As a physician, I help pregnant women who are addicted to opioids take responsibility for overcoming their condition. In addition to benefiting mothers, a major goal is to decrease the risk that babies will be born addicted. The help I offer includes prescribing a substitute medication called buprenorphine (trade names are Subutex and Suboxone).
It is a great honor when patients trust their doctors with their health and the wellbeing of their future children. I’ve certainly learned a lot from my patients, and especially from the patients who are opiate addicted.
There are many pathways to addiction. But once it occurs, it must be approached as a disease—a practical medical problem rather than a moral issue. I agree that personal responsibility does play a major role in finding long-term solutions for the opioid crisis. It is a health problem, however, and patients need the resources used to treat other health problems.
Some of my patients became addicted after receiving narcotics from doctors following major accidents or surgery. Some became addicted when opiates were prescribed for less serious conditions—a problem that occurred because drug companies falsely advertised that addiction was not a risk, and because politicians funded by drug company money did not speak out soon enough when the truth became clear. Other patients have had incredibly difficult lives and drug addiction became a coping mechanism to get from one day to the next. A few were unable to access medical care so they began self-medicating with whatever they could find and became addicted.
But no matter what their personal stories, the pregnant women I treat want something better for their children. They are willing to do for their children what they previously were not able to do for themselves. My patients take responsibility for treating their addictions so that their babies will have a brighter future.
Some addiction experts think my practice of tapering medication dosages to the lowest dose a patient can tolerate—or even down to a zero dose—is wrong. “These people are addicts,” they say. “The risk of relapse is too high for a tapering approach.”
Well, I agree relapse is dangerous. But how many recovering-from-addiction airline pilots are flying planes while taking suboxone? I suspect not very many. How many recovering doctors are taking suboxone while seeing patients? I’m told not very many. On my visits to all 12 counties in the district, I’ve now met a few thousand voters. Many have told me their stories of their successful battles against drug addiction. And of course, success is more likely when support from others is available.
The opioid crisis is not just a tragedy for addicted persons and their families. It is a problem for our economy when businesses are reluctant to locate in our area because they are worried about finding enough employees who will pass a drug screen. It is a problem for our criminal justice system, particularly when ill-equipped jails end up functioning as detox centers. And it is a problem for our educational system because large numbers of children harmed by drug exposure during their mothers’ pregnancies are now showing up in elementary schools with learning problems.
I’ve learned as a doctor and as a candidate that many opioid-addicted citizens want to do better for themselves and their families. I agree that personal responsibility does play a role in the long-term solutions for the opioid crisis, but some people are not even sure where to turn for advice on beginning the process of recovery. If elected, I’ll likely be the only member of Congress who has actually helped a person recover from opioid addiction. I’d like the chance to put that knowledge to work to help our region.