Doctors changing paths to help opioid crisis

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - UK Anesthesiologist Dr. J. Thomas Murphy is part of a growing number of doctors who are handing over their current credentials, for a career in addiction medicine.

"I'm now practicing a different kind of medicine altogether, while still practicing anesthesia," Murphy said.

Dr. Murphy started his career in cardiac anesthesiology decades ago. He trained in Canada, then took a job in Saudi Arabia. He says substance use in both locations was not a big problem. But when he moved to Kentucky in 2002, he started meeting patients that needed heart valve transplants--an operation usually reserved for older people.

"But now it's not unusual at all because of the incidence of opioid use disorder and injection drug use," Murphy pointed out.

So instead of continuing to sedate patients, Murphy decided to he was interested in giving them a new life. WKYT sat down with him at UK's Center for Drug and Alcohol Research.

"I've been here at the clinic since November," he explained. In 2014, Dr. Murphy passed board certification for addiction medicine. "It's really quite satisfying, quite gratifying. The patients I'm seeing today are doing well on treatment."

Murphy said the changes in addiction medicine, by giving patients different options for treatment, has really been a game-changer.

"We have an increase in understanding and a different approach to patients with opioid use disorder now than we did five, ten fifteen years ago."

He said working in anesthesia and addiction medicine are very different.

"Anesthesiology is very minute to minute, hour to hour kind of practice. Addiction medicine, I find I take a much longer view and a more comprehensive view of the patient."