Adverse Childhood Experiences 14: Hope

I keep reading bits about despair and about how a generation of children is being “ruined” by the pandemic.

Not so, I say. There is hope. We need to support each other to survive and then to thrive.

This generation WILL have a higher than average ACE score. If the Adverse Childhood Experience scale is from zero to eight, children in this time period will have at least one higher point than average and many will have three or four or more. Loss of a parent, a sibling, beloved grandparents during covid. Increases in domestic violence, child abuse and addiction. These are all part of the ACE score.

What does this do to children? They have survival brain wiring. They will do their best to survive what is happening. A friend and I both have high ACE scores, 5 or more, and we are both oppositional defiant. We showed this in different ways. He grew up in the same community. He escaped from home and knew all the neighbors. He walked to the local church and attended at age 3 or 4. He has lived in this community all his life.

His oppositional defiance showed up at home, where he consistently refused to obey. And in school, where he confounded and disobeyed teachers and passed anyhow.

My family moved every 1-5 years. I hated moving. I wouldn’t talk to kids in a new school for a year. It was very difficult. So my oppositional defiance was very very internal. I hid in books and in my head. In 6th grade I got in trouble for hiding novels inside the school book I’d already read. I also would just not listen and my respect for the teacher got even lower when she would be angry that I knew the answer to the question once she’d repeated it. I wasn’t listening because I was bored. She was the first teacher that I thought, well, she is not very bright. The next year they stuck me in the honors class and I stopped being bored, though I still questioned practically every opinion every teacher had. I wanted evidence and I did not believe it just because the teacher said it.

I am not saying that oppositional defiance is in every high ACE score. I don’t know that. Why oppositional defiance? Imagine you are a small child and you are beaten. There isn’t rhyme or reason. You can’t predict when the adult will be out of control. Why would you behave “well” if it makes no difference? You might as well do what you want, because nothing you do will change the adult. Or imagine you are a small child who is with one person, passed to another, then to another. You may not exactly trust adults after two or three repetitions. And you want to survive.

There is an increase in addictions, behavioral health diagnoses, and chronic illness in adults with a high ACE score. A researcher when I first heard a lecture about it said, “We think perhaps that addiction is a form of self medication.” I thought, oh, my gosh, how are we ever going to treat THIS? Well, we have to figure that out now, and we’ve had 30 years to work on it.

I was very comfortable with the oppositional defiant patients in clinic. I got very good at not arguing with them and not taking their behavior personally. They might show up all spiky and hostile and I might be a little spiky and gruff back: sometimes that was enough. I think the high ACE score people often recognize each other at some level, though not always a conscious one. With some people I might bring up ACE scores and ask about their childhood. Sometimes they wanted to discuss it. Sometimes they didn’t. Either was ok.

One thing we should NOT do is insist that everyone be “nice”. We had a temporary doctor who told us her story. Her family escaped Southeast Asia in a boat. They had run out of water and were going to die when they were found by pirates. The pirates gave them water. They made it to land and were in a refugee camp for eight years or so. She eventually made it to the US. She was deemed too “undiplomatic” for our rural hospital. I wondered if people would have said that if they knew her history and what she had been through. It’s not exactly a Leave it to Beaver childhood, is it? When she was telling us about nearly dying of thirst in the boat, my daughter left her chair and climbed on my lap. She was under ten and understood that this was a true and very frightening story.

We can support this generation of children. This has been and is still being Adverse Experiences for adults as well. Family deaths, job loss, failure of jobs to support people, inflation. Remember the 1920s, after World War I and the last pandemic, of influenza. “On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, which provided enabling legislation to implement the 18th Amendment.” (wikipedia). There were forces trying to legislate behavior, as there are now. The result in 1920s of making alcohol illegal was speakeasies, illegal alcohol, and violence. Some people acted wild after WWI and the influenza pandemic and some people tried to lock down control, by controlling other peoples’ behavior. It did not work then and it will not work now. The wildness is out of control grief, I think, grief dysfunctional and drinking and shooting and doing anything and everything, legal or not. We remember how the 1920s ended too. Let us not repeat that. Let us mourn and grieve and support each other and support each other’s decisions and autonomy.

Blessings.

how to use a specialist

I am a rural Family Medicine doctor, board certified and board eligible. I have used the Telemedicine groups in the nearest big University Hospital since 2010.

