Data Doctor: Reflections as the Opioid Epidemic Hits Home

July 3, 2018 by Happy Pixel Co

Dr. Chris Tonozzi, MD, Director of Data Quality

In my February “Data Doctor” column, I wrote about the seriousness of the opioid epidemic. 44,000 deaths in the U.S. were attributed to opioid overdose in 2016. We hear most about the impact in the Midwest, but the impact in Colorado is at an all-time high (paywall). And the opioid epidemic hit home for me in the last few weeks.

My 24-year-old great-nephew was found dead in his apartment in Glenwood Springs from an apparent heroin overdose. He was an “All-American” kid in many ways: he was a star athlete in high school and went to college on a soccer scholarship. He had a full-time job. He had lots of family support. He had faced his addiction problems and had been active in a local treatment program.

I am left wondering what I could have done to catch this before the disastrous conclusion for my great-nephew. Mountain Family Health Centers has been a leader among health care providers in addressing the problem. Our services are among the best in the region. We now have a Substance Abuse Disorder treatment program fully staffed by behavioral health and medical providers. Our providers have done training programs to prescribe Suboxone, which is used to treat opioid addiction. Suboxone is a combination of opioid-like substance that treats craving, and naloxone, which reverses the effect of any true opioid that is taken while on Suboxone.

But the question that plagues me is whether we did enough outside of our four walls to bring patients in for treatment. Some providers in healthcare ascribe to the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” For example, they espouse that you can offer great diabetes care at a medical clinic, but if the patient doesn’t follow the recommendations of the health care provider, the health care provider has done his or her best. Community Health Centers are different. We have a responsibility to our community to provide not only the services that are needed, but also apply ourselves to convincing our patients and our community to use those services.

I will be looking for ways not only to provider better substance abuse treatment, but also ways in which we can convince those with the disorder that now is the time to commit to treatment.

Mountain Family Health Centers is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center


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