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Choosing Change

Program Fights Addiction with Medication – and Compassion

Monday, September 30, 2019

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Tim Freeman

Tim Freeman shattered his clavicle in a snowboarding accident in 2013, requiring six hours of surgery. Prior to and after his surgery, he was prescribed hundreds of Vicodin pills for pain.

It helps you really live your life without worrying you will backslide.

- Tim Freeman,
Choosing Change patient

Freeman became addicted to opioids and eventually lost the lower half of his leg. But while hospitalized he sought treatment for opioid addiction.

Today, Freeman is finding new hope with Choosing Change, a harm reduction program that combines the medication buprenorphine (also known as Suboxone) with individual or group counseling and peer support. Buprenorphine is an opioid that reduces cravings for stronger opioids, prevents physical withdrawal and drastically reduces risk of overdose.

"It helps you really live your life without worrying you will backslide," says Freeman, who has been with Choosing Change for nearly a year and is active in the program's patient advisory group.

Dr. Ori Tzvelli

Dr. Ori Tzvelli, medical director of public health clinic services at Contra Costa Health Services, says Choosing Change is a life-saving program.

"One of the awesome things about Choosing Change is that it is truly cross-divisional, with nurses from Public Health and physicians from Contra Costa Regional Medical Center," Tzvelli says. "It's amazing what happens when you stop treating addiction as a moral failing and start treating it as a medical condition."

About 700 people have participated in Choosing Change as of September 2019, with 13 weekly group meetings countywide and optional one-on-one support. Referrals come from the county emergency department, detention heath, psychiatric emergency services and the health clinics, among others.

For Freeman, who is still in his 20s, Choosing Change gives him a place to talk and where people understand what he's been through. His next goal is to get a prosthetic so he can snowboard again.

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