March 21st, 2019

ER doctor explains human side of addiction

By Schnarr, J.W. on October 5, 2018.

Dr. Sean Wilde, an Emergency Room physician at Chinook Regional Hospital, spoke on addiction and the opioid crisis during the weekly meeting of Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

J.W. Schnarr

Lethbridge Herald

Understanding how addiction happens and why it happens could be two key ways in which the local community can be more empathetic to the struggles of those in the throes of the opioid crisis.

Dr. Sean Wilde, an Emergency Room physician at Chinook Regional Hospital, was at the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs on Thursday to provide education about what ER staff are seeing in emergency rooms.

He presented his discussion, “The Cycle of Addiction and Challenges of the Opioid Crisis: A Perspective from an Emergency Doctor,” in the Royal Canadian Legion General Stewart Branch No. 4.

“We see people who are both regular drug users or who are more casual ones being affected by accidental overdoses,” Wilde said. “Sometimes at a loss of life or near-loss of life.”

Wilde also provided information on the biological way drug use affects the brain and why it can be so difficult to deal with.

He said there is a lot of confusion around the idea that addiction is a “brain disease.”

He hoped to clarify some of that confusion by explaining changes in the brain due to drug use and changes to the brain that predispose people to drug use stemming from early-life trauma.

“I’m hoping understanding those things will help people realize that addiction recovery is a process requiring time and effort to change existing patterns in the brain,” he said. “Most modern addictions treatment tries to address that fact.”

Additionally, there is a high correlation of untreated mental health disorders that correlate with addiction issues.

“We know we are more successful in treating an addiction when we are treating those mental health disorders at the same time.”

Wilde said in the ER, staff see the impact of drug abuse on families of those who are afflicted.

“To see that it is causing a lot of pain in the lives of the families and people who are using it,” he said. “They feel as trapped by this and feel helplessness in the ways some in the community might feel helpless to respond to the crisis.”

“Part of it is recognizing the bigger picture of substance abuse as a problem,” he said. “There is a lot of news about the opioid crisis, but we deal with a lot of things. Alcohol continues to be the number-one substance of abuse. We see it more than anything else.”

“We deal with a lot of the obvious personality problems and abuse that can come from this troubled population,” he added. “But we also get a chance to see their vulnerabilities their humanity, and I think it gives us a special perspective.

“These are people. They need help. And it’s difficult, but it’s the right thing to do.”

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