Initially I started with the Addiction Telemedicine. I accidentally became the only physician in my county prescribing buprenorphine for opioid overuse in 2010. I panicked when I started getting calls. Dr. Merrill from UW had taught the course and gave me his pager number. I acquired 30 patients in three weeks, because the only other provider was suddenly unavailable. Dr. Merrill talked me through that 21 day trial by fire.

I think that I presented at least 20 patients to telemedicine the first year. The telemedicine took an hour and a half. First was a continuing medical education talk on some aspect of “overuse”, aka addiction, and then different doctors would present cases. We had to fill out a form and send it in. It had the gender and year of birth, but was not otherwise supposed to identify the person. TeleAddiction had a panel, consisting of Dr. Merrill (addiction), a psychiatrist, the moderator/pain doctor, and a physiatrist. Physiatrists are the doctor version of a physical therapist. They are the experts in trying to get people the best equipment and function after being blown up in the military or after a terrible car wreck or with multiple sclerosis. There would usually be a fifth guest specialist, often the presenter.

After a while, TeleAddiction got rolled into Telepain and changed days. They added other groups: one for psychiatry, one for HIV and one for hepatitis C. These can all overlap. I mostly attend TelePain and TelePsychiatry.

After a while, I pretty much know what the Telepain specialists are going to advise. So why would I present a patient at that point? Ah, good question. I use Telepain for the weight of authority. I would present a patient when the patient was refusing to follow my recommendations. I would present to Telepain, usually with a very good idea of what the recommendations would be. The team would each speak and fax me a hard copy. I would present this to the patient. Not one physician, and a rural primary care doctor, but five: I was backed up by four specialists. My patients still have a choice. They can negotiate and they always have the right to switch to another doctor. Some do, some don’t.

I am a specialist too. Family Practice is a specialty requiring a three year residency. The general practitioners used to go into practice after one year of internship. My residency was at OHSU in Portland, with rotations through multiple other specialties. We rotated through the high risk obstetrics group, alternating call with the obstetrics residents, which gave me excellent training for doing rural obstetrics and knowing when to call the high risk perinatologist. In my first job I was four hours by fixed wing from the nearest more comprehensive obstetrics, so we really had to think ahead. No helicopter, the distance was too far and over a 9000 foot pass, in all four directions. That was rather exciting as well.

Resources on opioid addiction

This is a list of resources on opioid addiction that I am putting together for a talk to a community advocate group this Thursday.

The big picture:

CDC Grand Rounds: Prescription Drug Overdoses — a U.S. Epidemic, January 2012: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6101a3.htm

CDC 2018 (It’s not getting better yet.) https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0329-drug-overdose-deaths.html


Snohomish County:

Snohomish County:

http://mynorthwest.com/878895/snohomish-co-opioid-crisis/

https://drkottaway.com/2018/03/03/reducing-recidivism-snohomish-county-sheriffs-office-and-human-services-program/

http://www.heraldnet.com/news/state-house-backs-snohomish-county-opioid-help-center/

http://knkx.org/post/snohomish-county-jail-now-offering-medically-assisted-detox-inmates

Washington State Pain Law

https://www.doh.wa.gov/ForPublicHealthandHealthcareProviders/HealthcareProfessionsandFacilities/OpioidPrescribing

https://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/PoisoningandDrugOverdose/OpioidMisuseandOverdosePrevention


Is it genes that make people addicts?
(The short answer is genes are a minimal contribution. It is society and patterns learned in childhood and adulthood.)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (put people at way higher risk for addiction):
https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html


Books that helped me understand addiction
(in my teens):

It will never happen to me by Claudia Black (about the patterns children take in addiction households to survive and cope with childhood)

Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown (a black male writes about his childhood in Harlem when heroin hit the community. He was in a gang at age 6.)

Causes of death: which does your doctor treat?

What is the number one cause of death in the United States? The heart. You know that.

You might know the number two: all the cancer deaths put together.

Number three is lower respiratory disease: mostly caused by tobacco.

Number four. Can you guess? Number four is accidents. Unintentional deaths. In 2012 number four was stroke, but unintentional deaths have moved up the list, here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm. The CDC tracks unintentional deaths, here: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/accidental-injury.htm. And what is the number one cause of unintentional death right now? It is not gun accidents. It is not car wrecks. It is not falls. It is unintentional overdose: usually opioids, legal or illegal, often combined with other sedating medicines or alcohol. Alcohol, sleep medicines, benzodiazepines, some muscle relaxants. No suicide note. Not on purpose. Or we don’t know if it is on purpose….

