Addressing the pervasive social and medical issue of opioid abuse in the United States, according to Dr. Michael Lowenstein, will require both a movement of “empathy and compassion,” as well as continuing to transition from a “disease care” system to a “healthcare” system.
“There is too much judgment and stigma around opioid use disorder, addiction, and people seeking treatment for pain and mental health issues,” Lowenstein, the medical director of the Waismann Method® Advanced Treatment for Opioid Dependence, said in an interview with Christina Warner that was published online for Thrive Global in September 2019. “That kind of prejudice gets in the way of progress.”
Lowenstein is a leader in the field of opioid use disorder treatment who contributed to the development of anesthesia-assisted rapid detoxification, as well as the advancement of medical protocols for opioid drugs for the past two decades.
Addressing the Opioid Epidemic
During his time as a quadruple-board certified-physician with experience in the fields of pain medicine, addiction medicine and anesthesiology. Lowenstein has witnessed both positive advances in addition to identifying areas where further progress is required.
When he first became involved with pain management and addiction treatment in the early 1990s, the available treatments at the time had a rather meager success rate. Furthermore, doctors faced punishment for inadequately treating pain and people were being told drugs such as OxyContin were both safe and the best option for pain management. The pressure upon prescribing doctors and the proliferation of false information led to a tremendous increase in opioid prescribing, according to Lowenstein. Now, healthcare providers are striving to rectify the problem in light of the widespread opioid epidemic.
Lowenstein points out, there are two components to treating patients suffering from opioid use disorder: the psychological component, or opiate dependence, and the emotional component, which could be the result of a psychological, behavioral, or psychiatric condition.
As Lowenstein often states, “People do drugs for a reason.” Although the first step to helping them is addressing the physical dependence, he added, “Until you identify the real reason — pain, anxiety, depression, emotional abuse, trauma — you’ll never make the patient better or effectively treat their condition.”
That’s one area where Waismann Method® has acted as a pioneer, rejecting the addiction treatment community’s tendency to label people and letting them suffer to make them “learn their lesson,” so-to-speak. Waismann Method® takes a different and more effective, approach to treating people suffering from opioid dependence. Instead of focusing on the condition itself,
they treat the human being behind it.
Lowenstein said, adding they provide “the most comfortable, respectable and effective option to overcome the physical component of an opioid use disorder, which gives patients the freedom and clarity to work on their emotional issues.”
In line with that objective, Clare Waismann, founder of Waismann Method®, created Domus Retreat, a safe and supportive environment in the hills of Orange County, California, where people can recover and have an opportunity to identify what the best next move will be for them.
“It’s a place where people are seen as individuals, with no pre-existing rules and no cookie-cutter approach,” Lowenstein said. “With each patient, we learn from experience so we can do even better.”
In general, he feels such a personalized approach within the healthcare system is a critical component of engendering long-term progress. For example, if doctors are trained to do a better job identifying emotional issues, listening to patients, and reviewing their individual history and complaints, they would be in a stronger position to develop a plan for treatment that would provide a better quality of life. With such an approach, Lowenstein noted, “opioid use and abuse can be greatly reduced.”
Additionally, prescribing doctors who serve patients experiencing chronic pain—which is more than 20% of the adult population in America as of 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – need to clearly understand the risk of opiates. Awareness of their long-term consequences already has started trending as a result of the opioid epidemic, and many doctors are embracing the necessity to rethink their treatment plans. That means not only changing the prescribing medication, but also providing healthy alternatives, such as encouraging physical therapy, meditation, proper diet, acupuncture, and other beneficial therapies.
“Doctors need to see and treat the whole person, not just the symptoms,” Lowenstein said. “We’re not simply working to end the opioid crisis—this problem without a face—we’re working to save individual people’s lives. It could be your own brother, spouse or friend. These people need comprehensive care for their overall health.”
In terms of treating patients with opioid dependence, Waismann Method® team has also recognized early on that patients need additional professional support even after they complete medical detoxification and are discharged from the hospital. At that point, Lowenstein said, they embark on “an adjustment period,” which for some people can be physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging. Without the implementation of a sufficient aftercare program, such as that featured at Domus Retreat, patients are at a higher risk of relapsing.
Improving Lives After Opioid Abuse
Collectively, the various methods incorporated in Waismann Method®’s approach to helping individuals with opioid dependence have proven positive, as the organization has maintained the highest opioid detox success rate in the United States for more than two decades. One of the most rewarding aspects of working as a doctor in this field, as well as the director of the Waismann Method, Lowenstein said, is hearing from former patients years later who share that “opioid abuse is an issue of the past” and they have since gone on to achieve success and joy in their professional and personal lives.
“As often as I hear how so many of my patients’ lives improved and how fate took a radical turn for the best, every time I hear those words, it feels as good as the first time,” he added.
Additionally, patients are treated in a full-service hospital and have access to the resources necessary to improve their overall physical health. In some cases, Lowenstein said, they even save patients’ lives from unrealized medical conditions masked by opioids. He spoke of a specific incident where a patient came in for opioid detoxification, but during the initial evaluation, he was diagnosed with a cardiac arrhythmia that led to the discovery of an unknown lung cancer. At a traditional addiction treatment center, Lowenstein explained, those serious health conditions would not have been diagnosed, which would have led not only to a dangerous detoxification but also a decline in the patient’s health.
“It’s extremely rewarding when we can save people’s lives as we treat opioid dependence,” Lowenstein said. “It’s more than a drug treatment; it’s giving people their health and peace of mind back.”
Currently, along with his colleagues, he is working to evolve detox treatments to create the safest and most effective procedure that can be applied to the largest number of people. He also is looking at more regenerative technology that can be applied to treatment, such as the use of stem cells.
“We look forward to helping more people every day,” he said.
“The Future of Healthcare: ‘The documentation requirement on doctors has become too onerous’ with Dr. Michael Lowenstein, MD of the Waismann Method.”
Thrive Global Community post, written by Christina D. Warner