BWH patient Stephanie Scena knows she might not be alive today if it weren’t for the many resources available in the local community to help her cope with a substance use disorder.
On May 17, Scena joined a panel of Brigham clinical experts, local officials and medical professionals from Foxborough to discuss the challenges of substance use disorder. During the event, broadcast on television and online by Foxboro Cable Access, Scena opened the discussion by speaking about her 15-year struggle with alcohol, opiates and other drugs and her path to recovery.
“I look back and can’t believe I’ve been sober for almost one year,” Scena said. “I’ve changed everything. I’ve changed the people I spend my time with, and I’ve changed my career. Most importantly, I’ve changed me and what’s in my heart.”
Fellow panelist Claire Twark, MD, who also participated in the discussion and is Scena’s former psychiatrist, emphasized that substance use disorder needs to be talked about openly and honestly in communities.
“Patients like Stephanie who are willing to discuss their struggles with addiction are inspirational and can also help to reduce stigma towards those with substance use disorders,” said Twark, of the Partners HealthCare Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship.
Collaboration at the Community Level
In addition to Scena and Twark, the panel included David Faling, MD, medical director of Brigham and Women’s Primary Care at Foxborough; Mike Kelleher, deputy fire chief of Operations at Foxborough Fire Department; Jennifer Rowe, Esq., assistant district attorney at the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office; and Wenhui Yang, LMHC, program director at Riverside Emergency Services. It was moderated by Vicki Lowe, executive director of the Foxborough Council on Aging and Human Services.
Speakers talked about warning signs, support strategies and how medical, legal, public safety and community organizations are coming together to tackle the opioid crisis.
One example they highlighted: Norfolk County was the first in the nation to require that police and fire departments carry naloxone – a fast-acting treatment used to reverse opioid overdoses – in every cruiser, engine and ladder truck, Rowe said.
In addition, a coalition of community advocates known as SAFE (Substance Abuse Free Environment) has partnered with the town’s police and fire departments, schools, businesses and health care providers. The group focuses on understanding substance misuse in Foxborough and developing programs to help combat it.
On the clinical side, Twark spoke about the work she and her colleagues have done at the Brigham to address the opioid crisis, including training more physicians to prescribe buprenorphine – a medication used to treat opioid use disorder. There is also more focus on the use of motivational interviewing techniques with patients who have substance use disorders. Staff have also been trained to call Addiction Psychiatry when patients present with endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart valves that can result from injection drug use.
Cindy Peterson, MBA, executive director of Brigham and Women’s/Mass General Health Care Center in Foxborough, said she’s thrilled the panel has generated discussion in the community.
“The opioid crisis impacts all areas of every community, and Brigham and Women’s/Mass General Health Care Center is excited to support this effort of providing families and those seeking recovery the resources, tools and hope they need in the face of this epidemic,” she said.
To view the recording of the panel discussion, visit fcatv.org/opioid.