JEFFERSONVILLE — The team behind a new outpatient substance abuse treatment facility in Jeffersonville say they want to be one of many ongoing and needed solutions to addressing the opioid crisis in Southern Indiana.

Spero Health, a Tennessee-based company with 22 locations and three in Indiana — including Evansville and Indianapolis — opened to patients several weeks ago and held a grand opening sponsored by One Southern Indiana on Wednesday.

The community-based center offers counseling, addiction support services, prescriptions for medication-assisted treatment when needed and primary care services to patients in its programs.

"This is one of the few disease states where you're diagnosed with it and you're not immediately told to see a doctor," said David Hayden, vice president of clinical services for Spero Health. "And that's what we're trying to change."

He said Jeffersonville was chosen as the newest location for the company, which started in 2018, after talking with state leaders about the need and seeing how many Southern Indiana residents visited its Louisville facility.

"We're really excited to be in the community," Hayden said. "There's such a need in Southern Indiana. The drug epidemic has hit everywhere really hard — especially here."

While Spero does offer patients the access to medication-assisted treatment, it operates differently than places where patients go daily or regularly to get their doses. There is no medication kept on site; the physician prescribes what's needed and work with patients to lower dosages over time when appropriate, Hayden said.

But it's the other services — the counseling and recovery support — that make the big difference in people's lives. The medication may just be a way to help get them to the next step in their recovery.

"The medication gets them started and makes them stable, but it's the counseling and recovery support that really maintains that," he said.

Dr. Phillip Hill, resident physician at the new treatment facility, has had experience at similar types of facilities and said Spero stands out with high measures of success.

Success can be determined in many ways but initially, it's sobriety," he said. "Are you getting sober or are you chasing drugs? So much needs to change when sobriety occurs and so much needs to change for sobriety to occur."

Hill said a location of this size, with three staff members and a counselor, can serve approximately 300 patients. Of those, he estimates about 30 percent do not use the medication-assisted treatment.

"It's not a cookie-cutter thing," he said. "It's very individualized."

Hill said not only can a person's treatment plan vary, but so can the type of medication and the time they must take it. Hill said six months is probably the least amount of time a patient should be on medication, but it could be closer to one to two years. As patients work through their challenges and address barriers to sobriety, and build or regain life, coping and emotional skills, he is able to work with them to gradually reduce their dosages.

"The medication is kind of like a cast around the brain," Hayden said. "It allows them to think more rationally ... because it takes away the withdrawal symptoms so it allows them to actively participate in other services.

Then, he said, as the medication tapers off, "They'll start to learn 'I can do these things without the medication; I can do these things without the substance.'"

Bill Zenor, the center's counselor with 14 years' experience working with people on addiction medication, said the most important part is meeting people where they're at emotionally.

"The best way for change is to help any person you're working with be able to increase their confidence, decrease their barriers," Zenor said. "It's all about motivation and helping them evaluate their progress."

"It's going great," he said of Spero's first weeks of operation. "I've already in a short time seen a lot of engagement and a lot of desire for change."

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