Untreated

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Indiana Daily Student on 04/05/2016 by Words Megan Jula | Development James Benedict | Photos Katelyn Rowe and Yulin Yu

Dr. Nishanie Gunawardane — “call me Dr. G” — prescribes drugs to drug addicts.

Gunawardane is a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction. She was hired last August at Bloomington’s branch of Centerstone, a series of community-based healthcare providers treating mental illness and substance abuse.

There, Gunawardane works with recovering addicts who are overcome by opioids like heroin and oxycodone and prescribes them other drugs to help them through their addictions.

“It always puzzles me when people say you are replacing one drug with another,” Gunawardane said. “They are not replacing an addiction. They are taking a medication for an illness.”

It’s called medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. Recovering addicts take drugs such as Suboxone, methadone and Vivitrol as a long-term means to treat their addiction.

Tom, one of Gunawardane’s patients, came to Centerstone begging to be put on Suboxone. Because of his illegal drug use, the Indiana Daily Student will not include Tom’s last name.

“This drug, it helps me focus on being a normal human being,” Tom, 51, said. “It feels weird to get up in the morning now and be able to shave and shower.”

Before, he would pop pain pills or snort heroin just to get out of bed.

About 2 million Americans were addicted to opioids in 2014, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association.

In Indiana, opioid-related deaths have soared — quadrupling in the last decade. According to the State Department of Health, 105 people died in 2004 and 420 died in 2014.