By Joji Suzuki, M.D.
As a fellow in Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care's Innovation Fellows Program, Suzuki is implementing a collaborative model of care through which a team of clinicians will work with primary care physicians to treat opioid addiction.
Opioids, found in prescription pain medications like oxycodone or morphine, are extremely important in helping to alleviate pain and suffering. They are dangerous, however, if misused. Once addicted, users find it extremely difficult to stop due to the intense cravings and withdrawal. Also found in heroin, opioids are very expensive, costing as much as $100 to $200 a day for a moderate habit, and even more for heavier users. Many users resort to stealing, dealing, or prostitution to support their addiction. Particularly for users who transition to intravenous use, health problems also begin to accumulate, such as HIV, hepatitis C, abscesses, heart problems, overdoses and death. In Massachusetts, opioid-related overdose deaths were the leading cause of injury deaths in 2007 and the third leading cause of death overall behind heart disease and cancer. As can be imagined, someone living this life will have difficulty maintaining employment, raising a family, and contributing to society.
As an addiction psychiatrist, I have seen how addiction can wreak havoc not only on patients’ lives, but also on the lives of members of their family and community. Adding insult to injury, though many chronic conditions – such as HIV, cancer, obesity, diabetes and hypertension – result in part from personal lifestyle choices, patients dealing with addiction, as well as their families, face particular stigma for their circumstances.