Top Doc focuses energy on patients fighting substance abuse

Dr. Alex Etienne was named a top addiction medicine specialist in Rhode Island Monthly magazine. (WJAR)

Rhode Island Monthly has revealed this year's Top Docs as chosen by their peers.

One of this year’s Top Docs has a focus on patients with substance use disorders.

“This is a field I sort of fell in to,” said Dr. Alex Etienne, who was named a top addiction medicine specialist in the current issue of Rhode Island Monthly.

He says he was originally hired in the addiction division at Roger Williams Medical Center when he was a chief resident here, but mainly to do consults.

Then the director quit.

“And they said, ‘Alex, you’ve been doing this for a while. You’ve been on the unit. Would you like to do it?’” Etienne said.

That was 11 years ago, and he remains as medical director of a busy unit. It’s become a passion for him.

“I don’t believe people decide, ‘I’m going to be an addict,’” he said.

Here’s what else he believes.

“It’s very important that they can trust their physician because the core of addiction is dishonesty and if you cannot get your patients to be honest with you, trust you to tell you some of things that are going through their mind, they’re not going to get well,” Etienne said.

Etienne said: as they say in the world of recovery, you’re just as sick as your secrets.

“They have the shame that they have to deal with. The fact that they’re here and they lost their dignity through their actions and you have to help them regain that,” Etienne said.

“I just treat everybody the way I would like to be treated,” he said. “Genuinely show compassion and understanding.”

The gold standard of care, he said, is: “Medication-assisted treatment, which is basically the use of FDA-approved medications with counseling, behavioral therapy to help patients make the positive conversion.”

But it’s not the only path to recovery.

“The patients that don’t want to be on medication, what I tell my patients is the aim of the treatment is for you to develop a program of recovery that works for you,” Etienne said.

Etienne said doing this kind of work can take an emotional toll

“You know, sometimes you have those days where you say, ‘What am I doing here?’ And somebody will stop me and say, ‘Dr. E, do you remember me? You saved my life.’ And all the frustrations go away and I feel re-energized,” he said.

Etienne said in receiving the Top Doc honor, he is representing all his patients who are really doing the tough work.

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