Addiction is an ever-present, underlying societal issue, gaining attention as we hear more stories of opioid addiction, rising alcohol and drug rates among increasingly younger populations, and easy access to substances. In May, Mountainside, the nationally known addiction treatment facility based in Canaan, CT, opened its first off-site outpatient services center in Wilton, CT.

Mountainside’s Wilton offices are located in an unassuming office building, at 372 Danbury Rd., across from the town tennis courts. With a contemporary, clean decor, the 5,000-sq. ft. location has meeting rooms for groups, as well as smaller offices for one-on-one therapy and counseling, physical exam rooms, plus spaces for massage and acupuncture and other wellness services.

That decor is by design meant to be part of the treatment, as Mountainside’s approach is holistic, with the belief that even the design of a room can start the healing process, in the way that it makes a client comfortable during treatment. Keeping patients committed to treatment is so important, consider statistics and rising incidents of use.

Opiate addiction has overtaken alcohol as the most prevalent type of addiction treated at Mountainside; administrators there say 48-percent of the clients have an opiate addiction, 37-percent are addicted to alcohol, and the remainder varies with other types of addiction. In fact, 20-percent of Americans in general need treatment, they say, but only 2-percent seek treatment out.

There’s no “typical” patient–anyone can become an addict. Mountainside’s residential program in Canaan works with patients age 18 and older, but they receive a lot of calls about teens between age 14-19 who are experimenting.

One reason is that with easy access to prescription drugs and the more ready availability of heroin, exposure to substances is happening a lot sooner than it used to, and the problem develops faster. Alcohol addiction reflects more of a gradual increase in usage.

“With alcohol, it would take some time to really hit bottom–you fail out of school, or lost a job. With heroin, people are hitting rock bottom in no time at all. That’s why you are seeing younger people accessing treatment. I think 18 to 28 makes up about 65-percent of our population. And a lot of times its not their first treatment,” says Matthew Eakin, Mountainside’s executive vice president.

Eakin, who oversees the Wilton location, says compassion is what drives the approach, and that whether a client is taking part in residential treatment in Canaan or working with outpatient services in Wilton, compassionate care and eliminating stigma are the focus.

“They’re not a bad person trying to get good–they’re a sick person trying to get well. From how we treat family, from their first phone call, that’s our motto, our culture. From maintenance to the CEO, say hello to somebody, if someone needs directions, we’re gonna walk them there,” Eakin says.

Clinically, he says, there is not a one-size-fits-all program, and treatment programs are individualized depending on what they respond to and what their needs are. From the most serious cases, requiring detoxification, to support for stress triggers, Mountainside can help patients through every step.

“There are different levels of care. Detox is the most important medical stabilization piece; the residential piece, keeping someone out of the environment where they’ve been struggling and put them in a bubble to really focus only on their health and mental health. After treatments someone can’t stay there forever, so we focus on integrating them back into society. Now some people can go just to detox and then go back to their lives, with either outpatient or 12-step support or both, but a lot of people need a more gradual step down. Transition living across the street [from the Canaan residential campus] there’s an extended care home where people can stay 3-6 months, after residential treatment, but still can be kind of in that bubble. We own the café five miles down the street and they work there, learning some of those life skills. Then to what we have here, with intensive outpatient and outpatient,” says Eakin.

There’s clinical research, he adds, that backs what Mountainside does.

“Studies show people who stay within the same continuum of care, the same philosophy—passing the electronic health record right on, knowing someone prior to even meeting with them the first time—has better results. It’s not that you can’t be successful any other way, there are just greater odds,” Eakin explains.

All along that continuum of care Mountainside uses evidence-based traditional treatments in conjunction with holistic therapy like yoga, meditation and acupuncture. When it’s necessary, they also can turn to medication assisted treatment programs, with suboxone, a partial opioid agonist or vivitrol an injection that’s a non-narcotic blocker, and lasts for 30 days to help with cravings.

Another key part of Mountainside’s intensive outpatient treatment is the psychiatric component, according to Dr. Shanthi Mogali, Mountainside’s director of psychiatry.

“I do a full psychiatric evaluation, which includes depression and bipolar anxiety. We see all these things very regularly in addiction treatments, so a lot of patients may not be well versed in understanding why they have addiction problems. Some people self-medicate an underlying diagnosis, so I think its important for them to get this education instead of just coming in and out of a doctor’s office getting prescribed medication,” she says.

Working with each individual to customize a plan for that individual helps patients with problems that are unique to them, Mogali adds.

“It comes back to educating people as to what addiction is about, why it happens, and why it is happening to them. There’s a lot of alcohol we see, there’s marijuana, cocaine, there’s obviously prescription opiates as well as heroin we’re dealing with, there’s an array of treatments out there and trying to figure out where the patient is – some people don’t want to be on treatment that requires a pill or they might need a shot instead of a pill. It’s a fine tuned system that we have Mountainside Canaan working with Mountainside Wilton trying to make sure the needs of each patient are met.”

