Local doctor uses music to address opioid crisis
Right before the holidays took over last week, Weekly Alibi sat down to talk with Abramson about the opioid problem in New Mexico and, more importantly, how music figures into a solution to such a nagging public health issue. Much like the doctor's diverse fields of interest—and our ensuing conversation—his office was a combination of things, a performance space and recording studio, a clinical environment and an inviting counseling office. A pitching practice backstop sat next to the examination room and an Ibanez acoustic-electric stood in the corner waiting to be played.
“It basically comes down to a choice. If you don't want to be part of the problem, what are you going to do, how much are you willing to do, to be part of the solution? That is what recovery is really about; that and listening … to yourself, to your doctors and to this thing called music. Combined together these forces can open the door to health.”
Weekly Alibi: Could you please tell our readers what you're doing with all this gear, good spirits and medical expertise, and how you got here with it all?
Dr. Larry Abramson: By training, I'm a board-certified internal medicine physician. I went to the University of Michigan and practiced in Ann Arbor, Mich. for about 25 years. I moved to Albuquerque about four years ago. I came out here with a locum tenens [temporary physician] position, but wasn't thrilled with that. I briefly engaged private practice but realized I was done with internal medicine and the issues there; I morphed into taking care of those suffering from addiction. I worked at some local methadone clinics, started examining the use of suboxone as a means to end opioid addiction. Two years ago, I opened this clinic.
What's your focus, after those clinical experiences?
The focus here is giving people who are dependent on [opioid] pills or heroin a chance to bridge away from their use and into a more normal and productive life. Suboxone is a medicine used to treat opioid addiction. It prevents withdrawal, they don't get high and so this enables users to spend their time rebuilding their lives. As they rebuild their lives—and here that often means mastering everyday tasks involving a job, one's family, housing and transportation issues—while getting counseling to help them understand the events and situations that resulted in their drug dependency, they realize freedom and ultimately don't need suboxone, either.
How is music an important part of this recovery process?
I'm a fitness enthusiast, a longtime baseball player and a guitar guy. This is a small piece of what I do, and I try to present it to patients as a grounding aspect of their treatment. I spent a lot of time growing up playing in rock and roll bands. I was dormant, musically, for about 25 years. I picked it [music] back up and began performing around Michigan as a solo artist, a singer-songwriter. Right now, it's original, up-tempo rock with some pensive folk-rock to come next; the next album is going to be called Think About This Life. In general, my work is revelatory and insightful, aimed right at those in recovery with the hopes of spurring on their own healing self-dialogue … otherwise what's the point? All of it is very much message-based. I'm trying to motivate, to transmit, sometimes subconsciously, my own insights that others can use to their benefit. Of course there is always some social commentary woven into the songs.
Are your patients actively listening to this music; has there been a healing response?
I hope so, it's all very new, strategy-wise. I talk about it to them, they see and hear the guitars when they come in, a few patients go into the recording studio to hear and play music. They understand the simple truth of the musical messages I created … you know, “Get going,” or proceed with a positive, “this is doable” attitude. It tell them, “This all comes from how you think about things. Your life can be created and influenced by the decisions you make. If you are willing to persist and follow through, you will succeed in this program.”
So involving music in their lives is a huge step for some of your clients, right?
I'm hoping that as people listen to these songs a bunch of times, they get it. Even for me, this recording triggers ideas about letting go of past behaviors, about fulfilling my life and my dreams. Those ideas come through clearly through music, it's inspirational.
Opioid addiction has become a huge issue in America. How do you reckon with that?
People in the creative world—artists and musicians—suffer with addiction issues, I think, because they see truths more deeply; they want to feel things in an intense way to begin with. But, in my view, it [the opioid epidemic] is a symptom of problems in the larger culture. The disorder, the chaos of the larger culture, is a place where the loss of dignity and civility due to unfair economic conditions symbolizes the loss of the individual—who then becomes objectified … all of these societal issues play a part in addiction. Our society is replete with addictions. It basically comes down to a choice. If you don't want to be part of the problem, what are you going to do, how much are you willing to do, to be part of the solution? That is what recovery is really about; that and listening … to yourself, to your doctors and to this thing called music. Combined together these forces can open the door to health.
Dr. Abramson can be contacted at 505-217-6672; his offfices are located at 3736 Eubank NE, Suite B-2.