Doctors Realize Heroin Addicts Are Already Their Patients

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The small town of Bridgton, Maine, like so many towns and cities of various size, has been hit hard by the opiate epidemic. Instead of waiting for someone else to provide much needed substance abuse treatment, doctors in this town decided to begin treating it themselves.

A mental health professional was among the first to notice the problem, and knew that her clients who were using heroin intravenously needed medical treatment as well as individual and group therapy. Shortly after her recognition of this growing problem in her community, Catherine Bell, was having lunch with a physician, Dr. Craig Smith, who runs a family practice in Bridgton. They were discussing the problem, and Bell said that she would provide the counseling if Smith would provide the medical treatment.

Dr. Smith, like many physicians, was hesitant at first about treating drug addicts. Often doctors don’t want those people in their clinics. What Dr. Smith and eventually other physicians in the town realized is that these individuals are already their patients. Dr. Smith described a 34 year old, mother of two, who died of an overdose. He had seen her a few times for physicals, and had no idea she had a drug problem. Partnering with Bell and becoming certified to prescribe Suboxone, a medication that blocks the effects of opioids, removed enough stigma around the disease and allowed these physicians to quickly realize these people were already their existing patients. Suboxone, as a treatment protocol to help get people off of opiates, is becoming increasingly popular, however, some say that, because the drug also contains an opioid, it can be habit forming.

I found this story inspiring. It’s easy to complain about the lack of services available and who is to blame. Instead of engaging in this way of thinking, Bell, Smith and others did what was within their power to help their community.

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