Local RGH physician now board-certified in addiction medicine

Dr. J. Ely Walker

DEL NORTE — Dr. J. Ely Walker recently learned that he was accepted into the American Board of Addiction Medicine and is now board-certified to practice in the field of addiction medicine.

Among other health organizations throughout the San Luis Valley, Dr. Walker has been working to improve and grow addiction medicine services, including the new Recovery Clinic offered through Rio Grande Hospital.

Dr. Walker hopes that many services throughout the region will benefit by bringing back the knowledge of addiction medicine to the Valley.

“During my medical school, which wasn’t that long ago, there was no training in addiction. Zero," Walker said. "It was the same thing in my residency. You would see patients who were clearly suffering from addiction but actually addressing someone’s addiction? It wasn’t even on the radar for me.”

Dr. Walker said that the training he received in residency came down to how to treat the complications of addiction but not treat the root of the problem, and this was where Dr. Walker decided that he wanted to know more.

“This patient population is completely ostracized," he said. "They feel completely thrown to the curb, and they feel stigmatized. So, to help pull them out of where they are is very rewarding.”

The unfortunate reality of addiction is that many people who are suffering from addiction may not be fully ready to begin recovery. The process is long and can be very stressful for the patient, family, and friends.

The purpose of addiction medicine is to guide patients through that process and provide evidence-based options, which can include counseling, medications and access to other programs like SHARRP, to ensure the health and safety of not only the individual but the community as well until they are ready to commit to being sober.

In addiction medicine, “We take a harm reduction approach. Harm reduction is basically saying, for better or worse, substance abuse exists in our community. We could try to ignore it, which society has done for many, many years, or we can acknowledge that it’s here and reduce the harms of it. The needle exchange program is the perfect example of harm reduction. Every time someone comes to seek services, we are going to talk to them about recovery. We will ask them; Are you ready to talk about treatment? It’s the formation of that relationship over time that eventually gets a patient to the point of recovery,” Dr. Walker said.

He plans to use his knowledge of addiction medicine in the Recovery Clinic at Rio Grande Hospital and to assist other organizations throughout the San Luis Valley.

“My bigger vision is to make myself available to other providers and organizations for consultations," he said. "Just being that resource and giving them the confidence to treat addiction is what I want to see. If I can empower them, then we add another layer of resources to people here in the Valley.”

The Rio Grande Hospital Recovery Clinic offers specialty-level addiction care. This clinic provides a personalized approach for those struggling with substance use or other behavioral addictions, including but is not limited to heroin or other opioids, methamphetamines, alcohol, benzodiazepines, cocaine, tobacco, gambling, pornography, or internet use. Additionally, the clinic offers treatment for Hepatitis C infection and HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis.

The services offered through the clinic can benefit many individuals, including those who have family members or friends suffering the effects of addiction and recovery. Anyone who thinks they may benefit from the recovery program is welcome to participate, and clinic staff and physicians will do what they can to get patients the help they require.

Even someone suffering from trauma-related circumstances can find help through the Recovery Clinic.

“Trauma-informed care acknowledges that care teams need to have a complete picture of a patient’s life situation — past and present — to provide effective health care services with a culture of safety, empowerment, and healing,” Dr. Walker said.

Addiction does not stop with people who are addicted. Often, family and friends of those who suffer from addiction suffer just as much if not more, and services are available to those wishing to seek counseling and other recovery benefits. 

“There are numerous resources available, and depending on your specific needs, referrals and connections can be made with our various community partners in an attempt to meet your needs,” he said.

For more information or to inquire about the Rio Grande Hospital Recovery Clinic, call 719-657-4100.