Today was the third and final day of the inaugural Medicine in Addiction conference in Melbourne. The focus of today's presentations was the complex issues that create challenges in managing patients' substance use.
The first presentation of the day was Dr Glenys Dore speaking on comorbid PTSD substance use disorder. The occurrence of trauma is common in the substance using population, and this population is vulnerable to developing PTSD. There are challenges involved in managing the withdrawal period when the symptoms of PTSD are likely to re-emerge, as well as treating PTSD in the post withdrawal period in order to reduce its impact as a trigger for relapse. Resources such as the National Guidelines on the management of comorbidities can provide some useful strategies. There have been some encouraging results for COPE (Concurrent Prolonged Exposure) therapy involving integrated CBT addressing both substance use and PTSD.
This was followed by a presentation on medical consequences of long term opioid use presented by A/Prof Nick Lintzeris. With greater, long term survival of opiate dependent individuals as well as changing patterns of opioid use (the increase in use of prescribed opiates), there is a growing population of older people dependent on opiates. This has resulted in increasing rates of the various clinical consequences of long term opiate use. The conditions that were discussed in some detail included hypogonadism from opiate induced androgen deficiency (OPIAD) with all of its sequelae which can adversely affect quality of life and morbidity(poor libido, fatigue, depressed mood...), and increasing rates of central sleep apnoea which leads to increased overdose risk in the older opiate dependent patient.
A/Prof Kate Conigrave spoke on the challenges in providing treatment to indigenous Australians. There are socioeconomic and cultural factors that can make the delivery of any health care, and particularly AOD treatment with all its baggage of guilt and shame, difficult. The levels of grief and loss in indigenous communities is high. Community and family hold a vital importance both as protective factors and as a triggers for relapse. The Aboriginal Medical Services can be a valuable resource, but as the community can be small there are times when a patient will not feel comfortable in accessing them. Understanding differences in communication styles is an important element in interacting with indigenous patients - visual resources are more helpful than text based resources, and clarifying "sharing" is important in taking substance use history.
Dr Beth Whitehouse from Austin Health (Talbot Hospital) discussed challenges involved in managing substance misuse in patient who have an acquired brain injury. Management often involves a multidisciplinary and multi-service team, and it is important for clear and specific goals to be decided upon. Patients often have poor insight and high impulsivity, and it is important to put practical strategies in place that are tailored to the patient's level of function and circumstances. It is important to provide psychoeducation to patients delivered at a level that they are able to make sense of.
The final session of the conference was a windup of the issues. Professor Michael Farrell, the new director of NDARC, spoke on future directions for the sector. After a sum total of 5 whole days in the job (and in the country), he was asked to sum up where we were at as a sector and predict what our future challenges were likely to be. He did a phenomenal job of summing up the discussions and concerns raised throughout the conference and, more importantly, presented some pertinent questions - As doctors working in this sector what are our goals? What outcomes do we want to see? What is our voice and our message? The delegates were then also left pondering what footy team he was likely to adopt now he is here in Australia (of course the issues came up - the conference was in Melbourne after all).
The conference was closed by Prof Dan Lubman as we all broke for lunch full of anticipation for the next conference...