With the sheer number of entries, it should come as no surprise that many scholars submitting essays were already involved in the healthcare profession. For these respondents, looking at the crisis of addiction from a clinical (and sometimes personal) perspective came naturally, with compelling responses from across the country as student healthcare professionals address addiction in their writing.

In our look at the various professions touched by addiction, the next category of essays will look more closely at first responders, veterans, and other crisis response professionals. First, let’s hear more from the articulate essayists with a passion for public health and welfare.

1. M.L. (Oregon State University)

Addiction is one of the leading health problems that we see within the United States, and not much is being done to meet both the health and mental well-being of those who are addicted. I worked as a Paramedic for a handful of years in a busy 911 system in a large city, and we had numerous calls for people with addictions.

Talking to the patients, the number one thing that they could tell me was that they never got the necessary resources from the hospitals about rehabilitation services. They were simply handed a pamphlet on addiction, and told to do the research themselves.

Hospitals: At the Epicenter of Confronting Addiction

I believe it comes down to the hospitals helping out these patients. The hospitals need to be able to give addicted patients the necessary tools to get themselves on the road to recovery. This isn’t giving them a pamphlet, but having a dedicated alcohol and drug counselor on staff 24/7.

This counselor would give them the necessary tools to get onto that road to recovery. This would be them sitting down with the patient and letting them know the detox and rehab centers within the area. This would be them making sure there was a room available for them at these centers, and finding a way to get them transported to these clinics.

The amount of patients that I had talked to struggling with their addiction, simply stated that there was absolutely no help when they went into the hospital to try and get help. They were turned away from the hospital, because “they did not have the services available there”. I believe that making it mandatory for hospitals to staff Drug and Alcohol Counselors would go a very long way in benefitting the community. It would help cut down on the amount of alcohol and drug related incidents they see a year and it would also put forth a good relationship with the community.

Addiction Rehabilitation as a Patient Right

I believe whole heartedly that addiction can be overcome, but people need the right resources to be able to do so. I feel it would also be beneficial for hospitals to open up rehabilitation centers within their walls. Not all rehabilitation clinics offer care that is covered by insurance, but hospitals have a wider array of instance carries that they deal with.

I feel like a majority of people are scared away from rehabilitation services due to the cost that they would have to endure. Rehabilitation should be a healthcare right, just as it is a right to get prompt care for other health-related issues.

 

2. C.G. (University of San Diego) Clinical Mental Health Counseling Candidate

I believe one of the most important things that can be done to reduce the number of individuals struggling with addiction is increasing education and awareness of the prevalence and process of addiction to reduce stigma around addiction.

While incredible treatment centers exist to treat and support individuals in recovery, accessing services may seem difficult for many while stigma around receiving services for addiction exists.

Preconceived Notions that Inflame Addiction

Misinformation and racism fuel stigma around addiction, who suffers from addiction, and the dangerous view that addiction is the sole fault of the individual suffering.

Little attention is paid to the science of addiction’s effects on the brain, the perpetuation of addiction and the ramifications of addiction among various racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups due to policies and procedures set by the United States government, the recovery process, and the barriers and obstacles preventing individuals with addiction from receiving the care they need to recover.

As I have seen in my own family, stigma was perpetuated in blaming the individual suffering, using stigmatizing labels such as “addict,” and apathetic views of letting the individual “get themselves out of their own mess.”

Broader education for the entire US population is necessary to reduce stigma in order for individuals to receive the care they need. For those struggling with addiction, education is necessary to reduce shame and increase ability to have open conversations about addiction in order to receive the appropriate care. For families, education is necessary to welcome these conversations without blaming the individual or themselves.

Healthcare Professionals Address Addiction: A Dialogue

Addiction is a public health conversation, not an individualized, shame-inducing problem belonging solely to the individual and the families around them. Addiction is a complex problem with various sources and ramifications that span across all areas of one’s life.

There is incredible opportunity available to improve the ability to provide holistic services in order to reduce the amount of people struggling with addiction , including addressing the needs of houselessness, legal involvement, financial aid, lack and loss of support systems, and employment services for those recovering from addiction.

As I have seen firsthand working with individuals at a mental health outpatient treatment center, addiction can lead to lack and loss of support systems, destroying social capital and leading to joblessness and houselessness among those struggling with addiction.

