Fight against opiate addiction gets boost with new treatment center opening in SA

Cost major difference in Opiate Treatment Centers of America model

SAN ANTONIO – For those seeking help for their opioid addiction, recovery can be a distant goal. So can finding the right place for treatment.

But the founders of a new treatment center in San Antonio are hoping to change the hardships of that addiction when it comes to getting support.

Jason Hahn, Zach Zeller and Jonathan Peterson, professionals in the medical field, found each other through luncheons and dinners networking in their field. Hahn described their fate as “kindred spirits” that “hit it off.” He said they were meant to find each other.

Soon after that, the trio began talking about the opioid epidemic in America. Each had seen the effects of the addiction in their own lives. After only 24 months, Hahn, Zeller and Peterson had met with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, multiple surgeon generals and others who would eventually help them form the inevitable product of their relationship: Opiate Treatment Centers of America.

The San Antonio-area men opened a location in San Antonio two months ago. Two more locations in Arkansas and Southern California are planned for this year.

The men said the main difference in their treatment facility, compared to all the others, is that they charge a fraction of what other centers charge -- $500 per month (or $325 with insurance) will pay for a physician, counselor and physical therapist. Other treatment centers could range in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Hahn said he paid up to $30,000 in treatment for a family member who became addicted to heroin.

But will something that inexpensive work?

“It’s a sustainable model,” Hahn said. “We can definitely survive on it. We may not get rich off of it, but that’s not the goal. The cost to actually give these kind of treatments isn’t that expensive."

Opiate Treatment Centers of America will also form a nonprofit to research the effects of opioid addiction, and the men said they especially want to bring science into their model of treatment. Hahn strongly believes that addiction should be treated as a disease and also erase stereotypes that addicts are somehow different than other people.

He said that currently, addiction doesn’t have one method of treatment, so it’s harder to streamline recovery processes.

“For example, you have a heart attack today, and it happens here in San Antonio and you go to the hospital, they’re going to give you almost the exact same treatment as if you were in Arkansas and have that same heart attack event,” Hahn said. “That’s not happening in addiction medicine right now. It’s very scattered. There’s not a uniformed approach, and by bringing diagnostics and some kind of standardization, our goal is to start making this a more equal playing field in the medicine space.”

Opiate Treatment Centers of America will be a suboxone clinic, and will not treat with the controversial methadone drug. Both are opioid medications, but critics of methadone argue that the drug that acts on opiate receptors in the brain that cause the same “high” and will take people from having a heroin addiction to having a methadone addiction. Contrary to methadone, suboxone combines buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist, and relieves symptoms of withdrawal. Hahn said the drug doesn’t have the same effect and is less controversial than its cousin.

With Congress passing legislation to help fight the opioid epidemic, combined with a new federal push (including the FBI) to link agencies together to combat the problem, Hahn and his partners are hoping to change the way addiction is viewed in this country. But they also hope to begin making real changes.

By next year, the men are looking to open 50 more centers, and want to see 100 more pop up nationwide in 2018.

“This is something that needs to be addressed,” Hahn said. “We don’t need to sweep it under the carpet anymore. We don’t need to treat it like it’s a character flaw, or anything wrong with the person, or the family. We need to treat it like we would any other medical condition.”

He said once that happens, he believes it’ll start a snowball effect for the dialogue on addiction and the way treatment happens.

That will lead to his ultimate goal: fewer addicts buried just because they happened to fall to such a powerful drug.