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Spectrum educates the community through the radio airwaves

December 7, 2016
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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While it did not initiate the idea of hosting a weekly radio show that is now also available as a podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud, Massachusetts-based Spectrum Health Systems is seeing numerous benefits from the effort in the local community's response.

“The way I measure success is with the stories I hear,” says Spectrum vice president of business development Donna Pellegrino, citing as one example the recent account of a young man whose grandmother urged him to listen to the program and who is now in long-term treatment.

“Airing Addiction“ made its debut earlier this year on Worcester radio station WTAG, and has been airing at 10 a.m. on Sundays; it will move to the same time slot on Saturdays in January. The initial program available on iTunes and SoundCloud featured Spectrum chief medical officer Jeffery Baxter, MD, discussing medication-assisted treatment. Spectrum has treatment capacity for all three of the approved medications to treat opioid dependence.

Baxter tells Addiction Professional that the first message he tried to convey to the listening audience was “to increase the awareness that treatment is out there and treatment works. For many people, there is not a real clear entry point into treatment.”

An evolving conversation

Pellegrino admits that she had some uncertainty about the concept when the radio station approached Spectrum back in June about its interest in adding addiction programming to its public interest offerings. The station made a significant commitment to the concept, she says, cutting some cut-rate deals on pricing for promotion of the program. “They felt this was something the community really needed,” Pellegrino says.

Since the first show aired in early July, “It has really just evolved,” Pellegrino says. Topics ranging from trauma to peer-based services to human trafficking have resonated with diverse audiences. Pellegrino says that as a nonprofit, Spectrum does not have to focus on the ratings book to justify its involvement with the program.

Some of the shows feature Spectrum-affiliated leaders as experts, but other guests are brought in as well. For the program on medication treatment, Baxter talked a great deal about misconceptions concerning methadone treatment, which he believes is the most stigmatized of the opioid treatment options because of the highly visible presence of methadone clinics in communities.

“We're really trying to advance the acceptance of medication as part of addiction treatment,” says Baxter. “There is a culture, a line of thinking, that appears not to support medication. We're trying to make equivalency [with treatments for other diseases] here.”

Pellegrino adds that in presenting the science behind how medication can make the rest of clinical treatment more effective, the segment sought to ease apprehension about medication-assisted treatment services in communities, while giving family members more of a basis for supporting this treatment option for their loved one.