Pitt Prof Provides Guidance to City for Ongoing ‘Drug Crisis’

By Allison Hydzik

Pittsburgh City Council recently convened a panel of experts to provide guidance on solutions to a rash of heroin-related overdose deaths in Allegheny County.

Antoine B. Douaihy, M.D., medical director of Addiction Medicine Services at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC, participated in the panel and echoed many panelists when he noted that increased collaboration among law enforcement officers, city and county officials, advocacy groups and addiction care organizations is critical to avoiding more deaths.

“Drug addiction is a huge public health crisis in our communities,” said Dr. Douaihy, also an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “We have a lot of people working so hard on the different aspects of this problem.  If we can optimize our efforts and pool all our resources, I believe we can make a huge difference.”

Fentanyl-laced heroin is believed to be responsible for as many as 30 deaths in the region since early January, Allegheny County medical examiner Karl Williams, M.D., M.P.H., told city council members.

Following comments by Dr. Williams and officials from the Allegheny County police, sheriff, district attorney and department of human services, and Pittsburgh police, Dr. Douaihy was joined by Allegheny County Health Department  Director Karen Hacker, M.D., M.P.H., Gateway Rehab  Director Neil Capretto, M.D., and Debra Kehoe, executive director of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Safe and Drug Free Children.

“Many people see drug addiction as a choice, as something that people can choose to start and stop, but we need to correct those misperceptions if we are going to address this problem,” said Dr. Douaihy. “Drug addiction is a medical illness and very much similar to other chronic diseases, like diabetes or heart disease. You have to go in for treatment, and you have to continue treating the illness for life.”

Getting people in for treatment can be difficult, especially if the addicted person isn’t motivated to change, Dr. Douaihy said, but he noted that health care practitioners can work with patients and their friends and family to help build patients’ motivation and increase their engagement in treatment, and,  therefore, the likelihood of recovery. Dr. Capretto also noted that people forced into treatment by the legal system have results that are as good as people who go voluntarily.

“Recovery from addiction is about reclaiming self,” said Dr. Douaihy. “And we know from research that most people who have addictions do recover, so there is hope.”

Local drug addiction resources include:

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