Doc­tor treats pa­tients like fam­ily

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Meth Crisis - Cure In The Community - By GIO­VANNI TORRE

FOR al­most 20 years, Dr Ge­orge O’neil and his staff have treated meth, heroin and other drug users through nal­trex­one im­plants and other meth­ods.

The wait­ing room at his Su­bi­aco clinic is full and pa­tients are also wait­ing out­side.

One of them, now a non-user, tells me he had been ad­dicted to meth for 25 years.

In­side a small room, Dr O’neil speaks with a pa­tient - Michael who has come for a re­place­ment im­plant.

“Ad­dic­tion is a phys­i­cal ill­ness, it is also a heart and soul ill­ness, it is also a com­mu­nity ill­ness,” he says.

His clin­ics use two types of drugs that op­er­ate as ob­struc­tions or block­ers – one for the opi­ate sys­tem and one for the val­ium or GABA-A sys­tem.

The GABA re­cep­tors are known as “re­ward cen­tres”, caus­ing plea­sure - or the high as­so­ci­ated with drug use.

Dr O’neil de­vel­oped the nal­trex­one im­plants for heroin but now treats hun­dreds of peo­ple each year for metham­phetamine ad­dic­tion.

“In the case of am­phet­a­mines

the anx­i­ety you see in ad­dicts is re­lated to the ter­ri­ble dam­age in their sys­tem.”

Dr O’neil speaks to Michael and his wife with pro­fes­sion­al­ism and kind­ness as though they were mem­bers of his fam­ily.

“Back in the com­mu­nity he is be­ing a non-user… he is not an ad­dict with all that that en­tails,” he says.

“We have to love the pa­tient first - and if we don’t they will pick the hypocrisy from a dis­tance.”

The pro­grams had re­ceived $3.5 mil­lion a year from the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral state govern­ment, un­til it passed fund­ing cuts of $1.1 mil­lion over three fi­nan­cial

years. “I need the new govern­ment to send some doc­tors to talk to me… to un­der­stand the phar­ma­col­ogy,” Dr O’neil said.

“We need to fund wages, pro­duc­tion of im­plants, the cen­tre in Northam - a whole range of 24hour care be­cause if they don’t have it they can’t get bet­ter.

“In Su­bi­aco right now we have three sur­geons work­ing flat out.

“Ev­ery time I treat ad­dic­tion, I am treat­ing a whole fam­ily in distress.

“We have a 68-year-old, 70year-old and 75-plus-year-old sur­geon here. You can’t get young doc­tors to work in an un­funded area.

“The typ­i­cal ad­dict is 25, with two kids aged around three or four years old. Their part­ner is quite of­ten a user as well.

“You change about 260 years of lives if you in­vest $100,000.

“If you don’t in­vest, you are wait­ing around and see­ing the jail pop­u­la­tion in­crease - and our com­mu­ni­ties fall­ing apart.”

Dr O’neil’s pro­duc­tion lab man­u­fac­tures the im­plants and the med­i­ca­tion at a cost of about $4 mil­lion a year.

“We have 150 beds at a cost of $150 per day. That’s $8 mil­lion a year,” he said.

“The 150 prison beds cost $16 mil­lion a year. We are try­ing to get peo­ple out of jail and get them re­cov­ered.

“We have a one-week in­ten­sive care detox that costs $8000 per pa­tient - that’s $8 mil­lion per year.”

In to­tal, Dr O’neil’s work costs $20 mil­lion per year, al­most all of which is funded by his fam­ily’s pri­vate busi­ness in­vest­ments.

A Men­tal Health Com­mis­sion spokes­woman said Dr O’neil’s Fresh Start pro­gram would re­ceive $3 mil­lion this fi­nan­cial year (201617) for the pro­vi­sion of res­i­den­tial re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion beds at Northam and sup­port ser­vices at Su­bi­aco.

Dr Ge­orge O’neil pre­pares a pa­tient for a nal­trex­one im­plant in his Su­bi­aco clinic.

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