ER Doctor Turns Crises Into Pathways to Addiction Treatment
One in an ongoing series.
The one thing a medical provider should never dispense is shame. Serge-Emile Simpson, MD, wants to make sure that never happens to patients at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia who are being treated for drug addiction.
Dr. Simpson, director of the Emergency Medicine Division of Medical Toxicology, says the stigma around addiction may prevent drug users from seeking medical attention at any hospital where historically they may have been met with judgment and disrespect.
“Sometimes hospitals in the hardest hit neighborhoods have been the cruelest,” he says. “That’s staggering to me. And I want the word to get out that’s not the case here.”
Dr. Simpson’s mission at Einstein is informed by work he’s done as a volunteer and a physician on loan to Prevention Point, a nonprofit organization that serves Kensington’s homeless and drug addicted. The organization’s needle exchange program, which provides clean needles to intravenous drug users, has been credited with preventing more than 10,500 HIV diagnoses in its first 10 years, according to recently published research.
“They do fantastic work without a lot of fanfare out of an old church in Kensington,” Dr. Simpson says of Prevention Point. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what the homeless and opioid abusing members of the hardest hit communities in Kensington and South Philadelphia would be doing.”
Dr. Simpson spends every Monday at Prevention Point administering the Medication-Assisted Treatment program, which provides medication to IV drug users to help them get sober and stay sober. Dr. Simpson’s work there, and as a member of the now disbanded Mayor’s Task Force to Combat the Opioid Epidemic, informs his larger goal to educate and sensitize Einstein staff so that patients know they can turn to Einstein for help.
He teaches colleagues and students what he learns on the front lines and has been successfully encouraging other Einstein physicians to receive necessary government waivers to prescribe Suboxone, which is used to treat addiction to opioids.
“My personal mission is to become a community resource for folks who have opioid addiction, so patients who live here feel Einstein is prepared to help them with their addiction, as opposed to ignoring it or handing if off to other providers,” he says.
The emergency room, where patients are treated for overdose, withdrawal, infections from needles or other health consequences of drug addiction, provides an obvious opportunity to guide patients into recovery, Dr. Simpson says.
“ERs tend to be the place where people crash land; we’re in a unique position to turn an overdose into an entrance to treatment,” he says.
Dr. Simpson’s interest in addiction treatment arose out of his experience between college and medical school, doing research about needle exchange programs in San Francisco. That’s where he also became involved in another activity that occupies much of his time and for which he’s known at the hospital: bicycle riding.
Dr. Simpson leads bike-riding outings in Fairmount Park with hospital colleagues every Sunday as a wellness and bonding exercise. Before he had children, he would frequently ride his bike to work from his home in West Philadelphia, “when I could spare the extra hour,” he says.
The opioid epidemic has also created new demands on his time as he advocates for vulnerable patients who once upon a time might have been met, in some places, with shame. Dr. Simpson’s mission is to make sure that never happens at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.