Enhancing Opportunities to Develop Recovery Capital

Legal involvement, often followed by financial strains due to fees associated with fines and with court, can lead individuals in the process of recovery hopeless at the ability to recover from legal fees. Legal involvement is closely related to ability to receive employment and housing, closely tied to the stigma surrounding addiction.

Wrap-around services are vital to empower individuals in navigating systems to reduce barriers in place that led to or sustained their addiction, including all of the aforementioned.

While many treatment facilities do offer incredible holistic support, this must become nationwide policy in order to reduce barriers to recovery and reduce the rates of relapse due to difficulty getting back on one’s feet.

Oregon-State-University

 

3. K.G. (Oregon State University)

I believe that we need more accessibility to recovery resources for those who are currently struggling with addiction. I live in a very rural area and our community is struggling with sweeps of fentanyl, heroin and Xanax currently.

This deadly combination has been the cause of overdoses all over the country and there are such limited resources in rural areas for people seeking treatment.

Proudly Providing Medication Assisted Treatment Options

Right now I work at a primary care office where we are running a MAT (medication assisted treatment) program to help those struggling with addiction. I administer Sublocade injections, we give Vivitrol injections and prescribe suboxone or Subutex when needed. I have been a medical assistant participating in this program for 4 years now and I have never been so proud to be a part of something that is making a positive difference in my community.

Working with a physician’s assistant who does this work has inspired me to further my education and become a physician’s assistant myself. I have developed a passion for working with this population and I have seen how much those with addictions struggle to find somewhere that is able to understand what they are going through and help them without passing judgement.

Every week I end up working with treatment centers to help patients get into detox or in patient treatment. So many detox centers are first come first serve with very limited availability due to high demand. Often these facilities tell patients to show up when the clinic opens in the morning and hope for an opening.

Providing Addiction Assistance Without Judgement

Personally my opinion is that all healthcare providers should be educated regarding addiction treatment in some form and should be able to help patients without passing judgement no matter where they are seeking help. Doctors in emergency departments, family practices, in patient hospitals etc should all have the tools needed to help someone get started with treatment when they reach out for help.

So often when patients reach out for help, if they feel judged or criticized this will deter them from reaching out for help elsewhere. Being able to capture these patients in the moment when they are seeking help would greatly increase their chances for actually getting started with recovery. We need to increase treatment accessibility and a great way of doing this would be having a program that works with ER’s in order to facilitate treatment to those seeking recovery services.

Training More Addiction Specialists for the Future

Utilizing ERs as a hub, so to speak, we could have nurses or PAs who are specifically trained to deal with addiction issues so that they are able to start their detox that day and recovery case managers who are able to connect them with resources to pursue counseling and MAT for long term treatment. This could be done in many different ways but I am truly passionate about the importance of expanding the resources available to help those struggling with addiction.

 

4. M.M. (Ohio State University College of Pharmacy)

Addiction is a very sad disease that I unfortunately have seen take the lives of numerous family members and friends. One of my family friends takes the biggest toll and is what I see happen so often around this country. It all started with a torn shoulder where he was prescribed prescription opioids.

Over-Prescription of Opioids Leading to Profound Addiction

After that, it was all game over and he was never the same guy I once knew. I have watched countless documentaries on the opioid epidemic and taken many classes at OSU, and the most common place these people started was with a prescription written by their doctor. I think that this most definitely needs to be addressed by our government in creating stricter laws.

In Ohio, we have OARRS—Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System that I think is very beneficial in seeing all the controlled prescription that someone has picked up or been prescribed. The only problem is this is only for Ohio and I think the country would greatly benefit from a universal reporting system for patients, doctors and pharmacies so that we can try to prevent doctor shopping and pill mills.

Nationwide Automated Prescription Reporting for Opioids

In addition, I do think that the number of people I see on chronic opioids at my pharmacy needs to be addressed. When this happens, tolerance is inevitable to develop, leading to these patients to require more and more drug, sometimes at lethal levels. We need to look to other medications to be prescribed first and save opioids as our last line efforts.

Not only do stricter prescribing laws need to be put in place, but I believe that the stigma needs to be dissipated and the access to treatment needs to be greater. I have seen many people that don’t ask for help because addiction is looked so down upon in society.

Normalize the Treatment of Addiction as a Disease

We need to normalize it as a chronic disease and provide treatment as if it were just that. Anyone can easily find a doctor for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes and its completely normal. If someone is looking for treatment for addiction, they are often looked at as weak and as if they did something wrong.

