AATOD Conference 2013 + Dr. Kreek = Inspiration
by Zac Talbott, BA, CMA
I just returned home from the 2013 National Conference of AATOD (American Association for the Treatment of Opioid Dependence, Inc.) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and it was an energizing, inspiring and informative experience. I would be hard-pressed to even begin to disseminate all of the amazing information I absorbed, the wonderful people I met & the hope I now feel in a single blog entry, so I am going to focus here on one, specific and extremely life-changing experience with which I was blessed during the conference.
Dr. May Jeanne Kreek, who (along with Dr. Vincent Dole & Dr. Marie Nyswander) was one of the original researchers and founders of methadone maintenance treatment, offered a session at the conference titled "50 Year Follow-up of Methadone Treatment for Opioid Addiction" along with Elizabeth Ducat, NP, and Brenda Ray, NP, from The Rockefeller University in New York, New York that provided a historical overview of the evolution of methadone treatment based on a discussion of the work of Dole, Nyswander and Kreek. The establishment and expansion of methadone treatment nationally and internationally (as well as prisons and jails, the development and disappearance of LAAM and the growing use of buprenorphine and naltrexone) was reviewed by the presenters, chief among them Dr. Kreek. It was quite amazing to hear the early research, evolution and current state of methadone treatment from one of "the horse's mouths" through this presentation. There are simply no words for the enormity of the emotional and intellectual gratification that this opportunity afforded me and many others who were also blessed to share in this experience.
The one experience I had from this session, and likely the entire conference, that truly stands out and is burned into my memory and soul occurred after the presentation when I approached Dr. Kreek to introduce myself, shake her hand and thank her for her life-changing work. After the presentation was over a good friend, colleague, fellow advocate and leading expert in the medication-assisted treatment field, Sharon Dembinski, MSN, NP, CMA, and I approached Dr. Mary Jeanne Kreek to great her....
...I began to shake her hand, introduce myself as a certified methadone advocate and Director of the Tennessee and North Georgia Chapter of the National Alliance for Medication Assisted (NAMA) Recovery, and to thank her for her work. But when I told her that "methadone treatment saved my life; your work saved my life," she squeezed my hand tighter, pulled me closer to her and I saw her eyes begin to fill with tears. It took a few moments before she collected her words. She then told me, "I have been told that by hundreds of people. It always does this to me. You are the reason I keep going." While telling me this she was pointing to the tears as they rolled down her face...
...I stood there speechless and in awe as one of the most famous researchers in opioid addiction treatment and medication assisted treatment told me that I was the reason she kept going. As I saw her cry, and I no doubt began to tear up as well, it really made me realize - like I never had before - that this treatment was born out of a labor of love. Doctors Dole, Nyswander and Kreek were indeed accomplished physicians and researchers, but the driving force behind their work was a desire to change and save lives. The patients are what mattered and matter most to them, and it couldn't have been more clear to me than it was in that moment. She held onto my hand, despite the line of people behind us waiting to meet her, as though no one else in the room mattered. She wanted to talk to - and love - the patients whose lives have been transformed by this miraculous breakthrough in science and medicine more than anything or anyone else.
It wasn't until after this experience that it really dawned on me how she ended her presentation. The last words she said before closing out the session were, "...the love and care of patients." For too many years - decades - the "us versus them" mentality of patients and providers alike has driven a divide in our community. We are in this together. Lives are at stake. As patients we have a responsibility and duty to profess the transformative nature of medication assisted treatment (or, as they say in New York, "medication supported recovery") so that all those who are afflicted and affected by the debilitating disease we know as opioid addiction might know and experience the hope with which each of us have been blessed. Providers have a responsibility to remember why they are doing what they are doing - and the many lives that are affected by their work. We must remember that patients are individual, soul-filled people that deserve dignified treatment and respect. As Dr. Kreek said at the end of her presentation this AATOD Conference it's about the "love and care of patients" above all else.
I will never be the same.
Drs. Dole, Kreek & Nyswander