8 Heroes Fighting the Opioid Crisis
While the opioid crisis continues for much of America, many people in various professions are fighting for the well-being of those suffering from opioid addiction. In their own way, doctors, engineers, scientists, and other professionals are doing their best to help the country through this crisis.
The following are eight heroes fighting the opioid crisis. They are some of the people who are working on making America a healthier place.
Dr. Leana Wen
As the Health Commissioner of Baltimore, Dr. Leana Wen has made it easy for residents to get their hands on the overdose antidote, Narcan. She took office in 2015, and since then the state’s Health Department has trained over 20,000 residents in how to use the life-saving drug. Dr. Wen is also an emergency physician who works with Emergency Room doctors on the best way to prevent the use of opioids. Dr. Leana Wen’s greatest achievement is leading the implementation of Baltimore’s opioid overdose prevention and response program.
Gary Mendell lost his son to opioid addiction. His son Brian not only struggled with addiction but also with the shame that frequently comes with addiction. In October 2011, Brian committed suicide. At his last visit home with his parents, he said to his father:
Dad, 300 years ago, they burned women on stakes in Salem, Massachusetts because they thought they were witches. Later they learned they weren’t and stopped. Someday, people will realize that I am not a bad person. That I have a disease and I am trying my hardest.
Gary Mendell was the owner and founder of a multi-billion dollar hotel chain and for decades ran a successful enterprise. Today, he is an activist and founder of Shatterproof, an organization helping families who have also lost loved ones to opioid addiction.
Tracy Plouck brought together a number of social service programs in Ohio under one roof to formulate a wide-spread initiative to battle the opioid crisis. As the Director of Mental Health and Addiction Services in Ohio, Plouck oversees programs that are going to make a difference in fighting the opioid crisis, including youth prevention programs, a naloxone access program, and treatment programs for those who are incarcerated. Bringing these programs together has created a stronger, more comprehensive program in Ohio to assist those addicted to opioids.
In addition to her high-profile position, Plouck also likes to be on the front lines. Since 2006, she has volunteered to occasionally answer phones at a crisis center near her home. About this experience, Plouck commented:
I started answering phones there because I wanted to volunteer. Now, it provides me with firsthand insight into where we have gaps in our system.
With this firsthand information, Plouck was able to make changes that have significantly helped residents of Ohio.
Dr. Martin Klapheke
Part of what has caused the opioid crisis is that doctors haven’t been fully aware of the dangers that arise with taking opioids for an extended period of time. They’ve been over prescribing, leaving patients vulnerable to addiction. However, at the University of Central Florida’s College of Medicine, Dr. Martin Klapheke is making sure that students learn everything there is to know about opioids and how to successfully manage pain. Klapheke wants students to learn:
- what it means to have a substance use disorder
- alternatives to pain management
- types of opioids and their side effects
- symptoms of newborn babies who have been exposed to opioids in utero
In addition to learning about symptoms of drug-exposed infants, students also witness the tremors, seizures, and high-pitched screams that these newborns often exhibit. The point is that new doctors entering the medical field need to do things differently and Dr. Klapheke is doing his best to make that happen.
Jason Joy is a substance abuse counselor at Pathways Clinic in Lexington, Kentucky. This clinic is particularly useful for pregnant women who can receive both medical care for their opioid addiction as well as prenatal care. Since its opening in 2014, the clinic has served over 150 pregnant mothers, providing them with counseling and peer support. As a drug and alcohol counselor, Jason works with each mother to help ensure the safety of the unborn child. Jason is one of millions of substance abuse counselors around the country who provide therapeutic support to those addicted to opioids.
James Dow Constantine is a politician and serves as the Executive for King County, Washington. He and other county officials are going to open consumption sites throughout the county, where users of heroin and other drugs can safely use with the presence of medical staff. The purpose of consumption sites is to provide medical treatment for anyone who accidentally overdoses while using. Although it might sound counter-intuitive to give people a place to use drugs, similar programs have been successful in other countries. If there is ever an accidental overdose or a medical problem, the medical staff is on site to provide proper care. Constantine remarked that although there may be political discomfort with consumption sites, he is an advocate for the plan if it’s going to save lives.
Dr. Doug Nemecek
Dr. Doug Nemecek is Chief Medical Officer for Behavioral Health at Cigna Insurance. Nemecek is very familiar with Cigna’s goal to decrease its customers’ use of opioids by 25% over the next three years. In fact, Cigna began working toward this goal by having their doctors review reports on how their prescribing patterns compare to their peers. Cigna also encourages their physicians to seek out healthy practices for tapering their clients off pain medication. Coincidentally, Nemecek is also on the Scientific Board for Shatterproof, the nonprofit mentioned above.
Clare Waismann has been working directly with opioid dependent patients for over 20 years, changing how society views and treats opioid addicted patients. She has teamed up with physicians, therapists and worldwide media to dispel judgmental terms and labels which can be harmful and counter productive. The founder of the Waismann Method, Clare has created a place where the need of suffering to learn a lesson has been replaced with individualized medical care to detox patients safely, comfortably and with dignity. She has also created the first Specialized Opioid Treatment Center, Domus Retreat, where there are no set protocols for treatment, length of stay or groups that often promote shame. Each person is treated based on their specific needs, with privacy, compassion and respect.
The above is a short list of professionals who are trying to steer the opioid epidemic away from more overdoses and instead towards healing and health. Hopefully, in a few years from now, America will see a greater degree of physical, emotional, and psychological well being because of the work of these professionals and millions of others.