DALLAS, TX — The faces of drug addiction rarely match up with the stereotype. Signs of a person with a substance abuse disorder are often subtle, which is why people with these disorders suffer in silence. And contrary to popular belief, anyone from any background can have substance abuse issues.
Doctor Ralph Cox has been in the medical field for 35 years. But in the past 10 years, he has found his calling working with people struggling with substance abuse disorders.
C0x works for Pathway Healthcare, a treatment and recovery clinic in Dallas. The clinic is a one-of-a-kind treatment center in terms of Dallas’ approach to substance abuse.
That’s because it’s a comprehensive program that combines counselors and doctors together under the same roof. Because as Cox put it, "treatment is more than just medication."
Substance abuse disorder is a medical condition and, much like diabetes, it can’t be treated with medicine alone. That’s why Pathway treats addictions much like a regular doctor treats an illness — with a combination of medicine, instruction and healthy lifestyle education.
Treatment, he said, is all about learning to deal with triggers and avoiding relapse. It’s also about providing the appropriate response for each unique substance. Not everyone who is addicted to a prescription medicine is addicted to opiates, Cox said. That’s why his practice focuses on treating each patient with a tailored approach.
It’s hard to identify how many people in Texas have substance abuse disorders, but an estimated 2,500 people died from drug overdoses in 2016 — and a majority of those were opioid-related. Perhaps it’s because 50 percent of patients who take opiate painkillers for longer than 30 days become dependent.
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A nationwide crackdown on prescription opiate abuse is working to curtail opiate addictions, but it hasn’t necessarily been for the better. Cox said patients who can’t obtain opiates sometimes turn to heroin, a deadly drug. Deaths from heroin overdoses have spiked as a result of the opiate crisis, he said.
Cox believes the opiate addiction began in a time when doctors started considering ‘pain’ as a vital sign. Doctors saw patients experiencing pain and immediately prescribed drugs to make it go away. As Cox put it, doctors who weren’t addressing pain weren’t considered good doctors.
But a good doctor in 2018 knows substance abuse recovery starts outside the walls of the clinic. Pathway officials work to increase access to treatment while removing the stigma associated with addiction. They also support measures to avoid law enforcement-heavy approaches when it comes to drugs.
"Locking someone up isn’t the answer. Without treatment, they will releapse," he said.
Cox said treatment is effective and strategies are in place to help patients move from where they are to where they want to be. With treatment, patients have turned their whole lives around.
"They don’t have to get up every morning and wonder where the next dose comes from."
Drug Abuse Facts:
Texas is No. 6 in terms of overdose deaths in 2015.There has been a 200 percent increase in opiate-related overdose deaths in United States between 2000 and today.In 2016, 63,000 death from drug overdoses. That’s a 22 percent increase from 2015.Pathway is located at 7515 Greenville Avenue.
Image via Pathway