When Substance Abuse Gets Personal

Posted Friday, Feb. 02, 2018

We all have our reasons for having chosen a profession in the behavioral health and addiction treatment field: For some of us, it’s a fascination with science and the intricacies of the human mind; some of us were born with a passion for caring for our fellow humans. And for a lot of us, it’s personal. 

A recent NPR article got us thinking about both the grim realities of addiction treatment and the hope that comes with the incremental progress we are making in our field—all on a very personal level. 

Dr. Andrey Ostrovsky's Story 

In spite of being in the medical field himself, Dr. Andrey Ostrovsky never really knew the exact cause of his uncle’s death. 

It was nearly two years before Dr. Ostrovsky found out the truth: his uncle had died of a drug overdose. 

As chief medical officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Ostrovsky was a strong supporter of drug treatment for the 74 million people on Medicaid and had become too vocal, in the opinion of some of his coworkers, when it came to funding these programs. 

Before he learned about his uncle’s fate, Dr. Ostrovsky knew that money and government played essential roles in the fight for addiction treatment. 

But after he learned about his uncle, Dr. Ostrovsky knew there was more to it. 

Government, Money, and  . . . Stigma

According to the article, Dr. Ostrovsky “realized that solutions are not just about money, but also about combating stigma — the stain he believes prevented his uncle from getting help.”

Feeling ostracized for being critical of the government’s handling of the opioid epidemic, Dr. Ostrovsky quit his job with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and sought a more effective and meaningful path.

 This piece of the story resonated with us—we’ve all felt bound by our work circumstances at some point—whether it’s a policy we don’t agree with, budgets that just don’t have what it takes, or a worldview that differs from our own, personal principles and workplace policy don’t always align. Nevertheless, it’s no reason to give up trying.

While we might not be able to up and quit our jobs in search of a perfect fit, we believe there are things we can do everyday to help combat addition. Chief among these things? Fighting the stigma. 

Dr. Ostrovsky found the Concerted Care Group, a facility with a philosophy dedicated to taking the stigma out of addiction treatment while providing compassionate and humane care. It provides, according to Dr. Ostrovsky, “a modicum of dignity” to people seeking support. 

Hope

While it’s terrible that so many of us have experienced the horrors of addiction firsthand, the good news is that bad experiences in our personal lives yield a sort of beauty for ashes: It helps us want to be better at our jobs, want better for our patients, and do better whenever we can.