By Mark Powell
Profile in Progress
Imagine for a moment: You’re a person dealing with a substance use disorder. You realize you need help combatting your addiction, but you live in a remote rural community, miles from the nearest treatment facility. You work a low paying job that leaves little money to spare. Perhaps it’s even difficult to find someone to watch your young children while you make the long drive to and from a treatment center. Those harsh realities conspire to keep help out of reach for countless West Virginians.
Thanks to research conducted by Dr. James Berry, the effectiveness of telemedicine has been established. Similar to telemedicine, it’s removing the twin obstacles of distance and low income that keep many people living in remote areas from getting treatment. And that’s changing lives.
Dr. Berry is excited by the results. But that’s not enough. “The treatment we have now is comparable to other chronic diseases,” he observes. “But how do we make it better? We aren’t at 100% yet. Research is little by little helping us learn more and thus making it even better.”
West Virginia University’s excellent reputation for training in addictions attracted the Michigan native to the school in 2002. “Addiction is a very complex condition,” Dr. Berry says. “There is no silver bullet or quick fix. It’s a problem that transcends the substance. People get caught up focusing on one substance. Yet addiction will cling on to whatever substance is available. It is a biological, psychological and social problem. We need to approach addiction from each domain.”
These days, Dr. Berry wears two hats, and his day is split accordingly. As vice chair of WVU’s Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry Health, mornings are spent running an inpatient dual diagnosis unit designed to detox and stabilize people struggling with addiction.
As Director of Clinical Addictions, his afternoons are filled with clinical work. For example, he developed a nationally recognized MAT program. He also mentors others on how to best implement treatment using a community-based programming model and is currently helping the state to expand addiction treatment services.
What’s next for this research innovator? “We’re just starting work on research involving neuroscience and brain surgery to help with addiction. We’re working with world-renowned neuroscientists and, as a result, we’re discovering more about addiction every day. That, in turn, will lead to advancements in helping people. Because we know addiction treatment works.”
One thing is certain: whatever the future holds for this field of study, Dr. James Berry will be actively involved in it.
Dr. James Berry was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.