And does your physician try to prevent accidental death? Do they talk to you about seatbelts, about wearing bicycle helmets, about smoke alarms, about falls in the elderly, about domestic violence, about locking up guns? About not driving when under the influence? Do they talk about addiction and do they treat addiction?I think that every primary care physician should treat the top ten causes of death. I am a family medicine physician and I try to work with any age, any person. I treat addiction as well as chronic pain. I have always tried to talk about the risk of opiates when I prescribe them. I treat addictions including alcoholism, methamphetamines, cocaine, tobacco and opioids. Legal, illegal and iv opioids, from oxcodone and hydrocodone to heroin. That doesn’t mean I can safely treat every patient outpatient. People with multi drug addiction, or complex mental health with addiction, or severe withdrawal must be treated inpatient. But I have taken the buprenorphine training to get my second DEA number to learn how to safely treat opiate overuse. I took the course in 2011. I was the only physician in my county of 27,000 people who was a prescriber for two years. Now we have more, but still the vast majority of physicians in the United States have not taken the training even when it is offered free.

I don’t understand why more physicians, primary care doctors, are NOT taking the buprenorphine and recognition and treatment of opiate overuse course. Most are not trained. Why not take the training? Even if they are not prescribers, they will be much better informed for the options for patients. People are dying from opioids daily. Physicians have a DEA number to prescribe controlled substances: I think that every physician who prescribes opioids also has a duty and obligation to train to recognized and intervene and be informed about treating opioid overuse.

A large clinic group in Portland, Oregon made the decision last year that every primary care provider was required to train in buprenorphine. One provider disagreed and chose to leave. However, everyone else is now trained.

We as a country and as physicians need to get past fear, past stigma, past discrimination and past our fixed ideas and step up to take care of patients. If a physician treats alcoholism as part of primary care, they should also be knowledgeable and trained in treatment of opiate overuse.

Ask YOUR physician and YOUR local clinics: Do the providers prescribe opiates? Are their providers trained in preventing, recognizing and treating opiate addiction? Do they treat opiate overuse? Do they understand how buprenorphine can save lives and return people to work and to their families? Are they part of the solution?

For the Daily Prompt: provoke.

Why care for addicts?

Why care for addicts?

Children. If we do addiction medicine and help and treat addicts, we are helping children and their parents and our elderly patients’ children. We are helping families, and that is why I chose Family Practice as my specialty.

Stop thinking of addiction as the evil person who chooses to buy drugs instead of paying their bills. Instead, think of it as a disease where the drug takes over. Essentially, we have trouble with addicts because they lie about using drugs. But I think of it as the drug takes over: when the addict is out of control, the drug has control. The drug is not just lying to the doctor, the spouse, the parents, the family, the police: the drug is lying to the patient too.

The drug says: just a little. You feel so sick. You will feel so much better. Just a tiny bit and you can stop then. No one will know. You are smart. You can do it. You have control. You can just use a tiny bit, just today and then you can stop. They say they are helping you, but they aren’t. Look how horrible you feel! And you need to get the shopping done and you can’t because you are so sick…. just a little. I won’t hurt you. I am your best friend.

I think of drug and alcohol addiction as a loss of boundaries and a loss of control. I treat opiate overuse patients and I explain: you are here to be treated because you have lost your boundaries with this drug. Therefore it is my job to help you rebuild those boundaries. We both know that if the drug takes control, it will lie. So I have to do urine drug tests and hold you to your appointments and refuse to alter MY boundaries to help keep you safe. If the drug is taking over, I will have you come for more frequent visits. You have to keep your part of the contract: going to AA, to NA, to your treatment group, giving urine specimens. These things rebuild your internal boundaries. Meanwhile you and I and drug treatment are the external boundaries. If that fails, I will offer to help you go to inpatient treatment. Some people refuse and go back to the drug. I feel sad but I hope that they will have another chance. Some people die from the drug and are lost.

Addiction is a family illness. The loved one is controlled by the drug and lies. The family WANTS to believe their loved one and often the family “enables” by helping the loved one cover up the illness. Telling the boss that the loved one is sick, procuring them alcohol or giving them their pills, telling the children and the grandparents that everything is ok. Everything is NOT ok and the children are frightened. One parent behaves horribly when they are high or drunk and the other parent is anxious, distracted, stressed and denies the problem. Or BOTH are using and imagine if you are a child in that. Terror and confusion.

