Hope for those strung out on opiates, alcohol

May 13, 2019

Emily Vona is an optimist. She knows opioid-addicted people can kick the habit because she’s seen it happen many times over.

Vona, a nurse practitioner in Lake Havasu City, specializes in addiction medicine. She helps people overcome drug and alcohol dependency through a combination of prescription medications, behavioral therapy and a fair amount of personal work.

“It’s not a magic pill,” she said of the medications she prescribes. “The medicine covers the physical dependence, but you still have to do the work.”

That work includes cleaning out every corner of one’s life, including discarding some personal relationships, dysfunctional support systems, addiction behaviors and known stress triggers. These are the tough decisions one must make in order to trade the lifestyle of an addict for a healthy, productive life.

Vona explained why the FDA-approved medications are effective and significantly reduce relapse rates, noting that she does not prescribe methadone.

“The medicines give the body what it needs without making you high. The prescriptions block the receptors that make an addict crave opiates,” she said. Opiates include heroin and fentanyl. “An addict is very sick and is tired of being sick. They have fractured relationships, they barely get by at work and their lives are crumbling around them. But if a person tries to go off opiates on their own, they’re even worse off. They have severe nausea and horrific pain as they go through withdrawal. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

A former trauma and ICU nurse, Vona said she knows addiction because of problems in her own immediate family.

“I’ve seen what addiction does to people and how powerful it is. Still, the whole philosophy of my practice here is judgement-free. Addiction is a chronic illness,” she said.

Still, she is a realist about addiction to alcohol and opiates.

“Up to 75% of people who are addicted got that way through recreational use. Most people make the choice to start their addiction. But by the time they realize it was a bad decision, they’re too far in their addiction to stop it,” Vona said.

Getting clean can be costly, she warned.

“The drugs are expensive without insurance,” Vona said. “But when you consider that some of my patients spend $400 a day on drugs to get high, it’s not that expensive. Also, what medications are needed and how long you need to take them depends on where you’re at in your addiction. The medicines break the reward cycle and you get a surge of ‘happy hormones.’”

Vona and her family are new to Havasu after moving here from the Midwest. A nurse practitioner for five years, she has been practicing addiction medicine for two years.

She says relocating to Havasu was an easy choice.

“My husband and I planned a 1,600-mile road trip around Arizona, to look at 16 communities. On Day 3, we looked at Havasu,” Vona said. We came back two days later and decided this was the place for us. We absolutely love it here.”

Havasu was also a good professional fit for her because doctors continue to prescribe opioids and people keep getting addicted.

“Mohave County has one of the worst opioid problems in the nation. I knew I could do some good work here,” she said. “Addiction is so widespread anymore. Everyone needs help.”

Contact Vona at Arizona Recovery Center, 84 N. Acoma Suite 104, or call 928-733-5101.