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What's Up Magazine

Providing a Path to Recovery

Feb 06, 2014 01:26PM ● By Cate Reynolds
Q & A with AAMC Vice President Shirley Knelly

Why do you feel it is important for people in this community to start talking about substance abuse? Drug and alcohol abuse is rampant in this community, yet it is the disease that no one wants to talk about. That’s what people forget – it is a disease, just like cancer or heart disease or diabetes. Children, men and women who struggle with substance abuse deserve the same compassion, support and care that patients with these other diseases receive. This disease is no more shameful than any other disease that grips our community.

What is the biggest myth about substance abuse? The scariest myth is that substance abuse is suffered by people “not like us” – that they are people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The truth is that the adult patients we see in our Emergency Department or at Pathways (AAMC’s Substance Abuse Treatment Facility) are often people with high-paying jobs or who live in very nice neighborhoods. The children we see are often kids from “good families.” The disease of substance abuse is blind to income, race, or ethnic background.

What kind of numbers are we talking about? Statistics show that the number of people in Anne Arundel County who consume alcohol on a regular basis AND binge drink far exceeds both state and national figures. Last year there were more than 2,750 emergency room visits for people who were suffering from a substance related episode, i.e. overdose, alcohol poisoning, alcohol or drug induced impairment or accident – that’s an average of 7.5 people with a substance abuse emergency EVERY DAY.

You mentioned Pathways earlier, can you tell us a little more about that? Pathways Alcohol & Drug Treatment Center is located in Annapolis, Maryland, on Riva Road. The facility is owned and operated by Anne Arundel Medical Center, and it offers innovative inpatient and outpatient alcohol and drug treatment programs for adolescents and adults suffering from addiction. These programs are designed with the physical, emotional and social needs of the patients and their families in mind.

Pathways is guided by the philosophy that alcohol and drug addiction is a progressive illness, treatable through professional and compassionate care, strong family involvement, education and ongoing support. The goal is to help each individual attain the physical, emotional and social tools that light the path to a fulfilling personal recovery. Pathways’ alcohol and drug treatment programs are designed with respect for the needs of the individual and the family, as well as the needs of the community, the employer and the provider. The primary focus is the individual — and how to help him or her regain dignity, self-respect and gain the skills needed to be in recovery from alcohol and drugs.

Recently, Pathways received its transitioned to a co-occurring treatment facility, which means that we provide not only treatment for addiction, but also treating the underlying behavioral health issue (such as depression, anxiety, bi-polar etc.) that often is what leads a patient to want to “self-medicate” with drugs and/or alcohol. By being able to treat the addiction and the root cause of the addiction, we have a much greater chance of successfully leading the patient to life-long sobriety and mental health.

Why is addiction so hard for parents and loved ones to detect? Addiction is a silent killer as it comes on gradually, even slowly. The slow progression of the illness gives the patient’s body and personality a chance to adjust to the increasing levels of substance in the system, making them more capable of masking the behavioral changes and warning signs. Also, as loved ones, we live in denial. Those things just don’t happen in our family, so we find other explanations for the destructive behavior of substance abuse.

Is substance abuse environmental or hereditary? It can be either or both. That is another way we find to deny its existence in our families. “No one in our family has been an alcoholic or had an addiction, so the problem must be something else.” The reality is that it does not matter – the important thing is to address the issue head-on and seek effective care.

What is Anne Arundel Medical Center doing in the area of substance abuse, other than the operations of Pathways? Our goal is to provide the comprehensive care that our community clearly needs by creating a seamless, integrated system that address both substance abuse and mental health issues. This involves creating a coordinated effort between:
  • The adult and pediatric emergency departments at AAMC
  • Pathways
  • The local chapter of the National Association for Mental Illness
  • Public and private schools
  • The County Health Department and other community providers and resources

You mentioned the schools in the area – what is the connection there? The public schools eliminated focused substance abuse and prevention education from their curriculum a few years ago due to budget cuts and lack of state and national drug and alcohol funding programs, and many private schools have reduced or eliminated this curriculum as well. In response to this community need, Pathways provides a free substance abuse education and prevention educator who will go into public and private schools at no charge to facilitate prevention education classes and workshops for students, teachers, coaches, and/or parents. Any school administrator or counselor is encouraged to call Pathways (410-573-5454) to schedule a presentation or series of classes or workshops.

How can any one of us know if a friend or loved one is dealing with a substance abuse issue? The best way is to get an assessment. Pathways has counselors on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer questions and help you determine if further care or assessment is needed.

Shirley Knelly is the Vice President of Patient Quality and Safety at Anne Arundel Medical Center, as well as the President of Pathways. She has more than two decades of experience and innovative leadership in the fields of substance abuse and behavioral health. For more information, call Pathways at 410-573-5454.