Varied Kinds of Support

Here in Wilton, Mountainside’s focus is all on outpatient treatment. But again, it’s different for everyone. Intensive outpatient therapy is can be as much as meeting three times a week for 3-hour sessions with a therapist, in addition to other forms of therapy, including traditional–like group support–or holistic.

Eakin says for patients to be able to access these other services like massage, yoga, acupuncture and even music are just as important to the treatment plan as traditional therapy. “It’s about finding ways to deal with stress and anxiety, because a lot of times it used to be take a pill. Or having a couple of drinks. And a lot of people can do it safely–80 percent of Americans drink normally–but some don’t and we have to fill that coping skill with healthy ones. It’s helping people find new ways to deal with stress, anxiety, even pain.”

Patients can “step down” to outpatient, with one 1-hour group and one 1-hour individual session per week. Groups can be targeted to specific common needs that unite the members, around things like certain triggers, trauma, or relapse prevention.

Supplemental to the treatment plans are various other elements that Mountainside offers to clients–from a 3-day family program for family members, to resume writing and other services to help people get back into the world.

They often host sober events, targeting their clients in their young 20s. “Some things we were talking about is maybe getting some ice time when the season starts and have a sober skate,” says Eakin. “We just had a sober cruise in Manhattan, on a Saturday evening, on the Hudson. Hundreds of people came, ate dinner, had a great time, with live music and dancing.”

Other events include going on day trips, or playing paintball. “Anything, any kind of fun, because getting sober for young people, there’s got to be an element of fun to it,” says Eakin. “Or who wants to do it. There’s got to be some excitement.” Part of that is helping patients learn that they can be in a social situation and have fun without having to fall back on something else like alcohol or another substance.

One of the things Eakin wants the Wilton community to know is that, while the Mountainside location in town is an outpatient treatment facility, they have knowledgable staff on hand to just talk. “You have someone you can call. To talk to, to just ask some questions. Not everybody gets a handbook for this. When it happens it’s some kind of dramatic situation in the household, loss of a job, threatening to separate if they’re married, whatever,” says Eakin, adding, “We want to let the community to know we’re here.”

Part of that is outreach to Wilton.

“We’re going to start community events here, for professionals, for family members, just educational. What to look for if my child is experimenting. What are the signs? What do I do? How do I teach them to deal with peer pressure, because they are exposed to this stuff, even in Wilton,” he says. “We want to help more people, be known in this community and be positive and helpful and a place someone can turn to if they are going through this.”

They also try to help address one concern in particular that often prevents someone in need from reaching out for help–finances. At Mountainside, they work to try and make sure anyone who needs treatment, gets it.

“We want to match somebody up with what their needs are and their ability to pay for those needs–that’s reality. Depending on their insurance or their finances. We’ll help anybody who calls. People aren’t accessing it, or want to access it but can’t. Because it costs money, or if it’s free or based on Medicaid then there’s a wait list. That’s frustrating–when somebody wants help and they can’t get it. Our model and who we help, is usually through private insurance or self-pay. We’ve already done about $25,000 in scholarships in this area already, helping people. We can drop our prices if somebody can’t afford it.”

Why Did Mountainside Choose Wilton for its Outpatient Location?

Eakin says choosing Wilton made sense.

“We probably serve about 1,000 different people up in Canaan, and 20-percent of them live within 20 miles of where we’re sitting right now. Fairfield County clients made up a large number of our residential clients. So we wanted it to be where most people come from. There are 55,000 cars that pass here every day; so it’s not only necessarily where someone lives, but for outpatient it’s got to be convenient from work to home, it’s got to be a convenient spot for outpatient. It’s got to blend in to your life.  That’s important too. People won’t get help if its inconvenient–some people can’t leave work early to get all the way over there or whatever it is. That was one of the big reasons we chose Wilton. It’s near the Merritt. Danbury folks can access it. All the way down to Norwalk and Fairfield, people will travel 25 miles for good care.”

One of the things Mountainside does hope to do in this part of Fairfield County is helping to erase the stigma of addiction.

“There’s a movement in treatment so the old way, with Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s anonymous, no one says they’re in Alcoholics Anonymous. It should be somebody’s choice whether they reveal that or not, for anything you’re going through, but if more people would maybe be more open and out with their success stories, especially people who have influence on others, I think that would make a difference,” Eakin says.

Pictured above in main image:  Matthew Eakin, executive vice president; Kimberly Cognato, outpatient program manager, Andrew Wagenseller, outpatient clinician. Mountainside Wilton can be reached at 800.762.5433 and via their website.