Addiction, death and recovery, he's seen it all
News Herald - 3/26/2018
March 25--Sitting in the intern's chair, Dr. Mark Stavros is in his element flashing a chart in front of a patient, talking about dopamine levels, the prefrontal cortex, the "comfort zone" and treatment options.
It's a speech he gives often: to addicts, withdrawing and miserable; to families trying to understand the disease; to mental health professionals; to law enforcement.
Really, to anyone who asks.
Addiction is something Stavros has more experience with than most. His father is "one of the dinosaurs of addiction" medicine. But as if to prove addiction can impact any family, his sister died of a heroin overdose in the '90s. He didn't even know she had been using.
He was working the ER -- where he dreaded addicts coming in looking to score -- when he got the call.
He never planned to go into addiction medicine, but in 2009, he got another call asking if he would reconsider and said yes.
"I met patients at rock bottom, who had lost a lot of their lives and needed help," the owner of Gulf Coast Addiction Medicine said. "Suddenly, I could start seeing an impact in patients' lives."
He threw himself into it. Learning the cycle of the disease, how patients may have had control once, but the drugs altered the brain and that control was lost. About how an addict's dopamine levels are below comfortable levels unless they're using, creating a need to get high. About how 80 percent of addicts will relapse in their first year if they go off medications designed to treat addiction, like methadone, suboxone and vivitrol. About the right way to take and prescribe medicine to reduce the chance of abuse, and how success rates are better when medication is combined with therapy.
It became a fixable problem to him.
Yes, he says, it's a chronic disease. Relapse will happen, but every day he sees people change.
Editor's note: This story is part of a 13-story package on addiction, for the next one go here: The hope of a sweet salvation.
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