In addition, treatment centers are much harder to come by. We need to do better as a society and help these people get the help they need so that lives are not at stake every day. Overdoses are one of the leading causes of death in this country and I think that there are many ways that we can help change that.

 

5. J.C. Purdue University (Doctor of Pharmacy program)

It’s no secret that drug addiction is a major problem in our society. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.7 million American adults (aged 12 and older) battled a substance use disorder in 2017. Additionally, drug abuse/addiction costs this country more than $740 billion each year in lost workplace productivity and healthcare expenses.

So, what can be done to reduce the number of people struggling with drug addiction in America? This is an important question I must ask myself as I work toward becoming a licensed pharmacist. In this essay, I will discuss a few strategies that I believe should be considered to help those suffering from addiction and reduce the number of drug overdoses.

Healthcare Professionals Address Addiction through Policy

One potentially effective, albeit controversial, way to help reduce drug addiction is to decriminalize or loosen the restrictions on various drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine. I believe that by doing this, it will reduce the stigma associated with drug use so that problematic drug users are more encouraged to seek treatment and find the support they need.

Addicts can essentially seek help without fear of getting punished by society and law enforcement. Portugal implemented this policy back in 2001 and became the first country in the world to decriminalize the consumption of all drugs. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of people in Portugal in drug treatment or rehab facilities increased by more than 60% and drug overdose fatalities dropped to five times lower than the E.U. average.

In short, when we treat drug use and addiction as a health issue and not a criminal problem, we can actually help those in need instead of punishing them.

SBIRT Methods for Reducing Addiction in America

Another way to combat drug addiction is to screen patients in primary care settings. In particular, the screening, brief intervention, and referral to treatment (SBIRT) method should be a standard of care for all patients. SBIRT is a screening technique to offer early intervention and treatment to people with substance use disorders and those at risk of developing these disorders.

The first step in this method is screening to quickly assess the severity of substance use and identify the appropriate treatment. The second step is brief intervention that focuses on increasing awareness regarding substance use and motivation towards making a behavioral change. The last step is referral to treatment that provides patients with more extensive treatment if needed.

Learning from Others Struggles with Addiction

Just in my first semester at Purdue, I got to experience the effects of drug addiction from Jake, one of my co-workers and a current PGY-1 student. Jake spoke to my class about drug abuse and revealed that he became addicted to opioids during college. I was stunned to find out that someone like Jake, a recent pharmacy school graduate, could have succumbed to drug addiction.

From his talk, I learned that drug addiction can truly happen to anyone and that it’s crucial to seek help if you are struggling. Finally, I felt very motivated to apply for this scholarship because drug addiction is one of the challenges I will most likely have to face throughout my career while serving patients in my community.

Ohio-State-University

 

6. B.Y. (The Ohio State University)

During my nearly five years of nursing, I have had a first-hand look at the many ways that addiction can affect a person’s life. Throughout my experiences, I personally feel as if people having empathy for those who struggle with addiction is the best way to decrease the amount of people in this country battling addiction.

Eliminating Bias Towards Addiction in Healthcare Providers

Many times, I have seen patients hospitalized with conditions secondary to their addiction, and these patients often express feelings of hopelessness and abandonment. It is very common for healthcare staff and providers to have a negative bias towards patients recovering from addiction and they may not display the empathy that these patients deserve. Addiction should be treated as any other disease and resources and treatment should never be withheld because of a provider’s preconceived ideas.

I spent two years working on a cardiac surgery floor where we treated many patients with endocarditis, bacteremia, or severe heart valve dysfunction from intravenous drug use. I soon realized that these are some of the nicest patients that you can have because they are often treated so poorly from healthcare workers, and they are extremely grateful when they are treated as normal people.

Early in my career, I began requesting to be assigned patients fighting addiction because I enjoyed working with them so much. As I have advanced in my career I now work in the surgical/trauma/transplant ICU at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. I continue to care for many patients that use or have used drugs because they are unfortunately more prone to accidents and end up as traumas. To this day I will always be the first to volunteer as the nurse for these patients because I love working with them.

Peer-Based Education for Healthcare Providers

After the completion of my Adult Gerontological Acute Care Nurse Practitioner education, I hope to use my experiences to diminish the stigma around patients battling addiction and provide the highest quality of care possible. Along with caring for and providing resources for these patients, I hope to educate my peers on the pathophysiology of addiction and why patients may act the way they do. Thank you for your consideration for this scholarship.