ELYRIA — The growing epidemic of heroin and other drug abuse in Lorain County is continuing to change the way the community’s hospitals operate.
More patients are coming in seeking medical treatment only for doctors to quickly learn addiction is another ailment that must be tackled.
To help patients who are also suffering through addiction, University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center has partnered with a Cuyahoga County-based group of physicians and physician assistants trained in addiction medicine to provide on-site services.
As part of the agreement first reached in October, GMA Consultants will provide services when a patient requires detoxification from drugs and/or alcohol during their hospital stay.
“Often patients who abuse drugs or alcohol will be admitted to a hospital for something other than addiction and then start to experience withdrawal,” said Dr. Chris Adelman, a founding member of GMA Consultants and board-certified in addiction and emergency medicine. “Nurses and social workers are not trained to see patients through withdrawal, which can sometimes be a life-threatening experience for addicts. By stabilizing them and controlling withdrawal symptoms, we can ensure they receive the medical treatment they need.”
This is not a drug rehabilitation program.
“This is about the immediate problem of withdrawal and getting a patient through that,” Adelman said. “If they are in the hospital long enough, we can also help them through the detox process, which can be three to four days for alcohol addiction and longer for opiate users. After that, we can refer them to either inpatient or outpatient rehab services.”
Adelman said the program is unique because most emergency room physicians are not trained addiction specialists. However, UH realized the need in the community and took actions.
“It really is a pioneering kind of program with (UH) recognizing they need assistance in this area,” he said. “I think it will be a model for other hospitals. We think eventually, hopefully someday soon, every hospital will have this service, because this problem of drug addition is not going away.’’
It is the first program of its kind in Lorain County.
“Our nurses and hospital staff voiced concern that it had become increasingly difficult to manage patients who were going through withdrawal,” said Dr. Douglas McDonald, vice president of medical affairs. “We realized the time was right to implement a program that brought addiction specialists to our facility, for the safety and wellbeing of both our patients and our staff.”
Adelman said he operates similar programs in other hospitals in the region as well as through drug treatment facilities in several counties. He has seen firsthand how withdrawal can force patients to forego the treatment they need.
“The withdrawal causes them to often become abusive, which is dangerous for them as well as their caregiver,” he said.
Withdrawal from alcohol can cause delirium tremors, high blood pressure, rapid heart rate and seizures. Patients going through opiate withdrawal often experience profuse sweating, muscle pain nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
The program is being funded by the hospital’s auxiliary through events and sales generated by the gift store in the hospital.