Children from addiction homes are more likely to be addicts themselves or marry addicts. They have grown up in confusing lonely dysfunction and exactly how are they supposed to learn to act “normally” or to heal themselves? The parents may have covered well enough that the community tells them how wonderful their father was or how charming their mother was at the funeral. What does the adult child say to that, if they have memories of terror and horror? The children learn to numb the feelings in order to survive the household and they learn to keep their mouths shut: it’s safer. It is very hard to unlearn as an adult.

I have people with opiate overuse syndrome who come to see me with their children. I have drawings by children that have a doctor and a nurse and the words “heroes” underneath and “thank you”. I  have had a young pregnant patient thank me for doing a urine drug screen as routine early in pregnancy. “My friend used meth the whole pregnancy and they never checked,” she said, “Now her baby is messed up.”

Addiction medicine is complicated because we think people should tell the truth. But it is a disease precisely because it’s the loss of control and loss of boundaries that cause the lying. We should be angry at the drug, not the person: love the person and help them change their behavior. We need to stop stigmatizing and demeaning addiction and help people. For them, for their families, for their children and for ourselves.

I took the photo of my daughter on Easter years ago.

Chronic pain update 2015

As a rural family practice physician, I am in an area with very few specialists. Our county has a 25 bed hospital and we have a urologist, three general surgeons, three orthopedists (except when we were down to none at one point), two part time hematologist oncologists and that’s it. We have a cardiologist who comes one day a week. We have a physicians assistant who worked with an excellent dermatologist for years: hooray! Local derm! Our neurologist retired and then died. We had two psychiatrists but one left. We had one working one half day a week.

I trained in treating opiate addiction with buprenorphine in 2010 and attended telemedicine with the University of Washington nearly weekly for a year and a half. Then life intervened. I attended last week again, but not the addiction medicine group. That is gone. Now there are two telemedicine pain groups.

And what have I learned since my Chronic pain update 2011?

Chronic opiates suck, and especially for “disorders of central pain processing” which includes fibromyalgia, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, TMJ, chronic fatigue, and all of the other pain disorders where the brain pain centers get sensitized. We don’t know what triggers the sensitization, though a high Adverse Childhood Experience score puts a person more at risk. Cumulative trauma? Tired mitochondria? Incorrect gut microbiome? All of them, I suspect.

Jon Kabot Zinn, PhD has been studying mindfulness meditation for over 30 years. He has books, CDs, classes. Opiates at best drop pain levels an average of 30%. His classes drop pain levels an average of 50%. I’ve read two of his books, Full Catastrophe Living and ….. and I used the CD that came with the former to help me sleep after my father and sister died. Worked. Though I used the program where he says, “This is to help you fall more awake, not fall asleep.” Being contrary, it put me to sleep 100% of the time.

Body work is being studied. Massage, physical therapy, accupuncture, touch therapy and so forth. It turns out that when you have new physical input, the brain says, “Hey, turn down the pain fibers, I have to pay attention to the feathers touching my left arm.” So, if you have a body part with screwed up pain fibers, touch it. Touch it a lot, gently, with cold, with hot, with feathers, a washcloth, a spoon, something knobby, plastic. Better yet, have someone else touch it with things with your eyes closed and guess what the things are: your brain may tell the pain centers “Shut up, I’m thinking.” Well, sensing. A study checking hormone blood levels every ten minutes during a massage showed the stress hormone cortisol dropping in half and pain medicating hormones dropping in half. So, massage works. Touch works. Hugs work. Go for it.

There are new medicines. I don’t like pills much. However, the tricyclic antidepressants, old and considered passe, are back. They especially help with the central pain processing disorders. I haven’t learned the current brain pathway theories. The selective serotonin uptake reinhibitors (prozac, paxil, celexa, etc) increase the amount of serotonin in the receptors: chronic pain folks and depressed folks have low serotonin there, so increasing it helps many. As an “old” doc, that is, over 50, I view new medicines with suspicion. They often get pulled off the market in 10 to 20 years. I can wait. I will use them cautiously.

We are less enthused about antiinflammatories. People bleed. The gut bleeds. Also, the body uses inflammation to heal an area. So, does an antiinflammatory help? Very questionable.

