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New addiction clinic in Vancouver grocery store tries to break down treatment barriers - KATU

VANCOUVER, Wash. — A new addiction treatment clinic has opened in an unlikely location and it's helping people battling a substance use disorder to break down some time-sensitive barriers in the way of their recovery.

Ideal Option, a group of national treatment centers that includes sites in Oregon and Southwest Washington, has partnered with Safeway supermarkets to open a clinic for patients battling a substance use disorder inside the store’s wellness center located at 6701 E. Mill Plain Blvd in Vancouver.

Tyran Schelling sat inside the new clinic that opened in early June and marveled at where he once was, skimming through photos of a past underweight, unhealthy lifestyle.

“I wouldn’t think I could make it this far, honestly," the Vancouver man said.

Tyran Schelling, of Vancouver, said his addiction to prescription pain pills, including Oxycontin, started at the age of 16 after injuring his shoulder in a car wreck. (KATU)

Schelling said his addiction to prescription pain pills, including Oxycontin, started at the age of 16 after injuring his shoulder in a car wreck. He said his problems progressed to heroin when he couldn't find pain pills any more. Heroin, he said, was cheaper and more widely available. He started getting into trouble and stealing to feed his addiction.

He nearly lost everything.

Had to find something else to take that pain away and stop you from being sick so then I went to heroin," Schelling said. “I looked around and said, 'Man, I haven’t got anybody by my side, no more.' I lost everyone I cared about. My family wasn’t talking to me. It was all because of heroin. It absorbed everything in my life and took everything away.

Schelling will be seven years clean and sober on July 21, 2021.

He's thanking clinics, like this new Ideal Option location, for keeping his sobriety on track.

The treatment center is located inside, directly next-door to the pharmacy. They're offering treatment appointments and walk-in counseling as they offer medication-assisted treatment, including buprenorphine or Suboxone.

Buprenorphine, the generic form of Suboxone, is an FDA-approved form of medication-assisted treatment that has been known to curb the cravings of an opioid, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explained.

RELATED | Study: 1 in 5 pharmacies block access to addiction treatment medication

The new clinic's goal is to get patients this medication right away, right next-door.

“But there is always an issue with people trying to come in, doing their appointment, and then maybe they need to wait until tomorrow for their medications to be ready and they run into a lot of problems," said Lindsey Barnett, a certified addictions registered nurse with Ideal Option, who explained the barriers this clinic is trying to break down. “When they want help, they need help then. Right then. That’s when we need to help them. This allows us to do everything all right then and get them started before something else happens or something deters them or something comes up in their life and they can’t make it back to the next appointment or the pharmacy to get their medicine -- even if they had good intentions.”

Ideal Option staff says that this partnership makes Safeway the first national retailer to partner their in-store pharmacy services with an addiction medicine provider.

"A bold and progressive move that reflects both a decrease in the stigma traditionally surrounding addiction, and the urgency to counter the surge in substance use during the pandemic," Ideal Option staff said in statement.

A preliminary report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that more than 91,000 people died of an overdose between October 2019 and October 2020. It's the latest data showing the status of the epidemic in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

In Oregon, in that same time frame, the CDC data shows overdose deaths were up 29% and up by 33% in Washington. A crisis jumpstarted, experts say, by increased abuse of opioid painkillers - mostly from synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Safeway staff is applauding the convenience factor that's saving valuable hours for treatment.

Hans Hoge, Safeway's Southwest Washington division pharmacy manager, told KATU this clinic's location was scouted and picked by necessity to serve a large number of people.

“It’s about the convenience and patient care. Combination of both," Hoge said. "The biggest benefit is to be able to serve our patients, help reverse the stigma that’s associated with drug addiction, and partnering with Ideal Option – being a national retailer like us – I think this can go a long way.”

Having the clinic next to the pharmacy saves valuable minutes for those in recovery.

“It’s a huge benefit. It’s almost life and death for some people that are just starting off," Schelling said.

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He explained the struggle for someone with a substance use disorder, if they have to go somewhere else, on a different day, to get the help they need. It means fewer worries for Schelling about going back to where he once was.

"You step right out the door and you can get your medication. You don’t have to have those worries over the next 24 hours on if you’re going to stay clean or not, or mess up your sobriety.”