Addiction services doctor talks about substance abuse

As team physician for Northern Michigan University athletics for more than 30 years, Dr. John Lehtinen is a member of the NMU Sports Hall of Fame. He’s also the only board-certified addiction medicine physician practicing in the Upper Peninsula. It was in that capacity that he spoke with the Marquette County Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention Coalition.

The coalition usually takes July off from its schedule of monthly meetings at the MARESA building in Marquette. However, the group wanted to remain active this month, and it had wanted to bring in Dr. Lehtinen for a presentation for quite some time “and actually show what goes on in the brain of somebody that’s struggling with substance use disorders,” he said. “The science that we see and have today really has identified and opened up a lot of new knowledge and allows us to better manage and take care of people who have this disorder.”

The coalition members sent Dr. Lehtinen some questions ahead of time that he addressed for the group.

“What are some popular medications that are prescribed for anxiety?”, Marquette County Health Department health educator Sarah Derwin said. “More information on Suboxone and Subutex (two brand names for buprenorphine, which is used to treat opiate addiction but can be purchased illegally on the street), people just not being clear on ‘is it addictive? How does it work? How many people are getting it?”

Dr. Lehtinen told the coalition that substance addiction is a brain disease that can be prevented and treated.

“That’s part of the strategy for dealing with it and treating it, to try to get neurotransmitter rebalancing, as I call it, as the brain attempts to heal, so that is the process that I utilize each and every day for the people that I see,” he said.

With many types of substances, it’s possible for some people’s brains to become addicted after using just once, so Dr. Lehtinen says the only way to guarantee that a dependence doesn’t form is to never use at all.