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Tucson doctor says untreated childhood trauma major reason behind opioid epidemic

Posted at 6:09 AM, Feb 27, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-27 08:09:33-05

The Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act is working to lower the number of overdoses from opioids, but one recovery center here in Tucson says prescribing fewer pills is really not the biggest issue.

KGUN9 spoke with Dr. Bennet Davis at Sierra Tucson, an addiction and mental trauma treatment center, and he said 80-90% of people addicted to opioids have had severe mental trauma that was never treated. This mental trauma is most often during childhood and could be something like an assault or long-term verbal or physical abuse.

Dr. Davis said untreated mental trauma can make people much more vulnerable to addiction. Trauma to the nervous system can alter the way it works and create physical pain. Because of that, Dr. Davis said treating this epidemic goes beyond treating opioid and overdose issues. He believes many of the people who are addicted to opioids don't even suffer from an addiction disorder:

"Theres a whole other high-risk, at-risk population for whom addiction treatment isn't going to be the right thing, and if we try to treat them as if they had an addiction disorder, it wont work, and they'll usually run away or exit the system," said Davis.

At Sierra Tucson, Dr. Davis says they specifically screen patients for childhood trauma and have different treatment plans for addiction recovery and therapy for mental trauma. Dr. Davis says he hopes in the future more primary care providers will begin screening for mental trauma to treat pain instead of prescribing medications right away.