I preach the Exercise Sermon all the time. You might have heard it from me before.

You know the story. The path to good health begins with regular exercise. Any exercise is better than no exercise. If you have any risk factors, check with your Primary Care Physician before starting on a new exercise program. If you don’t know what to do, consult a professional. Move your body every day.

And on and on and on. Because exercise is a huge component of health, productivity, longevity, and quality of life. I’ll never stop preaching on that.

I listened this week to Dr. Stephen Lloyd talk about dealing with the opioid crisis in Tennessee. Dr. Lloyd is an Internal Medicine physician and an addiction specialist. He was doing a program at Blount Memorial Hospital. Keep in mind that in the last year, 2000 Tennesseans have lost their life to opioids. That’s unreal.

Dr. Lloyd has served as the Medical Director of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and now works with JourneyPure, a comprehensive outpatient addiction treatment program. He is particularly interested in helping addicted pregnant women.

I had heard Dr. Lloyd speak before. A dynamic and inspiring speaker, he was an addict himself. He tells of taking as many as 90 Vicodin in a single day while still practicing medicine and serving as a medical school professor.

Now 14 years drug-free, Dr. Lloyd knows the whole story and understands addiction medicine as well as anyone I have ever heard. In a nutshell, one of the many bad things that opioids do to the human body is to cause a dysfunction in the frontal lobes of the brain, those parts of the brain that are responsible for impulse control.

So here’s the picture — someone in the throes of an opioid addiction has frontal lobes that can’t do their job and thus that person has little or no impulse control. Those other parts of the brain that are responsible for controlling our desires are fully functional. Take a guess to which side wins out in that.

Dr. Lloyd asked the crowd what demographic was showing the largest gains in opiate addiction in Tennessee. The answer? 20-24 year old white, middle-class females. The drug of choice now? Heroin.

Later, Dr. Lloyd asked the question “how long does it take the brain (the frontal lobes) to recover and provide that impulse control?” Having heard him speak before, I knew the answer. Two years. Two.

Not the 30 days that is the average rehab program that most insurances will pay for. Even if someone spends 90 days in residential rehab, when they get out, their brain still doesn’t help them with impulse control so what do they do when they get out of rehab? Yep, right back to where they were.

But here’s the quote from Dr. Lloyd that resonated with me: “The best intervention for both substance abuse and mental health is exercise.” Exercise. Moving. Staying active. What a lot of people do every day and what all of us should be doing.

Dr. Samuel MacMaster, a colleague of Dr. Lloyd and also an addiction specialist stated “recovery is not a life with an absence of something but an improved life full of presence and joy.”

I salute those addiction specialists that are trying to do so much, often with too little, to combat this evil crisis that holds our state in its grasp.

Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Email joeblackdpt@gmail.com to write to him.

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