Health Care Workers Tackle Opioid Crisis


The U.S. Attorney in South Dakota calls the 19 opioid-related criminal cases making their way through federal court, just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to battling the opioid epidemic.

While deterrents to dealing the drugs are important, figuring out better ways to address the stronghold addiction has on this country is another key piece of the puzzle.

Local and nationally-recognized health care providers gathered in Sioux Falls to talk about solutions to the opioid crisis.

“I think of addiction as a brain disease, but I also think of it as a disease of the soul,” Dr. Marvin Seppala, Chief Medical Officer of Hazelden Betty Ford, said.

The well-known Minnesota treatment center Hazelden Betty Ford and Sioux Falls’ Avera Health have partnered to look for innovative ways to treat addiction.

“Leading the way out of the Opioid Health Crisis,” included expert advice from Hazelden’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Marvin Seppala.  Ironically, Dr. Seppala was also the first teenager admitted to Hazelden.

“I started drinking at 12, smoking pot and other drugs almost every day by 15 and dropped out of school at 17. Fortunately, at that point my parents somehow got me into Hazelden,” Dr. Seppala said.

Dr. Seppala says by 19, he was sober and went down a new path.

“The major issue right now is the opioid crisis, but I see it as a manifestation of an overall addiction crisis that’s been going on for a century or two in the United States,” Dr. Seppala said.

Dr. Seppala says all medical professionals need more training in substance abuse disorder to get people help sooner.

“And most people during the course of their addiction are going to get in front of a doctor for one reason or another–somehow; certainly, nursing staff or a nurse practitioner. And if that whole group is informed, they have a chance to make good decisions and recognize a problem,” Dr. Seppala said.

That’s because 85 to 90 percent of people who are addicted don’t even know they have the disease.

“There’s a lack of public education about this disease and a lack of recognition of the symptoms of it,” Dr. Seppala said.

When Avera opens its new Treatment Care Center in Sioux Falls next fall, it will be part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Patient Care Network.

Dr. Seppala also addressed opioid prescriptions and points to how orthopedic surgeons have dramatically reduced the number of opioid pills they prescribe following surgery.  The panel also discussed new treatments in substance abuse disorder, including medications to treat opioid addiction.

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