Dr. Saul Perea, Terros Health’s

Dr. Saul Perea, Terros Health’s chief medical officer, created the medication-assisted treatment program.

More people in the United States died of drug overdoses in 2020 than in any one-year period. 

Overdose deaths hit a record 93,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a nearly 30 percent increase over 2019.

Arizona wasn’t spared from the problem: the CDC predicted the number of overdose deaths in the state ending March 2021 to be 2,735, compared with 2,110 in March 2020 — another spike of nearly 30 percent.

Terros Health is working to reverse this trend.

Through a comprehensive medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program, Terros Health helps patients on the road to recovery with an emphasis on a special population: expectant mothers.

“I can honestly say this saved my life because I overdosed twice on heroin…,” said Denisse Pesqueira, new mother and Terros Health patient. “God gave me two chances back and I’m grateful that I took this medication and met Dr. (Saul) Perea.”

About nine years ago, Pesqueira, 36, broke her leg in an automobile accident. It was then that she began taking painkillers, which eventually led to an addiction to heroin. 

Last December, Pesqueira learned that she was pregnant and worried how her substance use disorder would affect her unborn baby.

Pesqueira was introduced to Terros Health and after receiving specialized MAT throughout her pregnancy, she recently gave birth to a healthy baby girl. The baby showed no signs of withdrawal.

“I have a daughter and I got my other daughter back,” the Phoenix resident said. “I’ve been clean and successful. I work and have no cravings. I take my meds there, they have therapy there and I can honestly say this is the best thing. The program is the best thing if you really want help getting off of drugs.”

Dr. Saul Perea, Terros Health’s chief medical officer, created the MAT program. He works hand-in-hand with patients, their families and, in the case of pregnant women who are addicted to substances, OB-GYN specialists to coordinate integrated and behavioral care.

Terros Health has offered substance use treatments for many years but the MAT program didn’t officially begin until approximately six years ago, Perea said.

This program addresses patients’ overall health by combining FDA-approved medications with behavioral therapy and primary medical care.

“The MAT service started with a vision of providing services to every single opioid use disorder person,” Perea said. “We had great success with the general public and then we noticed that our pregnant women and adolescents were part of the population that weren’t getting the treatment that they needed.”

Statewide, there aren’t many programs that specialize in the treatment of substance abuse in pregnant women, so Terros Health fills that gap, Perea said.

“A lot of pregnant women still suffer from discrimination and stigma, not only from their own families, but from medical providers, and that’s unfortunate,” he said.

“But we’re doing the best we can to educate people and make sure that they understand and that we give the treatment that these women deserve.”

Terros Health’s trained medical experts, counselors and community health workers use two medication-assisted treatment options: Suboxone and Subutex.

Suboxone can reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings without producing the dangerous side effects of opioids. Pregnant women struggling with substance use are given Subutex to help keep themselves and the baby safe while decreasing substance cravings.

“This is actually the only thing that really helps with cravings,” Pesqueira said.

Great communication between patients and providers is especially important during treatment, Perea said.

To achieve this, Terros Health has partnered with NextGen Healthcare, a leading provider of ambulatory-focused technology solutions.

“We provide a lot of the underlying technology that gets used in a lot of medical practices but it’s folks like Dr. Perea… who are doing the hard work,” said Dr. Robert Murry, NextGen chief medical information officer and practicing physician. “We’re just trying to be behind the scenes to let them do their job.”

Terros Health integrates patients’ medical and behavioral health data into a single system using an electronic health records platform called NextGen Enterprise with NextGen Virtual Visits. 

This gives clinicians access to a patient’s health record to improve efficiencies and coordination of care, reduce administrative errors and promote total health and well-being.

For expectant mothers, the NextGen system enables Terros Health to work with OB-GYN specialists to care for patients who are deemed high-risk pregnancies.

“Every pregnant woman becomes high-risk,” Perea said. “So communication and coordination of care is really, really important. Being available through telehealth and having all the clinical information that we need at our fingertips with NextGen just makes our life a lot easier.”

Terros Health offers in-person appointments as well as video visits so patients can meet virtually with a provider from the comfort of their home. MAT providers are also available at the company’s 27th Avenue Health Center in central Phoenix and the Olive Health Center in Glendale.

The company also has mobile crisis capabilities, meeting people anywhere in Maricopa County if they are having a mental health crisis.

The cost of treatment may be covered by Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), Arizona’s Medicaid agency, private insurance or through federal grant funding.

For more information, visit terroshealth.org/MAT.