Originally created 09/23/05

Doctors fight drug abuse, mental illness at same time

If not for a new treatment strategy at the Medical College of Georgia, Nicole Wiggins says, she doesn't know where she might be today.

After checking in and out of several facilities to help her kick her crack addiction, Mrs. Wiggins, 44, stopped taking several medications prescribed for her mental illnesses, including depression and schizophrenia.

In February, she was admitted to MCG Hospital with suicidal tendencies.

That's where Dr. Peter Buckley, the chairman of MCG's Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior, introduced her to the department's dual diagnosis treatment program.

Now sober for two months and taking her medication, Mrs. Wiggins spoke to about 40 people Thurs- day during a forum addressing the problems of substance abuse and mental illness, which often co-exist.

"I am me today, and today I choose not to use," said Mrs. Wiggins, receiving a round of applause from the audience gathered in a conference room at the MCG Alumni Center.

The treatment program addressed her substance abuse problem and her mental illnesses at the same time, she said.

"The more I became clear, the more I had a better understanding of what was going on," said Mrs. Wiggins, who learned how abusing drugs worsened the symptoms of her mental illnesses.

Dr. Robert J. Ronis, the co-director of the Ohio Substance Abuse/Mental Illness Coordinating Center of Excellence, was the forum's guest speaker and spoke about treating substance abuse problems and mental illness together.

Dr. Ronis is also interim chairman and director of the Public/Community Psychiatry for the Department of Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Dual disorders in patients often lead to worse outcomes, such as suicide, mental illness relapse and family problems, he said.

Numerous studies have shown that integrated treatment of dual disorders is more effective than separate approaches, Dr. Ronis said.

In integrated dual disorder treatment, the same team of clinicians monitor and counsel clients through several stages of treatment.

Today, Mrs. Wiggins continues to see her counselor and physician and keeps up with her medication. She wanted to speak at the forum, sponsored by MCG and Hope House, to show that integrated dual diagnosis treatment is effective.

Relapse is always a possibility, however.

"This is something I continue to work at," she said.

Reach Kate Lewis at (706) 823-3215 or kate.lewis@augustachronicle.com.

Problems go hand-in-hand

More than 23 percent of adults with serious mental illness in the United States were dependent on or abused alcohol or illicit drugs. Twenty percent of adults with substance abuse or dependence problems also had a serious mental illness.

Source: The 2002 National Survey on Drug Use and Health


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