PRESTONSBURG – More than 125 professionals from across the region participated in an educational forum on addiction-related issues Saturday, November 12.

The “Kentucky Medical Communities UNITED” program, hosted by Operation UNITE’s Medical Advisory Council at Allen Baptist Church, was the first of four state-wide forums to be offered through an Appalachian Regional Commission grant and in partnership with Pikeville Medical Center.

To view photos from the forum click here.

“Each of the forums is intended to offer a variety of viewpoints designed to get people thinking together about addiction and ways to approach treatment,” said Mike Vance, a member of the Medical Advisory Council and chair of the Floyd County UNITE Coalition. “We are not trying to promote one method over another.”

Dates and locations for the next three forums have not yet been finalized.

“Addiction is a disease,” noted Dr. William T. Fannin, a certified addiction medicine provider from Pikeville. “If we don’t treat it as such we’re not going to make any progress.”

“When I first started, we couldn’t have gotten 25 to 30 people together to talk about this issue,” Fannin added. “Your presence here today is encouraging.”

“We have a lot of doctors who simply do not know this disease,” commented Dr. Burns M. Brady, a board-certified family physician and addictionologist from Louisville. “Little by little the fingers of recovery come together.”

Those attending Saturday’s forum included physicians, physician assistants, nurses, dentists, psychologists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, social workers, family therapists and certified alcohol and drug counselors.

Fannin, whose discussion centered on opiate/opioid addiction, explained that addiction is a brain disease that is characterized by two states: drug abuse (a problem caused by making bad choices) and chemical dependence (which takes away the body’s ability to be in control).

Improvements in neurobiology have greatly facilitated understanding about how addiction works, and thus the ability to provide appropriate treatments, Fannin said. But, “you can’t separate the mind, body and spirit” in treating addiction.

He likened the process to having a well-stocked toolbox. “None (of these tools) is the end all, but they all have their purpose,” so a comprehensive understanding of all options is essential.

Regardless of the method of treatment – which needs to include counseling and belief in some higher power – recovery from substance abuse dependence is a “voluntarily maintained lifestyle,” Fannin said.

Research during the past two decades, especially in human genetics, has unscrambled many of the mysteries, Brady said. “We now have an insight into this disease that we never had before.”

Brady, who struggled through his own addictions with amphetamines and alcohol, said he has never seen a successful recovery program that doesn’t include spirituality. Since then he has made it “his mission” to learn about and to share information about addiction.

“This is a multi-faceted disease and brain chemistry … is only a small part of it,” Brady said. “If (people) don’t learn a different way to live, you can give them every medicine on God’s green earth and it isn’t going to … minimize the risk.”

While today’s drug problems may have a resemblance to alcoholism of the past, it is a greatly different illness because “we are tormented with a whole lot more problems,” Brady said. Unfortunately, “sometimes the dragon wins.”

Helping put a face to the addiction problem were two recovering addicts who have successfully completed treatment at WestCare’s residential facility in Pike County. Each shared their story and reinforced the importance of having a strong support structure as they continue to stay clean.

Substance abuse disorders should be viewed as a lifestyle-related disease that is treatable, noted Vance, who presented an overview of the “PRIME For Life” program, which prepares addicts for the recovery process.

Rhonda Clark, a social worker/CADC with Van Ark Behavioral Management and Hope In The Mountains in Prestonsburg, encouraged those in attendance to involve themselves in efforts of UNITE’s Medical Advisory Council.

The Council was formally organized in April 2011 to aid in the fight against drug abuse and diversion through a process of education, accountability, monitoring and continual re-evaluation of what medical professionals do together. Members meet every fourth Thursday of the month at 5:30 p.m. in the conference training room of the Big Sandy Area Development District, 100 Resource Drive, Prestonsburg.

“If you keep on fighting something good will happen,” Vance told the participants. “I encourage you to go out and do all that you can do.”