Addiction is not a moral failure but a disease; co-occurring health disorders often present
With a crisis as prevalent as opioids in America, nobody is protected. “Deaths in Westchester County have increased 200% in recent years,” noted Kathleen O’Connor of Shatterproof at WCA's HealthTech '17 conference on October 12. In fact, one out of every three families will be touched by this epidemic in some way. According to County Executive Rob Astorino, “this is the stark reality, it is a very lethal enemy that grows deadlier by the day.”
The opioid epidemic was a subject of a Health Tech ’17 panel, which was comprised a representatives from Pfizer, NewYork-Presbytrian, WMCHealth, and the harris project. The discussion was eye opening, inspiring, and in many ways, quite scary...
...Said Astorino: "There is a stark reality here. A very lethal enemy that grows deadlier by the day. It doesn’t matter where you are: cities, rural areas, suburbs...we are all dealing with a crisis.” He said the county is working on several initiatives, including one with the DA’s office. The idea is to add on charges when a dealer has caused a death. “We are building up response teams, comprised of law enforcement and mental health individuals, and reaching out to clergy and business community to get involved. Project WORTHY (Westchester Opioid Response Teams Helping You) is what it’s called.”
Mark O’Neill’s job at Pfizer is to come up with ways to sell fewer opioids, he said. “We have to do something to dramatically remove the number of pills from the marketplace. The United States is 5% of the world’s population but consumes 80% of the world’s opiate supply.” The largest source of opioids, the #1 source, he said, is family or friends (70%). “We need to look at the issue differently. We cannot tweak our way out of this problem. We need to take a holistic approach -- big, blunt reactive steps and proactive steps and shut that the opiates down. We want to share those platforms with the healthcare community to shut this down.”
Dr. Jonathan Avery, NewYork-Presbyterian, believes that “Physicians should be excited to treat patients who suffer from substance abuse. We should want to take care of these folks. The problem is that as a society, we still see addiction as a moral failing rather than a disease.” He also cautioned that physicians are over prescribing opioids, yet not screening their patients for addiction. “There's been a real dereliction in diagnosing this. We are not owning the problem. We need to own our patients; screen patients and family members and then offer them treatment. If you’re not actively adjusting, then you are not doing patients a service. Now with people transitioning to fentanyl will get worse. So, we must Increase physician awareness and figure out how to get a license to get people into treatment and prescribe it.”
Dr. Stephen Ferrando, WMCHealth added: “You never see individuals with a pure addiction, there’s almost always a health disorder such as ADHD or anxiety,”
Bringing her personal story to the conference, Stephanie Marquesano, shared how she started the harris project, named for her son, at his funeral. The system failed her family several times over, with professionals continually claiming they were experts in co-occurring disorders (COD), when they were not. “You have to treat all the issues,” Marquesano explained. “ When a 19 year old dies like that, there are usually co-occurring disorders.”
The harris project works directly with teens in high schools throughout New York to help change the conversation and stigma surrounding mental health.