On Opioid Addiction & Women


During a recent event hosted by the American Association of University Women several experts spoke on how the opioid epidemic is impacting Erie County and particularly, women.

Dr. Sarah Abdelsayed is a faculty member in the University at Buffalo Department of Family Medicine who is board-certified in family medicine and addiction medicine, and there is one thing she wants people to know: that addiction — whether it affects men or women — is not a character flaw.

“It’s a disease, so it’s not a moral issue,” said Abdelsayed, whose list of accomplishments and specialities is lengthy, having completed engineering school, medical school and a family medicine residency at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, before coming to Buffalo for the UB Addiction Medicine Fellowship in 2015.

According to Abdelsayed, the disease of addiction attacks the center of the brain associated with decision-making, and treatment for such a disease must be multifaceted. The doctor noted that treatment must address the mind, body and spirit in order to be effective.

The doctor, who works at the Erie County Medical Center Family Health Center, Best Self Behavioral Health Lower West Side Clinic and Best Self’s. Lighthouse Women and Children’s Residential treatment center, focuses a large portion of her research on addiction in pregnant and parenting mothers.

While these cases can be complicated, Abdelsayed says treating these mothers is important, not just to them, but to those around them and even future generations.

“When you help a mom with addiction, you don’t just help a mom, you really make a generational impact,” she said.

Trina Wasylenko has experienced addiction firsthand.

She describes herself as the type of person you might never expect to become addicted. She was born in Canada to what she describes as a loving family in an upper-middle-class home.

She was first exposed to opioids through a legitimate prescription, but what started as following the doctor’s orders soon turned into something else entirely.

“I can’t even recall how fast it all happened,” she said.

Before she was able to control her substance abuse, she was taking as many as 25 to 30 Lortabs every day.

It didn’t take long to lose everything and hit rock bottom, but she was able to recover with the help of Suboxone.

Abdelsayed is a proponent of medication-assisted treatment. This treatment is the use of Food and Drug Administration-approved medications, such as methadone, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat those addicted to a substance.

For Wasylenko, like so many others, her medication-assisted treatment gave her the strength she needed to address her addiction.
“During the time I was on Suboxone, I healed myself from the inside out,” she said.

She now works in a community outreach to reintegrate the long-term, severe and persistent mentally ill population back into an independent community living situation.

Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County commissioner of health and a clinical professor of pediatrics at the Jacobs School of Medicine in Buffalo, says it is important, when looking at the issue, to remember that a person doesn’t just wake up one day as an addict. Oftentimes, like in Wasylenko’s case, addiction begins with a legitimate issue. “It’s a journey, so they’re people who first start misusing and then they develop a substance abuse disorder, and then a severe substance abuse disorder is classified as an addiction,” she said. “A young woman who has bad menstrual cramps, and a friend or a relative will say, ‘Hey, take this Percocet; it will make you feel better.’ It makes her feel really good, and she wants more, and that starts her on her journey.”

Likewise, solving the opioid crisis is not a one-step process.

Community awareness, community outreach, de-stigmatizing the issue and understanding the evolution of the epidemic are just a few of the necessary steps, and the community as a whole can, and perhaps must, be involved in that process.

“This epidemic will not go away with just treatment,” said Abdelsayed. “You as people’s community have the biggest impact on changing the way this epidemic will turn out.”

Source: by JULIE HALM Co-editor, Cheektowaga Bee, http://www.beenews.com/

Photo by pina messina on Unsplash

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