Addiction Medicine Specialist Dr. Russell Surasky tells of Pat Martino's Success with Innovative Treatment and a program of recovery. At his worst, 54-year old Pat Martino, was taking more than 15 Oxycodone pills per day or as much as 40 Vicodin. He left his condo only once a month to pay his bills and to get more pills. Martino said the last 4 years of his addiction were “below hell… I really wanted to die,” he said recently. In March of 2016 Martino was arrested for falsifying prescriptions. He said that when the FBI knocked on his door, it was the best thing that ever happened to him. It was the final straw that guided Martino to seek the help he needed to finally overcome a lifetime of addiction and to get his life back.
After his arrest, Martino went to detox for 6 days and spent an additional 15 days in rehab. There he heard about a medication designed to prevent relapse to opioid addiction, and he saw it as giving him an “advantage” in finally being able to get and stay clean.
Board certified addiction medicine specialist, and Martino’s doctor, Russell Surasky, MD, said Martino’s story is all too common. “The life of a person addicted to opioids can become so unbearable that they simply wish to die,” says Dr. Surasky. “The good news is that there are new treatments that can be life changing. “As addiction medicine specialists, our job is to educate people about new treatments and show them that they can overcome opioid addiction and reclaim their lives,” adds Dr. Surasky.
Martino has been clean and opioid-free since March 2016. He continues his recovery with the help of daily 12 step meetings and the once-a-month addiction medication called Vivitrol. “The Vivitrol blocks my obsession to use an opioid and enables me for the first time ever to work on myself and get on with my life, It has restored my brain to before I was using” says Martino. Dr. Russell Surasky adds that there are no cravings with Vivitrol. The medication heals the receptors in the brain and allows the brain to be restored to its pre-drug use stage.”
According to Dr. Surasky, “drugs change the brain in ways that make it difficult to resist the impulse to continue taking the drugs. Opioids act by attaching to receptors in the brain that are stimulated to reduce the perception of pain and produce a feeling of well-being. When the drug wears off it detaches from the receptors and strong cravings compel taking another dose. After repeated use, opioids induce tolerance, meaning higher and higher doses are needed to achieve the same level of response. Over time, opioids cause long-term changes in the brain that persist even when the drugs are stopped - causing cravings and relapses years later.”
Martino, a union plumber by trade, had a nice childhood. “My parents were good people,” he noted. “I got a lot of love as a kid.” He was born in Harlem and moved to Whitestone when he was 7. Martino started smoking pot when he was 14. By 19 he was using harder drugs like cocaine and amphetamines and when he was 20 he went to his first rehab. According to Martino, “the rehab was ok and it helped me for a while, but looking back I know I wasn’t fully committed.”
Things got bad again for Martino in his early 30s and he went to another rehab. “The rehabs worked for me, but each time I fell back into my bad ways because the pull from opioid addiction was too strong and I failed to stick with a 12 step program,” says Martino. “Without that ongoing support, I now know that addicts like me will relapse and continue to use. That’s what happened with me time and time again.”
The pattern continued for Martino into his 40s, and 7 years ago, at age 47, he suffered a painful, disabling workplace injury that left him with crushed discs in his neck. He quickly began abusing the opiates prescribed to him for pain and they soon took over his life. In January 2016, he overdosed for the 2nd time - alone in his apartment - and feels he would have died had his son not found him in time. “I couldn’t stop and I couldn’t keep going the way I was going or I was going to die,” Martino said.
Today, Martino said he is happier than he has been in his whole life. He takes life one day at a time now, not thinking too far ahead. In addition to attending 12 step meetings each day, he is in outpatient treatment at Bridge Back to Life in Bethpage 3 or 4 times a week, and he sees Dr. Surasky every month for Vivitrol treatment. Without having to fight the constant obsession and compulsion to use opioids, he is able to share his experience to help others. He knows that keeping with this plan is critical to his ongoing recovery. Martino’s advice to fellow addicts is to get on Vivitrol, and get into a treatment program. He says this is the only way it can work.
“Vivitrol allows me to recover, without constantly thinking about getting high,” he said.
He also receives tremendous support from the Nassau County Shot at Life support group. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano developed the program to educate the public about the medication Vivitrol and to connect people who are suffering with specialized programs and centers that can deliver this treatment immediately. Eden Laikin, who chairs the County’s Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, heads the Vivitrol support group meeting every Tuesday night at St. Bernard’s Church in Levittown at 7 p.m. The Shot at Life program, which the County launched in February 2015, requires counseling as part of the 12-18 month Vivitrol treatment.
Russell Surasky, FAAN, ABAM, with Surasky Neurological Center for Addiction, is board certified in both neurology and addiction medicine. His primary focus in practice is addiction medicine. Utilizing unique medication protocols individualized to each patient, he provides specialized treatment for opiate, benzodiazepine, and alcohol addiction.