The Northern Tier Providers Coalition (NTPC) held their 15th Annual Conference in Lake Placid, Nov 6-8.  The NTPC Coalition is composed of chemical dependency programs (treatment and prevention) and Community Service Directors of Essex, Clinton, Franklin Hamilton, Lewis, St. Lawrence Counties and the Akwesasne Reserve.  I have always found their conferences beneficial because of their focus on preventing and treating addiction, and supporting recovery in rural communities.

This year was the coalition’s fifteenth annual conference and, once again, I left a NTPC conference with new information and insight into some of the current trends in addiction.  For me, the highlights of the conference were the presentations by the Medical Director of the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, Steven Kipnis, M.D.  Dr. Kipnis is always an engaging presenter who has a great sense of humor and an ability to make complex medical concepts understandable.

Dr. Kipnis walked his audience through recent drug trends, prescription drug misuse and the current issues related to synthetic drugs.  The recently released IOM report Substance Use Disorders in the U.S. Armed Forces stressed the growing concern surrounding prescription drug misuse (now the preferred term instead of ‘abuse’) in the military.  One of Dr. Kipnis’ presentations focused on the changing environment of prescription drugs.  While not specifically centered on our service members and veterans, it provided attendees with an update of the dangers of misusing prescription drugs and insight into what circumstances are leading to these problems.  Some of the circumstances that contribute to the growth in prescription drug misuse are people sharing medications – especially the elderly who may want to help their friends by giving them their unused medications so they can avoid a visit to the doctor or a co-pay.  Doctors may also contribute to the problem when, in an attempt to help their patients save money and not need a refill, they issue a prescription for a large amount of medication.  He also shared the frustration he felt when he had a medical practice – people would often complain if they didn’t receive a prescription for their ailment.  As doctors’ time becomes increasing constrained it is often easier to medicate a problem.

An issue specifically related to our service members and veterans is addiction to prescription benzodiazipine.  Dr. Kipnis spoke of this drug’s dangers because of its highly addictive nature.  In light of a recent article in Psychiatric Services in Advance which presented a study that indicated that benzodiazipines are not effective at treating PTSD, this is a significant concern for health care providers who are delivering care to our service members and veterans.  It was particularly relevant at this conference because the study also showed that benzodiazipines are more often prescribed to our veterans in rural areas.

I entered the conference with a sense that I was, for the most part, up to date on the current issues in addiction.  At the end of the conference I was amazed at all of the new developments and research that continue to emerge.  It left me anxious to learn more!