Dr. Aaron Dora-Laskey received his BA from Kalamazoo College, and his MD from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He completed his emergency medicine residency at Bellevue/NYU, and both his MS in clinical research and NIH/NIAAA post-doc at the University of Michigan. Dr. Dora-Laskey is currently research faculty at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, and working on grant-funded projects focused on opioid harm reduction in emergency department settings.
What motivated you to pursue addiction medicine certification?
I’ve been interested in the care of patients with opioid use disorders and injection drug use since I was a syringe exchange volunteer before starting medical school. I was fortunate to train under the tutelage of Dr. Lewis Goldfrank at Bellevue Hospital in New York City during residency, where we were reminded how wealth inequality, structural racism, and the criminal justice system affected the care of patients with substance use disorders. Practicing in safety net hospitals during the throes of the opioid overdose epidemic motivated my decision to pursue research training in addiction medicine, with the goal of creating clinical, public health, and experimental interventions to improve the lives of patients who use drugs and alcohol. I see addiction medicine certification as the natural next step of this trajectory.
What ideas do you have that can help build a better community of addiction medicine professionals?
For me, as an emergency physician working in a large community hospital in the middle of the state, collaboration is key. Across the state, we’ve been working with other emergency physicians interested in addiction medicine and public health (including several featured here!)—sharing ideas, processes, protocols, and resources. Locally, we’ve developed relationships with primary care services interested in providing addiction care, mental health specialists, and addiction medicine providers. Physicians without addiction training—like many of my colleagues in the emergency department—are very interested in doing more for these patients, and are really excited when they can offer more than platitudes to people looking for help.
Thinking back, what has been your most challenging patient case and how did you overcome that challenge?
One of my first buprenorphine patients was a young woman triaged to our mental health unit with thoughts of suicide. Her symptoms, though, were mostly related to opioid withdrawal after abstaining from heroin, and I was able to safely discharge after treating her in the ED. However, the pharmacist would not fill her prescription due to prior authorization requirements. I spoke to representatives at the state, whom I invited to a meeting last year with Dr. Cara Poland and other physicians to discuss barriers to providing MOUD to ED patients. Thanks to Dr. Poland’s leadership, the prior authorization for Medicaid was removed.
What advice or words of wisdom do you have for physicians on the fence about pursuing addiction medicine as a career?
For my emergency medicine colleagues, addiction medicine creates opportunities to intervene before patients present to the ED in crisis. There is a special kind of satisfaction that comes not just from relieving distress (e.g., from withdrawal), but providing lifesaving treatment that can be done during a brief ED visit.
Question from our last participant: If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
A giant squid, because I enjoy my privacy.
Finally, let’s have some fun. What is that burning question you have for our next MI CARES participant in the spotlight?
Given that this group is probably well-represented by Gen Xers and older Millennials: Who is the most important musical group of the 1990s?