December 17, 2017 In The News

Have addiction treatment start with family doctor

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Our current heroin addiction crisis started with the overprescribing of opioids. Can the same practitioners — some of whom have prescribed opioids too liberally — change their practices to instead treat opioid addiction?

In September, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a four-fold increase in opioid overdose deaths in the United States between 1999 (8,050) and 2015 (33,091). The same report shows a similar percentage increase in heroin overdose deaths between 2010 (3,036) and 2015 (12,989). President Donald Trump has called the current crisis a public health emergency, and has tasked his administration to use all currently available resources to respond.  

While waiting for funding for facilities, can local health-care providers start to provide the necessary care for addiction? The first step is to look at what these providers need in the way training so they are better able to treat addiction. It is not enough to treat the overdose.

New Jersey U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, D-1st Dist., helped to bridge the knowledge gap between New Jersey and Pennsylvania opioid users by facilitating an agreement for the two neighboring states to share prescription information. This will reduce the ability of individuals to get and fill multiple pain-management prescriptions. This should help to limit overdoses by reducing the amount of medication that someone can have at one time.

In an 2016 article for the periodical Drug and Alcohol Dependence, authors Corey S. Davis and Derek Carr state that physicians recognize their lack of education for pain management, opioid prescribing and substance abuse treatment. Since 2012, New Jersey has been one of 47 states requiring physicians to receive continuing education in these subjects.  

Local primary care physicians must put their training to use. They should treat people with opioid and heroin addiction as they would those with any chronic illness, such as diabetes. A care plan should be developed for each patient and a treatment regimen agreed upon.  

An addict is more likely to go to the family doctor than a rehabilitation center. His or her family members are more likely to reach out to a primary care physician for help. Addicts and their families may trust, respect and have faith in a family doctor more than a rehabilitation staff member, since even the word “rehabilitation” comes with its own stigma.

Also, there is a lack of rehabilitation centers in southern New Jersey, so it is easier to access a family doctor’s office. The pressure is on our health care providers to help the addict more than ever before. We will never know if we can be successful until we try to make a difference.  

I hope and pray for enough funding so that more rehabilitation capacity can come to southern New Jersey soon. But, for now, let’s start with our local health care providers. Let’s work to decrease the number of our loved ones who are dying from opioid overdoses each day.

Lisa McCormick Jones is a registered nurse currently pursuing her health sciences master’s degree at George Washington University. She writes from Williamstown.