Diet can affect pain. When I had systemic strep, I would go into ketosis within a couple of hours of eating as the strep A in my muscles and lungs fed on the carbohydrates in my blood. This did not feel good. However, the instant I was ketotic, my burning strep infected muscles would stop hurting. Completely. I am using a trial diet in clinic for some of my chronic pain patients. I had a woman recently try it for two weeks. She came back and said that her osteoarthritis pain disappeared in her right hip entirely. She then noticed that the muscles ached around her left hip. She has been limping for a while. The muscles are pissed off. She ate a slice of bread after the two weeks and the right hip osteoarthritis pain was back the next day. “Hmmmm.” I said. She and I sat silent for a bit. It’s stunning if we can have major effects on chronic pain with switching from a carb based diet to a ketotic one.

I attended one of the chronic pain telemedicines last week and presented a patient. My question was not about opiates at all, but about ACE scores and PTSD in a veteran. The telemedicine specialists ignored my question. They told me to wean the opiate. He’s on a small dose and I said I would prefer to wean his ambien and his benzodiazepines first. They talked down to me. One told me that when I was “taking a medicine away” I could make the patient feel better by increasing another one. As I weaned the oxycodone, I should increase his gabapentin. I thought, yeah, like my patients don’t know the difference between oxycodone and gabapentin. No wonder patients are angry at allopaths. I didn’t express that. Instead, I said that he’d nearly died of urosepsis two weeks ago, so we were focused on that rather than his back pain at the third visit. All but one physician ignored everything I said: but the doctor from Madigan thanked me for taking on veterans and offered a telepsychiatry link. That may actually be helpful. Maybe.

And that is my chronic pain update for 2015. Blessings to all.

http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/

http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/about-us/people/2-meet-our-faculty/kabat-zinn-profile/

I can’t think of a picture for this. I don’t think it should have a picture.

Chronic pain and antidepressants

Continue reading

Opiate overuse: a change in diagnostic criteria

In the DSM IV, that is, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, opioid dependence disorder and opioid addiction disorder are separate. Everyone on a chronic pain medicine for a length of time was expected to be dependent, but not addicted. Addiction was considered rare and was thought to be mostly people who abused opiates. Who took them for pleasure. Oxycontin, heroin, vicodon. Those bad people who were partying. Got what they deserved, didn’t they?

That has changed. My feeling was that it’s been a long time coming, but no one asked me.

In the DSM V, opioid dependence and opioid addiction have been combined into “Opioid Use Disorder”. They are no longer considered separate. They are a spectrum. Anyone who is on chronic opioids is on that spectrum. This is a big change. It has not really penetrated the doctors’ consciousness, much less the patients.

It is quite simple to score. There are 11 criteria. They are yes and no questions. Score and add up. The patients are scored mild, moderate or severe.

Here are the criteria:

Opioid Use Disorder requires meeting 2 or more criteria; increasing severity of use disorder with increasing number of criteria met.

1. Recurrent substance use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.

2. Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.

3. Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance.

4. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:

(a) a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication of desired effect.
(b) markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.

5. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:

(a) the characteristic withdrawal syndrome or
(b) the same (or a closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

6. The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended.

7. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use.

8. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use of the substance or recover from its effects.

9. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use.

10. The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.

11. Craving or a strong desire to use opioids.

Mild substance use disorder is yes to 2-3 of these.

My chronic pain patients ask, “Why do you treat me like a drug addict?”

The answer now is, “Because you are on a chronic opiate.”

I am starting to use the criteria in clinic. When I get a new chronic pain patient, I give them the list. I let them tell me.

It is hard because they often recognize 3 or 4 or 5 or more things on the list. They say, “So this is saying I’m addicted.”

“I’m afraid so.”

They grieve.

I am posting this because people are dying. The number of people dying from prescription medicine overdoses taken correctly has outstripped illegal drug use deaths, approximately 27,000 unintentional overdose deaths in 2007.

Here: CDC Grand Grand Rounds: Prescription Drug Overdoses – a U. S. Epidemic.

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6101a3.htm

The CDC article says: “The two main populations in the United States at risk for prescription drug overdose are the approximately 9 million persons who report long-term medical use of opioids, and the roughly 5 million persons who report nonmedical use (i.e., use without a prescription or medical need), in the past month.”That is “approximately” 14 million people.

Please tell your friends and those you love about this. Thank you.

first published on everything2 on June 4, 2014.