Dr. Chess Yellott on Treating Opioid Addiction in West Virginia

West Virginia is number one in opioid overdose deaths in the United States.

As of 2017, the overdose death rate was about 50 deaths per 100,000 population. That’s about 1,000 per year.

The next worst is Ohio with a rate of 39 per 100,000.

What’s the best way to treat opioid addiction?

Dr. Chess Yellott of the Renovo Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia says –  Suboxone.

He favors making Suboxone available over the counter. And he says that if that were done, if Suboxone were made widely available, the overdose death rate could be cut in half – or more.

When did you first notice the rise in opioid overdose deaths?

“About five or six years ago the death rates just went up,” Dr. Yellott told Russell Mokhiber host of This Week in Morgan County. “They’ve been fairly constant you know 7,000 to 10,000 people died of opiates in the United States per year and all of a sudden they shot up. I said — somebody is poisoning the heroin — and it turned out it was true. The more concentrated drug fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and carfentanyl is 150 times stronger. It’s impossible to measure and so easy to overdose on.”

Dr. Yellott says that Suboxone works in treating opioid addiction.

“It is an easy, very effective treatment,” Dr. Yellott said. “It just takes away withdrawal for starters. And people just evened out for the first time. You went to work, they took care of their kids. Life was good. It really made a difference.”

How long does an addict have to stay on Suboxone?

“Medical advice is – do not stop,” Dr. Yellott said.

How did you become interested in questions of addiction?

“Maybe because there’s a lot of alcoholism in the family and several family members had done AA.”

What causes addiction?

“It’s not the individual alone, it’s not the drugs alone. And of course it’s not just drugs. There are many other addictions – gambling, video games, arcade games.”

“The basic causes of addiction are adverse childhood experiences. Children are separated from the parents. They don’t get a good connection. Other reasons – trauma in the family, violence, drug use, alcoholism, just being away at work too many hours of the day. Some kids don’t have parents. And that sets them up and causes problems in the endorphin system. Kids that have that are not very confident, they are not resilient. They don’t see that bad things will get better. Kids that are well brought up – they are resilient. They know if there is a setback, things will get better. And they get on with their lives and have a good time.”

Dr. Yellott is a supporter of Medicare for All.

“A lot of problems would be relieved,” Dr. Yellott said. “We have a death rate from lack of insurance. People don’t go for their care. They wait too long to get their medicines or they don’t get their medicines. We have probably 20,000 Americans a year who die from lack of healthcare, or lack of being able to afford it. And people also go broke constantly. Probably twenty people have gone broke from medical bills while we are talking. About every five seconds a family goes broke from medical bills. I had an associate over at Shenandoah who got hit with a $90,000 bill because she couldn’t afford insurance for her kid and she had her pay docked by $9,000 a year for ten years. And she didn’t get paid very much to begin with. That’s a fairly typical picture.”

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