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MATTERS’ Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Joshua Lynch, presented a keynote address titled ‘Addiction in Medicine’ at the 2024 Can-Am Clinical Anesthesia Conference on May 4th. This event was hosted at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, marking the first time this international conference was held in the United States.

Thank you to Dirk Hoffman from the University at Buffalo for highlighting Dr. Lynch’s participation in this event! The following content is an excerpt from the original article, which you can access by clicking here.

Addressing Addiction in Health Care

The keynote address, titled “Addiction in Medicine,” was given by Joshua J. Lynch, DO, clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at the Jacobs School, and the founder of MATTERS, an innovative opioid treatment program.

Lynch said that he wanted to talk about rates of addiction in health care professionals and how it uniquely affects anesthesiology.

“Addiction has a certain level of stigma and is obviously amplified when talking about addiction in medicine,” he said.

“These people are our colleagues, but they are also suffering patients.” Lynch emphasized. “Sometimes it is heavy on us and tricky to relate those two things happening at the same time.”

Lynch mentioned a work of fiction, “The Stairs in Billy Buck Hill,” by Steven L. Orebaugh, MD, a professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Its main character is an anesthesiologist at the peak of his career who runs into problems with addiction.

“The book highlights how the smallest misstep can lead to a cascade of events that are out of control and may put someone in a position where they never thought they would be,” Lynch said.

The field of anesthesiology has some unique risk factors that set up for almost the perfect environment to develop an addiction, if it is going to happen, Lynch adds.

“Think about the work environment — working more or less by yourself, behind a sheet, with little or no supervision. It is kind of the perfect environment for it to progress unchecked for a long time,” he said. “You are also very skilled at controlling sedation and pain management for your patients, but also for yourself. That leads to a fairly dangerous trajectory.”

Overcoming Obstacles to Treatment

With appropriate treatment, many individuals go on to return to the field and lead productive and satisfying and safe careers, Lynch noted.

“Returning to work is what we want if it can happen safely. What the recovery pathway looks like will vary among individuals and institutions,” he said. “What I will say is a rush to return to work is rarely successful. It takes time, it needs to be deliberate and rushing that process almost guarantees to set you up for failure.”

Lynch said there is often a three-pronged approach to addiction treatment — counseling, MAT (medication-assisted treatment) and peer groups. “Counseling and peer groups are wraparound services,” he said. “The medication is what does the heavy lifting.”

Lynch said the MATTERS program was developed at UB to break down some of the barriers and make it easier to link people to treatment.

“It is all app-based, so linkage to treatment or requesting supplies such as free naloxone or test strips can all be done through the app,” he said. “Patients can ask for telemedicine assessments. In Western New York, those are available 24 hours a day and linkage to treatment can happen during the course of that evaluation.”

[Dr. Stacey] Watt said that Lynch’s address was a highlight of the conference. “Dr. Lynch approached a topic that is of paramount importance and addressed it in a way which allowed for honest dialogue,” she said. “He is a true expert in the field of addiction medicine, and everyone left that keynote address with greater awareness, understanding and knowledge about the impact of addiction.”

“His address will be the start of many open and honest conversations between faculty, residents and students on how we can best help one another and utilize resources, such as the MATTERS program to educate, support and save lives.”