It’s the number one health problem in the United States now. Addiction to opiates, which are often prescribed by doctors for pain relief, has become a nationwide issue. It’s a crisis that is hitting very close to home, with Suffolk County having more addicts than Brooklyn and the Bronx combined. Fortunately, two doctors are working to put an end to the rising death toll that’s particularly impacting our young people.
Dr. Shawn Cannon, Director of Medical Education at Southampton Hospital, is partnering with Dr. Joseph Garbely, Medical Director at the Caron Treatment Centers in Wernersville, Pennsylvania to send a group of medical students and residents from Southampton Hospital to Caron Treatment Centers for the upcoming school year. These future doctors and medical professionals will develop an understanding of addiction and learn alternatives for treating pain. The need for education on this topic is acute.
“It’s the number one cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 34, yet when we query American medical students if they’ve had any education, the answer is no,” says Dr. Cannon.
The Caron Treatment Centers are a leading nonprofit provider of residential addiction treatment, and Dr. Cannon has witnessed the great work these centers have provided for his patients. Now he wants to bring this knowledge home to Suffolk County.
Cannon explains that one of the primary forces behind the addiction crisis stems from medical training, where doctors were taught to make sure that no patient is in pain, not acknowledging the fact that pain can be subjective. “There was a time when we were taught that pain is the new vital sign, and so we had blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature and pain. It was mandated in us to treat pain.” These instructions came at a time when many pharmaceutical companies were promoting what’s referred to as the 5th vital sign, which led to an increased use of opiates to treat patients’ pain. “At that time we were actually told that opiates were safe to treat pain.”
Dr. Joseph Garbely, of the Caron Treatment Centers, further explains that in the past, doctors weren’t able to understand the differences between chronic and acute pain. “We’ve constantly been writing scripts for pain relievers instead of figuring out how to deal with chronic pain differently, and that’s something that’s very important for Caron.”
Advanced research at Caron has provided better understanding of different kinds of pain. “We have a chronic pain program at Caron, one of the few in the country. Our chronic pain program is nationally recognized. We don’t use opiates here, and we’ve been very successful in getting people’s pain under control and them off the dangerous medication they’ve been using,” says Dr. Garbely.
Nineteen of Dr. Canon’s medical students and residents will study at the Caron Treatment Centers in the upcoming semester. “One of the things I believe in at the Caron Center is that they have a full bio-psychosocial approach, which addresses that addiction is not simply a medical problem. We have to deal with your mind, body and spirit, and that’s not an easy process.”
At the Caron Centers, the students and residents will learn about other options available for treating pain. “We teach them differently,” explains Dr. Garbely, “and they come out with a sort of epiphany of ‘I think I can do this—I can deal with pain differently,’ which is great. They need to know that, otherwise they feel they’re up against this insurmountable task.”
Dr. Garbely calls Dr. Cannon a “visionary” for understanding the importance of training young doctors in strategies for curbing addiction. “He very much wants to be a part of the solution in the addiction epidemic,” says Dr. Garbely.
Dr. Cannon’s goal is to teach the residents and get them out to places where they can continue to learn. “I want to show them different procedures, different ways, and they can take out what’s best for them, and what they think is best for their patients. They’re the future of medicine, and this is clearly the number one health problem in the United States.”
Dr. Cannon explains, “The goal of the program is to empower medical professionals to understand the disease of addiction including signs, symptoms and co-occurring issues.”
To find out more information about the Caron Centers, visit caron.org.