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Peter Leighton: Physician-Foot Soldier in the War Against Opioid Abuse

When Peter Leighton sits down for the first time with an opioid addict who has asked for help, one of first things he says is: “I’m not a legal drug dealer, ok? I’ll provide the medicine that will take care of your cravings. I’ll meet you half way…but you’ve got to meet me half way, too.”

Leighton is referring to his tough-love, integrated protocol in which he prescribes Suboxone (buprenorphine) in tandem with a strict regimen of addiction counseling. “I will discharge a patient if they don’t go to counseling. I’m known in the community to be a hardness about this but you’ve got to have it,” says Leighton of the dual physiological/psychological approach. Somebody who is addicted to substances, whether its alcohol, drugs – or even sex or gambling – whatever it is, there is always an underlying cause and only the counseling will get to the root causes for their need to take substances or engage in risky behaviors in order to feel good.”

In Maine, where one in every five residents is addicted to opioids or has a loved one who is an addict, Leighton is a primary care physician who has become a foot soldier in the nationwide war against opioid abuse. He argues that Suboxone is one of the most effective weapons.

Leighton explains that Suboxone, or buprnorphine, is significantly less addictive than morphine, oxycodone or methadone. And it has another powerful quality: it is a “sticky drug”. It attaches to opioid receptors in the brain and boots anything else out. “SO if someone happens to take oxycodone or morphine they won’t get high,” says Leighton. Buprenorphine won’t leave the receptor”

Since 2014, Leighton has partnered with addiction counselors on site at his practice in the tiny Maine town of Bridgton, about an hour and fifteen minutes from Portland, to help 90 patients recover from opioid addiction. Only a handful have been dropped or discharged.