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Billings physician advises patients with alcohol use disorders to look into prescription drugs



Billings, Montana – Just last year, Jenn Schaff, a native of Billings, lost her 64-year-old father, Tim Van Orden, to ailments associated with drinking. She is sharing her story with Frontier Psychiatry’s Dr. Eric Arzubi in Billings to raise awareness about drugs used to treat alcohol use disorder in patients.

“This is one of my favorite photos of him,” said Schaff at her workplace, Arrowhead Marketing, on Thursday.

Schaff has happy memories of her father.

“He was incredibly smart, witty. He was the life of every party,” Schaff said.

But the veteran railroader had faced demons all of his life.

“My dad was an amazing person, but he was a lifelong alcoholic. He struggled all of his life with addiction disorder,” said Schaff.

The narrative of Van Orden is not unique. Compared to the 2% of Americans who have been diagnosed with opioid addiction disorder, 11% of Americans have been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder.

“I guess one of my concerns is, are we missing the boat when it comes to the problem that alcohol is causing?” said Arzubi.

Arzubi has been worried about this issue for some time, mostly because there is medication that can help, but not many people are aware of it.

“We have treatments that work but they’re not getting to people. And that’s one of the things that frustrates me,” Arzubi said.

According to Arzubi, there are five drugs that can help reduce an alcohol need, but fewer than 1% of people with alcohol use disorders actually take them.

In contrast, 22% of those suffering from opioid use disorder are anticipated to be prescribed medicine.

“There are actually three FDA-approved medications. And like I said, these have been around for a long time,” said Arzubi.

One of the FDA-approved drugs is naltrexone, which is actually given as an injection known as Vivitrol or as an oral pill.

“This injection by taking it once a month, can then eliminate the need to take daily medications. And again, Vivitrol also has really robust evidence when it comes to helping people reduce cravings and decrease alcohol consumption,” Arzubi said.

It’s medication. Schaff hopes her father had the opportunity.

“Dad had been in treatment. You lose track, three or four times, and not one time was he ever offered a medication that would reduce those cravings for alcohol,” said Schaff.

Schaff and Arzubi want to stop more deaths by educating the public because of this.

“Alcohol use disorders are more of a problem that we might appreciate. It’s affecting a lot of people and help is available. And there are medications that are effective, inexpensive, and available,” Arzubi said.

“He fought, and he clawed his way through trying to do the best that he could but I hope that it evolves. I hope that people realize what is out there for them. And then I also hope that they scream on the mountaintops and ask for help,” said Schaff.


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