Column: Treating Addiction Alone Isn’t Enough

By Larry Moliterno

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Thankfully, the stigma around mental health and addiction issues in our society continues to fade. Individuals are becoming increasingly comfortable discussing these issues with their friends, family and physicians. It has become very apparent to many that our current health care system has always treated physical health and emotional health independently.

One of the important changes occurring in the health care industry is recognizing that behavioral health, such as mental illness and addiction, and physical health should be addressed together – a fully integrated care model. We can no longer separate someone’s physical wellness from their emotional wellness.

When treating patients with opiate addictions, we have found that far too many of them have become addicted to opiates through prescription medications prescribed to deal with chronic pain. We treat these patients for their addiction but have recognized that they still wake up every morning in pain. This pain could lead to additional mental health stress or even a potential relapse in their substance use disorder.

Therefore, it is critical to include primary care, and in some cases chiropractic and/or acupuncture services, to help alleviate chronic pain for the patient and reduce the chance of relapse. We have also recognized that most patients who receive medications for mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety, are not offered or recommended to seek counseling as a part of their treatment. It’s important to identify some of these mental health symptoms like feeling sad, feeling confused, inability to concentrate, feelings of guilt, mood changes, or loss of energy – just to mention a few – and to ask for help. Physicians and counselors should work together to help patients get to the root cause of their mental health issues.

New and advanced treatments such as TMC (Trans Magnetic Stimulation) for depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and sleeping disorders is an example of the success that the collaboration of primary and behavioral health care professionals can achieve.

Another important aspect of this integrative care model relates to patients who undergo surgical procedures. We know how advancements in medical research and technology have greatly improved patients’ quality of life. Surgeons are doing wonderful things in making the process more comfortable and effective for patients. However, experts are just now starting to recognize that patients may suffer from post-surgical anxiety or depression that can, in fact, delay the recovery process. Including mental health counseling in both the pre- and post-surgical protocols can help support the patient’s overall recovery process.

At Meridian Healthcare, we believe that while medication helps with the physical symptoms associated with these disorders, counseling is crucial to address the core cause of those mental or emotional problems resulting in better long-term, overall health.

The main goal of integrated care is that all providers, including primary care physicians, surgeons, counselors, acupuncturists, chiropractors, etc., are working collaboratively to develop a specific treatment plan that meets the needs of each patient.

As providers continue to raise awareness of the importance of integrated care, we hope to see more individuals accessing behavioral care in the early stages of their illness. By accessing treatment sooner, people will not have to reach the depths of their mental health or addiction before they can start the journey to recovery.

If we are successful in truly integrating health care, the benefits are wide-reaching. The patients will improve their overall health and potentially enjoy lower health insurance costs with fewer insurance claims. The broad benefit is a healthier community with less strain on the already over-stressed hospitals and emergency rooms.

So, we all must continue to be aware of those indicators of our overall health. While we pay attention to the physical symptoms that may be a warning sign of a physical health concern, remember to be aware of the symptoms of any behavioral health issues too.

Talk to your doctor and let them know of any of these symptoms to ensure you have a happy, healthy life.

Larry Moliterno is CEO of Meridian Healthcare.