October 28, 2020


While some hospitals, detox centers and drug-treatment programs may shy away from high-risk, drug-addicted patients with multiple ailments, Laguna Treatment Hospital welcomes them and treats them in a highly-effective, innovative fashion.

By Lee Barnathan, California Business Journal

Addiction to any drug or alcohol is dreadful. But imagine also suffering from a respiratory disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Or having diabetes. Or cirrhosis. And – to top it off – the individual is pregnant.

Many hospitals, detox centers and drug-treatment programs would shy away from such a high-risk patient.

Robert Hails and Dr. Paul Little welcome them.

Hails is CEO and Dr. Little is acting medical director at the 93-bed Laguna Treatment Hospital in Aliso Viejo. Its goal is to not only offer the best and most well-rounded treatment, it is to ensure that no one goes without the help they need to get clean and sober — and stay that way.

“We can treat a broader range of addictions in a more complex patient,” Hails says. “We’re able to step up and deal with a lot of medical conditions others would stay away from.”

Dr. Little explains: “There are places called detox houses, but if a patient has cirrhosis, diabetes, COPD, emphysema, it would be dangerous for the people to go to the detox houses. That’s where we come in.”

Hails and Dr. Little are of one opinion: To help an individual in treatment, an individual approach is needed, especially if that individual has additional issues — called co-occurring disorders — such as depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts or medical conditions including cancer.

Even without co-occurring disorders, the facts about addiction and drug addiction are sobering. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than seven million Americans struggled with a drug-use disorder in 2014 and about 14.5 million adults ages 26 and up struggled with a substance-use disorder. Of these, about 900,000 struggled with cocaine.

Laguna Treatment Hospital’s goal is to offer the best and most well-rounded treatment available.

Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said that in 2014, almost eight million American adults battled both a mental-health disorder and a substance use disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that heroin abuse and addiction have risen in all population and demographic groups over the past few years.

Furthermore, the American Society of Addiction Medicine reported that 2014 saw more than two million Americans abuse prescription opioid medication.

“It is alarming,” Hails says, adding that he’s seeing a great many patients now overdosing on fentanyl, a synthetic opioid often mixed with heroin. Hails says it’s 50 times stronger than heroin. “We’re seeing year-over-year deaths from fentanyl in excess of 50 percent a year. It’s pretty shocking.”

Fortunately, Laguna specializes in medical detox, offering 24-7 care. Nursing staff is available around-the-clock with continuous access to onsite or on-call practitioners ready to help a patient through the devastating physiological effects of withdrawal that Dr. Little says come within the first 24 hours.

“What we do is utilize special medications to alleviate the severe withdrawal symptoms of the patient in a safe and compassionate environment,” Dr. Little says.

Many hospitals, detox centers and drug-treatment programs shy away from high-risk patients. Not Laguna Treatment Hospital.

Many hospitals, detox centers and drug-treatment programs shy away from high-risk patients. Not Laguna Treatment Hospital.

Dr. Little also identified newer and troublesome drugs like kratom, a Southeast Asian plant that is currently still available in gas stations and online (the FDA announced in February the drug has no medicinal value and its use could cause dependence), salvia (a plant that contains opioid-like compounds that can induce hallucinations), and synthetic bath salts (not to be confused with Epsom salts).

Laguna also engages in pharmacogenetics — which Dr. Little calls “an innovative technology.” It’s the genetic lab study of how individuals react to various drugs. Maybe a person trying to get off heroin would benefit from methadone, but maybe he or she would suffer adverse reactions and need a different alternative. A swab of the cheek provides enough DNA for the lab to start analyzing how the body processes a drug.

Another technology Laguna uses is EarlySense, a wireless monitoring of a person’s vital signs that goes directly to the nurses’ station. An alarm sounds if the condition deteriorates enough.

Once the patient is off the drug — Hails says usually within one or two weeks — the treatment to keep him or her off the narcotic begins. Laguna offers a wide variety of options, including 12-Step programs, individual and group therapy, family therapy, meditation and yoga. A patient also gets paired with a case manager and individual therapist, many of whom have achieved long-term recovery from their own addictions, and can act as a role model for that person, helping him or her learn to make more appropriate choices.

Best of all, the program is affordable to almost everybody, whether through insurance, out-of-pocket or a combination. Laguna Treatment Hospital is also in-network with Anthem Blue Cross.

“If we can’t treat someone, we take responsibility to find someone to help,” Hails says.

In a perfect world, Hails and Dr. Little know they would not be needed. But this is reality, and this is their calling.

“We’ve set the bar at ‘superior,’ as opposed to ‘high,’” Hails says. “We want to be best in show.”

Copyright © 2018 California Business Journal. All Rights Reserved.

Robert Hails is the CEO of Laguna Treatment Hospital, Orange County’s first chemical dependency recovery hospital. Hails has been a lifelong champion for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues and has dedicated over 25 years to the behavioral healthcare industry.

Dr. Paul Little, M.D., is the acting medical director of Laguna Treatment Hospital whose experience in addiction medicine spans more than two decades. Little was among the first in West Virginia to start a medication-assisted therapy program for struggling loggers and miners and was granted a community recognition award from the state’s governor in 2009.



Written by

Rick Weinberg is Editor-in-Chief at California Business Journal. He is a well-known journalist, writer, reporter and on-air talent who has worked for the New York Times, FOX and ESPN. He launched California Business Journal to focus on California businesses and business professionals as well as California business news and information. Contact: Rick@CalBizJournal.com / 949-648-3815