WORLD FOCUS: Fighting the nation’s drug epidemic
October 6, 2017


According to the latest reports, the United States is in the midst of a public health crisis. More than 59,000 people have died from drug overdoses in 2016.

Another statistic reported by the Virginia Gazette recently tells us that the number of Fentanylrelated overdose deaths in the first three months of 2017 in Virginia increased more than 30 percent more than the number of deaths reported in the first quarter of 2016.

One who has been on the front line of fighting the drug epidemic since 2004 is Dr. Richard Campana, the medical director of First Med of Williamsburg and now also director of American Addiction Treatment Center.

I asked him, in his opinion, what is the best way to combat the drug epidemic?

"Knowledge," he said, "educating the public about the disease of addiction, which is essentially a genetically inherited brain disease. And doing so by using evidence based treatments recommended by the addiction experts in the Ivy Towers. Such, as MAT, medically assisted treatment."

Dr. Campana explained that only 10 percent of patients with opioid use disorder are currently receiving these life-saving medications. There is a need to reduce the stigma of drug treatment so patients will come in for treatment, he said. He also emphasized that the court system needs to work with doctors to avoid incarceration for non-violent drug users.

There are two kinds of widely available treatments for drug addiction. The one, Suboxone, that Dr. Campana was certified to administer since 2004 is an approved drug used in the treatment of opioid dependency.

"Suboxone is referred to as a partial antagonist opioid which takes charge of opioid receptor in the brain. It works like a lock and key. It partially stimulates the opioid receptor to avoid drug withdrawal and cravings but not enough to cause the patient to get "high." Methadone, on the other hand, is an old standby med that we have used since 1965. It has saved millions of lives," Dr. Campana said in an interview with the Lake Placid News and the Virginia Gazette.

Dr. Campana has been providing medically assisted treatment for the past 15 years and has seen how these medications have benefited his patients by allowing them to work and live their lives without having to go to the street to buy opioids.

Dr. Campana strongly advocates opening more Methadone and Suboxone clinics.

"Opening a private Methodone clinic is an arduous process," he said." To get through the federal and state requirements took my partner and me almost two years."

He noted that drug addiction is still considered a stigma primarily due to public misinformation and general ignorance about the disease.

"Words like junkie, dope addict, pothead, doper, etc. have to be replaced with words like chemical dependency, opioid use disorder, neuron-transmitter deficiency and mood-altering substances," he said. "To bring about those changes, addiction specialists must be given an open forum to educate people. Local newspapers should provide a spot for addiction specialists to highlight specific addiction disorders and treatment available."

Dr. Campana has advocated for a long time that the first and foremost step that must be taken is the decriminalization of addiction.

"Addicted people should first be given the option of treatment before being incarcerated," he said. "This starts at the court level. Patients in treatment must be monitored by random drug testing and receive after-care counseling."

By all indications, the war on drugs, fought by traditional methods, is un-winnable. The approach Dr. Campana is advocating may provide the best hope for redemption.

Frank Shatz's column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette. Shatz is a Lake Placid seasonal resident. He is the author of "Reports from a Distant Place," a compilation of his selected columns.


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