West Virginia – Summer Immersion Trip

by Leslie Burger, BSN RN

This week Cabin Creek Clinic in West Virginia has been hosting meetings and educational conferences in preparation for the rollout of their Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) program starting in July. We had the opportunity to sit in during the meetings with staff and have been learning so much about MAT as well as the gravity of the issue of substance abuse, specifically opioids and opioid-related deaths in the community. West Virginia has the highest opioid-related drug overdose deaths in the country (West Virginia Opioid Summary).

Medically Assisted Treatment uses medication to help treat the physical symptoms of substance abuse and addiction. For opioid addiction, the first-line treatment is buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone. Buprenorphine is a partial-mu opioid agonist, meaning it doesn’t produce euphoria or a “high” which helps to dull or satisfy opioid cravings without creating a high (patients have described it as helping them just feel normal). Buprenorphine also has naloxone (Narcan) in it, which is an opioid antagonist (this is a medication used to treat opioid overdoses). One of the counselors of the MAT program in Charleston, WV said that Suboxone won’t produce a high regardless of the amount ingested. Interestingly, Suboxone has a very high affinity for opioid receptors, even more so than opiates, so if a person does use opioids while taking Suboxone it will block opiates from binding to opioid receptors in the brain so a person will not feel any of the effects of the opioids.

One of the documentaries we watched with the staff was about the physiology of addiction and the opioid epidemic in West Virginia. We learned that opioid addiction hijacks the dopamine receptors (pleasure centers of the brain) and causes physical changes in the brain. We also had staff from the MAT program in Charleston come out to speak about their experiences with their MAT program and answer any questions the staff had. They shared videos of powerful patient stories currently in treatment. It was inspiring to see how people were able to get their lives back from opioid addiction and truly thrive.

At Cabin Creek, the MAT program will include checking in to the clinic, taking a urine drug test to test for buprenorphine along with any other drugs, attending group counseling sessions, and individual counseling sessions. Group counseling sessions will include coping skills, stress management, and more. The MAT program at Cabin Creek center will be led by Dr. Sue Westfall and her medical assistant Denise.

Here’s a FAQ page about MAT from the Cabin Creek Website: https://cabincreekhealth.com/medication-assisted-treatment/

Here’s the video from PBS that we watched at the clinic about the physiology of addiction. The documentary specifically discusses opioid abuse in West Virginia.


West Virginia Opioid Summary. (2019). Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/opioid-summaries-by-state/west-virginia-opioid-summary

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