taking the couple of steps they’re really insurmountable, but if we take a couple of steps they’d be a lot less insurmountable,” Beauchamp said.
The 3,500-word piece was written as part of a Harvard Extension School course. Beauchamp, who has a short fiction collection coming out this summer, is seeking a master’s degree in creative writing and literature. She previously earned a master’s in counseling psychology from Boston College and an undergraduate degree in English and psychology from University of Pennsylvania.
In 2013, when Beauchamp returned to Westerly from studying in Boston, she started hearing about more and more friends and high school classmates dying from overdoses. After taking a training on Vivitrol while she worked as a methadone clinic counselor, Beauchamp became convinced of Vivitrol’s potential for saving lives.
“It just seems like doctors who have the ability to prescribe this should absolutely know what it is and should be prescribing this,” Beauchamp said.
The drug, which is most often administered through an injection that lasts for 30 days, blocks opioid receptors in the brain. If a patient uses heroin or a different opioid while on naltrexone the high does not occur. The medication is also available in pill form, but it’s the 30-day duration of the injection that Beauchamp said makes it different from methadone and Suboxone, which are medication-assisted treatments that must be taken daily.
Beauchamp’s article focuses on Westerly, but many other towns in the region and the country could easily be substituted, she said.
“It’s absolutely a problem everywhere. Nobody is using Vivitrol as much as they should. If every community was to just focus on their own individual community and their own citizens, we’d be able to fix this problem a lot more quickly,” she said.
Beauchamp’s article includes interviews with a local doctor and others in the substance-abuse treatment field. She analyzed the availability of medication-assisted treatment in Westerly and interviewed two people in recovery who receive Vivitrol therapy. She also includes vignettes from some of the addiction forums she has attended and, sometimes, helped organize.
Her hope, Beauchamp said, is for more doctors and health care practitioners to prescribe Vivitrol. She is also an advocate for administration of the drug to overdose patients who seek care at hospitals, but acknowledged the drug works best for patients who have been opioid free for 7 to 10 days, since administration of the drug can bring about immediate withdrawal symptoms.
“Not all patients are going to be willing, but if we can give some of the patients that option in the emergency room that could very well set a lot of patients on the path to long-term recovery that otherwise might not have had the opportunity to find it,” Beauchamp said.
By treating addiction patients immediately, Beauchamp said the risk of patients changing their mind about trying treatment before they can get an appointment with an outpatient doctor or clinic is eliminated.
Because of the current highly lethal quality of heroin, especially when it is laced with fentanyl or other compounds, Beauchamp said it is time to rethink approaches to treatment and some of the old recovery adages. In the recent past, addicts were said to only make a serious effort at recovery once they “hit rock bottom.”
“We don’t want rock bottom to be a grave and that’s what it has turned into. With fentanyl, your not going to get a second chance,” Beauchamp said, adding that a new, more hopeful perspective equates “rock bottom to whenever you put your shovel down.”