The Opioid Epidemic: A Personal Story of Tragic Loss

Through the tragic loss of his son due to a drug overdose, Dr Abubaker began to examine everything around him, including his practice, his views, and societal views on prescribing narcotics and pain management.

Moderator: Elie M. Ferneini, MD, DMD, MHS, MBA, FACS

Author(s): A. Omar Abubaker, DMD, PhD

Dr. Omar Abubaker became involved with the struggle against the opioid epidemic after experiencing a tragic personal loss.

Here is his story:

My adult children came to me more than 3 years ago and told me that my youngest son, Adam, was addicted to heroin. After a short conversation with my son and his siblings, we agreed on getting him immediate treatment.

I began to learn more about addictions and opioid epidemic from that time forward. This was happening before news of the opioid epidemic was prevalent. As a health care provider, I was prescribing narcotics on an almost-daily basis to my patients. Addictions and the opioid epidemic were not on my radar screen as much as you would think.

Now, fast forward: My son goes into recovery in the rehab center and came out 7 or 8 months later. He continued in recovery for about 10 months. Then suddenly on September 27, 2014, he overdosed. Prior to this, during the summer and after coming out of rehab, he had gotten a job, started going back to school, and we thought life was returning to normal for him. After his relapse and overdose, he was pronounced brain dead a few days later.

On September 26th, a day before his relapse, he called me in the afternoon and asked, “Daddy, do you mind if I come over and we have lunch together?” And I said, “Yeah.” We got together and spent about 2 hours talking. I got the call at 8:00 the next morning and my son was found unresponsive and apneic. Five days later, he died.

My whole world was broken. It was a break in my mindset and in the world around me. When you feel like the whole world is broken, you then try to figure out a way to fix it. As a maxillofacial surgeon, I was trained and very good at fixing broken bones and jaws, but I had no knowledge, experience, or ideas of how to fix my psychologic break and the break in the world around me. So, I went about trying to figure how to fix my break. I went to an online graduate school and completed a very intensive 9-month program on addiction study. It was run by the collaboration of three universities around the world.

From that program, I learned a lot about addictions, neurophysiology of additions, narcotics, pain management, and pharmacology. {From then on, I went on to fix my world and the universe around me by using this knowledge on this topic. I found that, when talking to colleagues and resident students, others were as clueless about this universe as I was before my tragedy.}

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