In the face of an opioid epidemic, health care professionals continue to work on responsible ways to treat pain. On Monday, one of the nation’s top doctors was the speaker at an opioid symposium hosted by the Medical College of Georgia.
Dr. Patrice Harris is the President-Elect for the American Medical Association. She will be the first African American woman to sit in this seat. She also has a background in lobbying. She has experience navigating the legal sector and she is a practicing physician. On Monday, she shared how the AMA is helping health care providers and the government work together to end the opioid crisis.
Dr. Harris’ expertise is in psychiatry. She says the stigma associated with addiction can prevent someone from getting care.
“I know that so many people, particularly in the African American community, in communities of color, did not seek treatment because they were either told or believed or heard that if you had depression or if you had a substance use disorder, you were not praying hard enough or you had a character flaw,” Dr. Harris describes.
She explains that there are tangible barriers to treatment as well.
“Across this country only 2 in 10 patients who desire treatment, that’s Medication Assisted Treatment, have access to that treatment,” says Dr. Harris.
Typically, when you think about the recovery process, you think rehab facilities. While, Dr. Harris says we need more centers dedicated to rehab, she also wants more opportunities for Medication Assisted Treatment in doctor’s offices.
“The AMA urges all physicians, but particularly primary care physicians to become certified to offer that buprenorphine, medication assisted treatment, in their offices,” Dr. Harris says.
Dr. Harris spends time in Washington D.C. recommending policies to lawmakers to help doctors provide better care and give patients more access to addiction treatment. Chairman of MCG Anesthesiology, Dr. Steffen Meiler says he is grateful for her work.
Dr. Meiler says at MCG they are studying additional ways to treat pain. “We now have many examples of patients undergoing major abdominal surgery and not having been treated at all with opioids,” he says.
In the past, many doctors presented opioids as a quick fix. Dr. Meiler explains, now, the goal is for doctors describe the drugs differently by sharing the negative side effects that accompany addiction—things like stomach problems, longer stays at the hospital, etc. so patients are more likely to choose an alternative.
“Bringing all of that to the patient before surgery is helping us tremendously in our overall effort in trying to use opioids only when necessary,” Dr. Meiler points out.
Dr. Meiler also wants to see more standardization for opioids so the distribution is charted more carefully.
Dr. Harris was recently elected and will take over as the President of the American Medical Association in June of 2019.