By Dr. Gloria Ivey-Crowe
I am a physician. While I have spent the majority of my career as an OB-Gyn, I also specialize in addiction medicine. Both specialties expose the fragile nature of human health and provide an opportunity to impact and sustain a person’s life.
Prior to medical school, I was employed as a physician assistant in a family planning clinic and in Baltimore and District of Columbia correctional facilities, caring for incarcerated inmates in various stages of drug withdrawal.
The use of illicit drugs has escalated to include not just heroin and cocaine but painkillers, amphetamines, alcohol and marijuana. The visible face of clients seeking help has changed as well. The stereotype of the poor, unemployed, uneducated person isn’t a fair representation of who we treat today.
The age and gender of clients varies with the population that Leesburg Treatment serves. The majority of clients are males ranging in age from their 20s to their 40s; women and pregnant patients are the minority. Most of our clients do not have other medical problems, but require assistance with breaking the cycle of addiction. Addiction impacts individuals physically, psychologically and emotionally. While we may live in a wealthy county, addiction has no preference. It can and does affect anyone.
We see clients at various stages of their addiction. There are those for whom an addiction started with recreational use or something “fun to do” with friends but somehow got out of hand and became both a physical and psychological dependency, always searching for that first high. For others, their first exposure was through the use of prescription medications for pain for injuries sustained from an accident, disc problems or after surgical procedures.
Clients present at the lowest point in their lives; they have lost their families and their dignity. Their symptoms can vary from mild discomfort, cravings, restlessness or insomnia to more severe gastrointestinal upset, nausea, severe body aches and temperature instability. Overcoming the powerful cravings is their last effort to regain control of their lives and their inherent embarrassment at being in this situation no matter how it began. We treat them with dignity, establish goals and treatment plans with their direct input and seek to foster an atmosphere that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Recovery requires numerous components to be successful. Addiction, no matter what the substance, is a complex disease requiring expertise and support. The physical dependency and any other medical issues must be managed medically for a successful withdrawal process. Leesburg Treatment and other outpatient clinics utilize Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) to ensure safe withdrawal.
Treatment is about treating one person at a time and comprehending their individual challenges. The news media focuses on the epidemic crisis this issue has become and the large numbers of people affected. My challenge is to bring wellness and empowerment to each and every human being.
I also want our patients to understand that we honor their commitment to treatment. We are not here to judge them. For years, I was the significant other of an addict. He was an intravenous drug user and he died from long-term effects of alcoholism. I know personally what it is like for the addict and for their families. We understand pain and suffering.
People who suffer from addiction can and will become productive members of society. When one is in the throws of it they may suffer from unemployment, low self-esteem and other complicating challenges. Yet, they are humans like the rest of us.
I am hopeful that the world is listening and understands—that like other diseases—this is one we can tackle together. I ask that we join one another. That we open our hearts and minds. That we provide hope where it is often scarce.
Where there is treatment, there is hope.
[Dr. Ivey-Crowe is a physician in private practice and is the medical director for Leesburg Treatment Services. 571 291-3166]