Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood on August 30, 2012
Paul H. Earley, MD, FASAM, Neurologist and Medical Director for Talbott Recovery Campus, Atlanta, GA. National Institute on Drug Abuse
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Paul Earley, MD: Prescription medicine addiction is a problem in our society that's getting worse.
Narrator : Doctor Paul Earley is Medical Director of Talbott Recovery Campus in Atlanta. He knows the dangers of prescription pain addiction better than most.
Paul Earley, MD: One thing led to another and pretty soon I was taking them everyday.
Narrator: As a young resident he began using pain meds recreationally…
Paul Earley, MD: I thought, because I knew the effects of the drugs that it wasn't going to affect me.
Narrator: What he didn't expect was to become addicted. Dr. Earley nearly lost everything before winding up in recovery. He came here to Talbott--the center he now runs.
Paul Earley, MD: So I have to be very cautious just like any other recovering person does that if I take narcotics it'll wake up something, which thankfully has been quiescent for almost 25 years.
Narrator: Trained in Neurology, Dr Earley didn't plan on becoming an expert in addictive disorders, but fate had another plan.
Paul Earley, MD: Physicians, pharmacists and nurses who have higher access to opioid drugs, the pain-relieving drugs, have a higher probability of being addicted to those drugs they prescribe than the general population because their access is higher.
Narrator: Physicians caught using can be disciplined by their peers, medical institutions or state medical boards. Some go into treatment and have successful recoveries like Dr. Early. Those who can't stay clean can lose their licenses and their careers. Avoiding a relapse is a major challenge for anyone who hungers for the high these drugs promise.
Paul Earley, MD: The opioid drugs, the pain killer drugs, produce a very strong physiological dependence that is only under rare circumstances is life-threatening, but is extremely painful.
Narrator: That's why other drugs designed to stabilize patients during the critical detoxification period of recovery are sometimes used to lessen withdrawal symptoms. Methadone has been used for years, but now a newer agent called Buprenorphine is also used for patients trying to break from opioid addiction:
Paul Earley, MD: The nice thing about Buprenophine, in terms of the detox, is it helps re-set those receptors to some small degree and so the withdrawal is shortened, and is not as severe and the drug hunger appears to be less several weeks, months, or even years out.
Narrator: But detox is often only the first stage in an odyssey that will likely also include a 12-step-program and different types of psycho-therapies, where addicts learn to direct their thoughts away from the triggers that can intensify their drug cravings… For WebMD, I'm Damon Meharg.