Pubdate: Sat, 06 Jan 2018
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2018 Postmedia Network
Author: Trina Larsen Soles
Page: A15


Let's shift our approach, writes Dr. Trina Larsen Soles

The opioid epidemic is the biggest public health crisis to hit in

One potential response, in addition to opening more supervised
consumption sites, providing better access to Naloxone kits, urging
people not to use alone, and trying to stop tainted drugs from being
accessible - could be to deepen our public understanding and shift our
approach to a more compassionate and effective outcome: recognizing
and addressing the underlying role of adverse childhood experiences
and how they make individuals more vulnerable to substance use.

The connection of adverse childhood experiences to future chronic
health conditions, social and behavioural problems, mental illness,
addictions and early death has been known since the late 1990s.

Called one of the greatest public health findings of all time,
research studies now number in the hundreds worldwide.

In general, such experiences are identified with questions about
exposure to physical, sexual or emotional abuse, parental addiction,
divorce, domestic violence, and other forms of trauma or neglect.

One tool generates a score on a 10-point scale. The higher the number
of adverse childhood experiences, the greater the potential
relationship to future social, behavioural and health problems, such
as alcoholism and substance misuse, suicide and chronic disease.

Researchers are investigating the neurobiological mechanisms that are
involved, such as the impact of toxic stress on the developing brain.

Still others have been studying what can be done to mitigate the

Despite two decades of powerful research, however, the concepts have
been slow to translate into public understanding, as well as into
policy and practice.

Too often, those with drug addiction, like those currently overdosing
and dying, are subjected to public condemnation, humiliation, further
neglect and ostracism, and further traumatization - often by the very
people who are meant to help them.

There is a better way.

In November, more than 600 people from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan,
Ontario and the U.S. gathered in Vancouver to explore and share
approaches to acknowledging, mitigating and preventing adverse
childhood experiences.

We heard from Judy Darcy, British Columbia's minister for mental
health and addictions, who stressed that addiction is not a moral
failure, but a health issue.

She emphasized the importance of treating those with mental health and
substance use issues with the same dignity and compassion that we
treat those with physical health issues.

The two-day summit featured multiple presentations and panels to
discuss and strategize how to embed awareness of adverse childhood
experiences and response into all aspects of society, such as schools,
communities, family doctors' offices, maternity care, mental health
and addictions treatment and the criminal justice system.

A five-member panel on adverse childhood experiences and the opioid
crisis brought into stark light how our current approach actually
contributes to higher death rates by isolating individuals who hide
their addiction out of shame and use alone.

Panellist Calgary police Chief Roger Chaffin stated that we can't
arrest our way out of the problem, and that the focus has to be on
people before they become addicted.

Linda Lupini of B.C. Emergency Services reiterated what many of us may
not realize: that individuals who are dealing with emotional and
physical pain through opioid addiction, were doing all this under the
radar, and the reason we are talking about it now is because their
supply is poisoned.

She stated that this has told us there are many, many more people than
we ever realized who are struggling with this challenge.

Although the opioid crisis is a difficult one, November's summit
centred on a message of hope.

By focusing on understanding adverse childhood experiences, and how
they contribute to addiction and other serious health conditions, we
can enable more compassionate treatment and more effective prevention.

Together, we can help heal those with adverse childhood experiences
already in their life story, and limit the creation of new such
experiences in future generations.

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Dr. Trina Larsen Soles is president of Doctors of B.C.
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