February 02, 2016
Mental Health and Opioid Treatment Center Focus of Alum’s Life Work
In a report released by the nonprofit groups Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, West Virginia has the highest rate of deaths by overdoses in the United States. Thirty-four drug overdose deaths per 100,000 West Virginia residents were reported between 2011-2013, and the numbers continue to increase. It is no secret that West Virginia is in trouble, but a West Virginia Wesleyan College alum has been paving the way to medically help those who suffer from addictions and mental health problems in the state.
Dr. Scott Gilchrist ’06, along with Drs. Jeff Richmond and Ryan Wakim, are the owners and operators of Harmony/R.O.O.T.S., a set of three clinics dedicated to the treatment of mental illness and opioid (narcotic pain pills or heroin) addiction. The clinics, located in Weston, Wheeling, and Morgantown, were founded in 2012 and provide help to those residents in need. The partners met while attending Medical School at West Virginia University (WVU).
“My partners and I were very fortunate to train under some of the best addictionologists in the country while at WVU,” Gilchrist stated. “We knew we had learned a unique model for treated opioid dependence and wanted to apply what we had learned. We started R.O.O.T.S. while in residency as a moonlighting project. Once we graduated from residency, adding general mental health clinics was the next logical step.”
Harmony, the portion of the clinic that is dedicated to the treatment of mental illness, treats a wide array of problems in patients such as mood and anxiety disorders to psychotic breaks.
“As with most things in mental health, treatment is a bit of the process,” he said. “Unlike other areas of medicine, our treatment options often take time to have an effect. It can be very rewarding to see that positive change over time though.
“Although it is difficult to define success when talking about mental health, we do see the success in the form of reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, and reduced hospitalizations of severely mentally ill patients,” Gilchrist continued.
R.O.O.T.S., or Recovery-based Outpatient Treatment Services, is a medication-assisted treatment program that prescribes Buprenorphine, often in the form of Suboxone, coupled with close monitoring and group therapy. Each location sees approximately 80 patients a year, with the Weston location in highest demand.
“The medication is only one part of the treatment,” Gilchrist shared. “It is a tool that helps stabilize someone who is struggling from opioid dependence. The medicine diminishes cravings, urges to use, and withdraw. This allows us to focus on some of the psychosocial stressors that lead to use and get the patient involved in a 12-step program like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Although we do not keep data on relapse rates because we may never learn someone has relapsed, we do see success by reduced relapsed rates for addiction, lessening of function impairments including return to work, as well as tapering off maintenance therapy with Suboxone,” Gilchrist concluded.
Although there are three locations for the clinic, each site provides the same services to its geographic region. However, the area’s culture provides a lot on insight on what type of treatment is needed.
“Interestingly, each clinic does seem to have different needs,” Gilchrist said. “Even though there is not much distance between them, the culture in each location varies. We do our best to take that into account when developing an individual’s treatment plan.”
The Beckley-native, along with Drs. Richmond and Wakim, both of West Virginia as well, knows that there is a great need in West Virginia for these types of services, especially with the growing epidemic of drug overdoses and outbreaks.
“West Virginia has been hit hard by the opioid dependence epidemic,” he stated. “Anymore, it would be difficult to find someone in the state that has not been directly or indirectly affected. As for general mental health treatment, West Virginia seems to have a shortage of psychiatrists as is. Hopefully, our clinics can help decompress an overworked mental health system.”
The three locations for the clinics were strategically chosen. The initial clinic, at first in Buckhannon, was moved to Weston when the clinic outgrew the Buckhannon location. Wheeling showed a high need for the types of treatments the clinics offered and was Dr. Wakin’s hometown, so an office was placed there. Once the trio graduated from Residency, there was more time available for private practice, so the Morgantown office was opened to give the clinic a home base.
Gilchrist credits his Wesleyan education to his successes in both WVU Medical School, where he graduated in 2010, and in his business.
“Medical School was hard, and no one can truly be ready,” he said. “However, I felt as prepared as one could ask for. Much of the core science was more of a refresher. In addition to academics, having been a part of the swim team helped prepare me in other ways. We had long hours swimming, and I had to learn to balance that with my course work. It kept me goal-oriented.”
Now that Medical School is over and Gilchrist in spending each day doing what he loves, he knows that this is exactly where he should be.
“This has been very rewarding,” stated Gilchrist. “Now that I am doing the work I am doing, I could not see myself doing any other type of work.”
For more information on Harmony/R.O.O.T.S., please visit their webpage at http://www.grwhealth.com.
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