This Marion doctor wants to change the conversation around addiction
Mitch Hooper Marion Star USA TODAY NETWORK ‘If you were depressed, you’d get on some sort of medication and you do counseling for that. We don’t look at that as a bad thing, right?’ said Doctor Anthony Smith.
That’s how Smith, a doctor at MATR Ohio in Marion who specializes in addiction counseling, wants the conversation to change regarding addiction. For him, people struggling with addiction aren’t the drug addicts we see on television or in movies, they are people fighting mental health issues and found unfortunate ways to self-medicate.
He wants to address this issue at the root. And at his addiction clinic, they are doing just that through Suboxone and Zubsolv therapy for people battling opioid addictions.
Smith got his start in medicine after graduating from Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2005 followed by an internship with Duke University in 2006 and completing his residency in 2009 with St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center Emergency Medicine. While doing this, Smith spent much of his time inside emergency rooms and at the time, a majority of the patients were in there due to accidental overdoses.
The high volume of accidental overdoses caught his eye and he knew he wanted to be a part of the change in the coming years. And as someone who started his career in medicine in the early 2000s, he said he was a first-hand witness to ever changing stages of this crisis.
He said what really kicked off the opioid crisis in America was when patients would fill out satisfaction surveys regarding the service they received from a doctor. It quickly became a slippery slope as negative reviews against doctors could cost them money and a job resulting in doctors taking extra steps to mitigate pain through medication. Soon, addicts were gaming the system; if they claimed they were experiencing pain, doctors would prescribe them pain killers that were typically opioids.
This continued to snowball into other problems. For about six years, those looking to stockpile prescription pills would visit multiple doctors to receive medication. Eventually, many of these people began selling these pills on the streets as a way to make money. As Smith said, one Percocet pill could be sold on the streets for $15. If you had 100 pills, that could quickly become $1,500 which could be used to cover bills, or buy different drugs.
And then suddenly, the government cracked down on the over-prescribing of pills. This created a vacuum effect with those relying on illegal drug dealers to get drugs now struggling to do so as well as those same drug dealers losing a reliable, yet illegal, source of income. This is when Smith believes heroin and fentanyl became the popular drug of choice as they were cheaper, easier to find and didn’t require a prescription from a doctor.
Since then, Smith and his team of physicians at MATR in Marion as well as Reynoldsburg have been on the front lines of the addiction crisis. While the Reynoldsburg location frequently sees people seeking to recover, he said the volume at the Marion location is exceptionally higher.
Marion saw more fatal and non-fatal overdoses than years past , a trend that has stayed consistent most years. There were many factors that Smith believes led to this; isolation due to shelter-in-place, a lack in traffic stops due to COVID-19 restrictions on law enforcement and the relative ease of finding these drugs.
Of these drugs, fentanyl, has grown as the biggest contributor to his new patients, he said, and most of the time these users don’t even realize they had taken the drug. His lab is able to pinpoint the exact drug a user has taken through various testing. Though some users thought they were just doing heroin or smoking marijuana, often these two drugs were laced with the deadly fentanyl.
That’s where Suboxone and Zubsolv come into play for his addiction clinic. Similar to a diabetic taking insulin for their condition, Smith likens these prescriptions to that.
‘They’re addiction is two things: one is an opportunity that happened to them,’ he explained. ‘And two, they had the actual biochemistry – the chemical makeup in their brain – that latched on to this. It was a chemistry thing for them.’
In another comparison, he said this was just like nicotine. While some people are able to socially smoke cigarettes and cigars without becoming addicted, others quickly become a pack-a-day smokers.
In short, Soboxone and Zubsolv are a combination of naloxone and buprenorphine which impact receptors in the brain and provides relief from symptoms of withdrawals and cravings for opioid users. Though these two drugs are partially an opioid, they are known as ‘agonist’ as they do not get the user high and they counteract the negative effects of opioid use.
Since opening the addiction clinic, Smith said roughly 75% of his patients who entered for recovery have become sober thanks to the Soboxone therapy as well as one-on-one and group counseling. These are his favorite stories, with most people being able to secure jobs, maintain a healthy lifestyle and keep a roof over their heads.
And there’s another reason his patients continue coming back to his clinic; his dog Blanche, which has become something akin to an emotional support dog for those in addiction recovery. He joked that sometimes his patients are more excited to see Blanche than they are to meet with him, but that’s OK in his mind. The important thing is they keep coming back and continue to become healthier.
In the future, Smith wants to see more changes happen around addiction and recovery; especially how law enforcement and sentencing is conducted around these crimes. Since some of his patients have been incarcerated for drug crimes, he said jail and prison sentencing doesn’t always solve the problem. Sometimes it makes it even worse as some users report getting illegal drugs inside these institutions is easier than getting them on the streets.
When they get out, their criminal record makes it more difficult to get a job. It turns into a vicious cycle.
Smith Photo submitted.
Blanche, Dr. Anthony Smith’s dog, has become a popular character for his patients at MATR Ohio, an addiction clinic in Marion and Reynoldsburg specializing in opioid addiction.