Rep. Harris visits Ashley campus to talk opioid strategy
HAVRE DE GRACE — U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-1st District) discussed addiction treatment’s successes and challenges with officials at Ashley Addiction Treatment on Tuesday.
Harris previously toured Ashley’s facilities in Elkton in March to talk to officials about issues related to the nation’s opioid epidemic.
During Harris’ tour of the Havre de Grace location on Tuesday, the congressman said he has heard from law enforcement officials who don’t know what to do to help addicts after responding to a call at the same address for the third or fourth time.
“They feel like there’s nothing they can do,” he said. “The system doesn’t allow them to strongly encourage that person to go into a treatment program.”
Richard Przywara, senior vice president of operations at Ashley, said Harris’ visit was part of Ashley’s outreach to get people to know about the treatment center and its resources.
“Ashley wants to tell its story more,” Przywara said.
In the call center, an insurance analyst looks at whether Ashley is medically and financially appropriate for potential patients, said Marlena Faith Leonard, Ashley’s admissions and utilization review manager.
“If someone’s not appropriate for our facilities, we will refer them out,” she explained. “We will find them a place to go. So we don’t just drop the ball and say ‘We’re done with you because we can’t help you.’ We have a department that actually refers them out.”
Ashley does provide financial assistance to some patients who cannot afford to stay at the facilities on their own. Last year, Ashley gave out $3.6 million in scholarships to patients, according to Przywara.
Furthermore, Ashley gives away 6.3 percent of all of its beds to help people without medical insurance, Przywara said. Ashley provides seven to eight scholarship beds per month, two beds to Harford County and two beds to Cecil County, Leonard added.
Dr. Greg Hobelmann, Ashley’s chief medical officer, said that addiction treatment is a community-driven mission.
“We want to be collaborative with all of the partners in Maryland, throughout Maryland, at all levels of care to create a system that works,” he said. “We want to be collaborative with societies, with the other providers to really figure out a way that we can tackle this and provide the best care throughout the state rather than being isolated individuals that are treating.”
While every bed on campus is currently full, Przywara said that if Ashley is not able to take a patient, they are committed to referring that patient to a facility that can.
“We feel once you call, we need to help get you in the door somewhere,” he said.
Ashley also has programs at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and Union Hospital in Elkton.
Part of Ashley’s model is about providing treatment as close to patients as possible, including within those hospitals, Pryzwara explained.
“That’s how close we have to be to the problem, because you’ve got to catch the people when they’re hurting, when they’re ready,” he said. “It’s reaching the bottom. When the alcoholic or drug addict reaches their bottom, they’re ready for treatment. So you need to be nearby when they hit that bottom. You have to have a bed available when they hit that bottom. You have to have a space in your outpatient when they hit that bottom.”
With Ashley’s collaboration with hospitals, Przywara hopes to prevent addicts from ending up in the emergency room.
“One of the things that the treatment centers — especially Ashley — is working on with hospitals is to show that good treatment keeps people out of the ER,” he said.
Przywara said that putting more of an emphasis on addiction treatment and recovery would be economically beneficial to both patients and the government.
“If you can get someone off and sober, that $20,000 ER visit and that $6,000 sheriff detention disappears from the equation,” he said. “There are significant savings in the transaction of providing care to a person with sobriety, with an alcohol- or drug-free lifestyle.”
While Przywara said it’s difficult to get people on board with spending more money on addiction treatment, he stressed that doing so would save more money and more lives in the long run.
He also acknowledged that many law enforcement officials may feel out of their depth when it comes to responding to calls for opioid and other drug addicts.
“They’ve suddenly become a first responder in an area where they weren’t first responding to five or 10 years ago,” he said.
Harris, one of the few physicians serving in Congress, said that in order to interrupt the cycle of overdoses and imprisonment, the system must be reshaped to push more for treatment options.
“I’m a civil libertarianist as much as the next guy, but the fact of the matter is you committed an illegal act, you used an illegal substance in most cases or used a substance that is not illegal but used it illegally,” he said. “Part of the quid pro quo should be if you agree to get treatment, you know you don’t have to spend the next ‘x’ amount of time in jail … We ought to realize that’s actually going to help if you bring them to treatment.”
The congressman advocated for having people choose between prison and treatment.
“You have to make the alternative [to treatment] pretty darn bad because it’s not death,” Harris said. “You just escaped the worst alternative.”
Hobelmann and Przywara said Ashley is in full support of medication-assisted treatment. But Przywara added that Ashley also looks for other ways to help patients in the recovery process.
“We use medically-assisted treatment here … but the idea of going with an abstinence program, which is our core belief, this is what you get which in our view is a better result,” he said.
Ultimately, Hobelmann said addiction treatment is about working with patients to figure out what the best pathway for recovery is for them.
“The right treatment for the right patient is what we want, bottom line,” he said.