A taskforce of lawmakers has been meeting monthly since the summer to better understand Missouri’s substance abuse crisis and find ways to address it. Doug Burgess, an addiction psychiatry professor at University Health in Kansas City, said step one towards treating substance abuse disorder is getting rid of the stigma.

“There was a recent study that looked retrospectively at patients who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder and found that over 75% ultimately achieved remission,” he said. “I think most people would be shocked by that number. The ones we hear about the most are individuals who have very public relapses or the people who are refractory to treatment continue to go through this system.”

Burgess said that because of stigma, people who are in recovery are afraid or ashamed to tell their story.

He compared a diabetic needing help to someone who has severe withdrawal symptoms from opioid use disorder.

“If somebody has severe diabetes and they come in and their blood sugar’s at 400 or 500 and they’re so physically ill, they may be confused, they can’t even get out of bed, it doesn’t make sense to put that person in a program that they’re going to be exercising and dieting. You have to medically stabilize that person,” said Burgess.

The Department of Mental Health has adopted a plan that would take those who need treatment and put them in front of a doctor, prescribe them medication and stabilize them so they can participate in other programs.

“If you have diabetes and you wait until you have renal failure, you’ve had a stroke, you have heart disease and peripheral neuropathy, that’s a heck of a lot harder to treat than if your primary care doctor’s checking your blood sugars and catches it early on and you make an intervention then,” he said. “The majority of people that I treat when I diagnose them, they meet criteria for severe substance use disorders.”

There are a multitude of different screening tests, but each of them asks about your level of use and how it impacts your life. Burgess said that screening and earlier intervention in primary care settings will help doctors develop a specific individualized treatment plan. Treatment can include counseling, support groups, and medication treatment.

He said he routinely tells his students that regardless of what field of medicine they enter, they ultimately will be dealing with and treating substance abuse disorder.

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