Metro Weekly

Treating the Whole Patient

Whitman-Walker Health offers numerous addiction-related programs and services for individuals suffering from substance abuse

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“If I had to pick a drug that would be perfect with matching some of gay male culture, methamphetamine would be the choice,” says Josh Riley, the senior manager of Behavioral Health at Whitman-Walker Health. “Methamphetamine use is a very powerful stimulant, compared to others. It lasts for a very long time. It makes people feel invincible and erotic, energized. And so it pairs well with sexual behavior. And in that sense, I think it’s particularly harmful to our community, and has been for years.”

Riley’s explanation highlights a well-documented link between the use of stimulants and higher rates of HIV infection. Many cases abound, most notably former child actor Danny Pintauro, who is featured in this issue and discusses recreational use of methamphetamines. According to Riley, stimulant use — such as cocaine or ecstasy — has been common among the LGBT community, but methamphetamine has been particularly prominent. He estimates that among all people who eventually seek treatment for addiction services at Whitman-Walker, about half are methamphetamine users.

To treat those dealing with substance abuse, Whitman-Walker has two separate facilities — its 1525 building in Logan Circle and the Max Robinson Center in Anacostia — where people can seek assistance. Among the various services that Whitman-Walker offers are intensive and co-occurring outpatient programs, substance abuse management and harm reduction services, individual psychotherapy and groups tailored to HIV-positive individuals, gay-identified men and transgender individuals.

“In Northwest, we see a lot of methamphetamine use, alcohol use, and a lot of stimulant use,” Riley says. “In Southeast, our services focus on a lot of opiate users, heroin and pills, where we run a harm reduction-focused opiate replacement program. Some of our programs are abstinence-focused, and some of our programs are for people who are interested in looking at their relationship to substances, but may not be sure they want to quit completely, and we do not require them to.”

Riley notes that an equally important part of treating addictions involves dealing not only with the substance dependence but the underlying mental, emotional or sexual health issues that may be fueling or related to an addiction. He also points out that each client must be treated as an individual, with a plan tailored to their own needs, to help them best cope with their substance abuse in a non-judgmental manner.

“Part of trying to help people come in the door is to help them recognize that we’re not there to force them to stop, or scream at them about their denial, but that ultimately, it’s their choices and their goals,” Riley says. “Our goal as therapists and as experts is to help shift them to a place where they have a relationship with drugs or alcohol that works for them. We try to be as culturally competent and as warm as we can to welcome people in to look at their relationship to substances.”

Whitman-Walker’s Addictions Treatment programs are offered at its 1525 building, located at 1525 14th St. NW, and at the Max Robinson Center, 2301 Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. SE. For more information about addiction services, contact the Behavioral Health Treatment Coordinator at 202-797-3539 or visit whitman-walker.org.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com