Dr. Tom Tocher is chief clinical director at Community Health Center of Snohomish County. (Community Health Center)

Dr. Tom Tocher is chief clinical director at Community Health Center of Snohomish County. (Community Health Center)

Primary care doctors train to take on opioid addiction

About 40 health care providers can now prescribe Suboxone at Community Health Center clinics.

EVERETT — Dr. Tom Tocher wants primary care physicians to play a bigger role in opioid addiction treatment.

Last summer, about 40 health care providers at Community Health Center of Snohomish County completed training to prescribe Suboxone, a medication that alleviates opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

The trainees included every doctor who sees adult patients at CHC’s seven clinics, said Tocher, chief clinical director of the nonprofit.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time,” he said.

People shouldn’t have to go out of their way to get treatment for opioid addiction, he said. Equipping primary care physicians with the ability to prescribe Suboxone gives patients more comfort, convenience and privacy.

“It’s just like a regular doctor’s visit and nobody needs to know,” Tocher said.

Snohomish County is in the middle of a crisis. In the past decade, hundreds of people have died from overdoses caused by opioids, a category that includes heroin and fentanyl as well as common painkillers, according to the Snohomish Health District.

Tocher said he was one of the first doctors in the state to start prescribing Suboxone, back in 2003. Because of the scarcity of providers at the time, he said, he had patients show up to his office from as far as Seattle and Lynden.

He’s been on the Suboxone bandwagon ever since. Throughout the years, he has seen people’s lives perform 180-degree turns as a result of the medication, he said.

Want stories? “How much time do you have?” he asked.

An Army veteran got addicted to opiates after he injured discs in his neck and back. He said his life went into ruins. Then he started Suboxone treatment and things got better. He went from living in his mother’s basement to managing a grocery store.

One woman Tocher saw was swiping buprenorphine, the generic version of Suboxone, from a friend because she was scared to see a doctor for her addiction. Tocher said he got her on a prescription and she has led a more stable life.

He wants everyone to know they can get help.

So far, CHC is prescribing Suboxone to about 190 patients. That should ramp up, Tocher said, especially when doctors transition from their first year, when they can only see 30 patients, to seeing up to 100 patients in their second year. Those caps are set by federal laws.

He said he wanted to give his doctors a gradual start, but that he expects them to eventually take on a full load of patients. That means the nonprofit could see a total of 4,000 patients after the first year.

Still, Tocher said, CHC can only do so much by itself. If everyone suffering from addiction in the county is going to get treatment, more doctors will need to sign up, he said.

The training isn’t hard. It’s eight hours for doctors, and 24 hours for nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

But there’s still stigma in the medical community about treating addiction with medications like Suboxone or methadone, Tocher said. Some doctors tell him that it’s just replacing one drug with another.

He hopes that perspective changes and that more providers see addiction like any other disease. Doctors wouldn’t deny insulin to someone with diabetes, he said.

“We don’t apply these kinds of judgments to other ailments people have,” he said.

Zachariah Bryan: 425-339-3431; zbryan @heraldnet.com. Twitter: @zachariahtb.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Superior Court Judge Eric Lucas is retiring at end of year, after -- years on the bench. The former Mariner High School student was its first ASB president, went to Harvard Law School, and as an undergrad majored in creative writing. Photographed at Snohomish County Courthouse on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020 in Everett, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Judge Eric Lucas, who broke barriers on bench, dies at 67

Lucas was the first Black judge elected to Snohomish County Superior Court.

Work related to improvements at the intersection of Highways 9 and 204 will close a road and reduce lanes in Lake Stevens through Oct. 1. (Washington State Department of Transportation)
Road disruptions starting around Highway 9 in Lake Stevens

Lane reductions and closures are part of the work to improve the intersection at Highways 9 and 204.

Police: Mill Creek man, 63, accidentally shot by son

Detectives believe the dad was mistaken as an intruder. The injuries are not life threatening.

In 2023, the Department of Transportation will widen a two-mile stretch of Highway 531 from 43rd Avenue NE to 67th Avenue NE. (WSDOT)
Smokey Point road improvements won’t be done before industrial center

Amazon, NorthPoint are coming but the state will not begin widening Highway 531 until 2023.

Mary Johnson (Davis) (FBI)
FBI offers $10,000 reward for info on missing Tulalip woman

Mary Johnson, then 39, was supposed to get a ride from Fire Trail Road to a house near Oso on Nov. 25.

Bufeng Gao, owner of Qin Xi'an Noodles, receives a check from the Edmonds Chamber Foundation's Wish Fund outside of her restaurant that was burned in a fire on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 in Edmonds, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After arson burns Edmonds plaza, 14 businesses need help

Plum Tree Plaza — a cultural hub for Asian Americans — burned in a three-alarm fire early Sept. 11.

Rebecca Haskins (Everett Police Department) 20210913
Missing Everett teenager located

Rebecca Haskins had last been seen the morning of Sept. 4. Police reported her found Wednesday.

Sultan police looking for tips after rash of car prowls

On Sunday, the department responded to 20 reports at Sportsman Park and trailheads near Gold Bar.

Construction continues at the site of the former Kmart for 400 apartments. and is slated for completion in 2023. Photo on September 14, 2021. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Coming soon to Everett, 430 apartments at former Kmart site

DevCo, Inc. is building six-story apartments “for the workforce” on Evergreen Way, near Boeing Freeway.

Most Read