LaQuicha Westervelt-House of ‘American Addiction Centers’: “I wish someone would have told me how bad it hurts when you find out a patient relapsed or worse”

I wish someone told me how difficult the field of addiction is. I wish someone told me to not beat myself up over the behavior of patients, it’s not them, it’s all part of the disease. I wish someone would have told me how bad it hurts when you find out a patient relapsed or worse. […]

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I wish someone told me how difficult the field of addiction is. I wish someone told me to not beat myself up over the behavior of patients, it’s not them, it’s all part of the disease. I wish someone would have told me how bad it hurts when you find out a patient relapsed or worse.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis” I had the pleasure to interview LaQuicha Westervelt-House. Laquicha is a family nurse practitioner in Laguna Beach, California.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

My nursing career began in my early 30s, which is a little later than others. I was a registered nurse and primarily worked in an emergency room setting. During that time, I gained a lot of experience working with patients whose addiction issues sent them to the ER.

Later, I went back to school to get my master’s and became a nurse practitioner. At this point, my work focused on underserved populations: the underinsured, the uninsured and the LGBTQ+ community, particularly members who were suffering from HIV, Hepatitis C and other diseases caused by their addiction.

Today, I am at Laguna Treatment Hospital, an American Addiction Centers facility, and I treat patients with the disease of addiction. This is especially fulfilling for me as addiction is something that I have personal experience with and am very close to. Members of my family have battled addiction and are now in recovery, so this work means a lot to me.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with opioid and drug addiction?

Having intimate personal knowledge of this disease’s far-reaching effects has drawn me to this field.

Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?

I firmly believe that this epidemic came from us: the medical providers and big pharma. It started when pain became the sixth vital sign — it became an entryway for pharmaceutical companies to flood our market with addictive medications. Unscrupulous providers and big pharma launched a profit-driven initiative and it resulted in this epidemic.

Can you describe how your work is making an impact on battling this epidemic?

I think being a provider is making a direct impact. I work at a facility that’s helping people who are at rock bottom battle their addiction. The patients are doing all the work, but I’m helping them through it medically, whether through the detox process or treating their withdrawals.

Wow! Without sharing real names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your initiative?

That would be a very close relative of mine. It’s important to be open, nonjudgmental and understand that addiction is a disease and they shouldn’t be blamed for their behavior. That was such a crucial factor, and it’s something we should be doing for everyone. If I was able to help someone I love and am close to, I can help anyone.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

I’m proud that my work is impacting marginalized and disenfranchised people. The experiences I’ve had working with underserved populations, patients who are medically compromised and have risky behavioral patterns lends well to helping people who suffer from substance use issues.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this problem? Can you give some examples?

One thing I always ask my patients to share with me is where did their addiction come from? If they’re able to share that with us, we’re able to pinpoint initiatives that will address the root cause.

For example, one of my passions is working with the LGBTQ+ community. I frequently speak to individuals about what their behaviors were when they were using substances. If I can understand their behaviors, I can help them change the ones causing problems.

I also ask them about their experiences on the front lines, if they’re willing. We as practitioners are trying to help, but a lot of us don’t have access to the community. Them reporting what’s going on to us is going to help us help them get clean.

If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

I’d like to see laws introduced that restrict the number of prescriptions that doctors can write. Legislation is currently going in that direction, but it needs to be even more strict.

We need oversight for emergency rooms, urgent care centers, and pain management specialists. I’d like to see laws restrict their access to the medications behind the opioid crisis.

Finally, laws should be introduced restricting the production of these medications by pharmaceutical companies. We hear in the news that millions of pills are sent to a very small community — we cannot allow that situation to exist.

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?

The fact that I love people so much is what keeps me going. Sometimes you have a bad day, but you come back because you know you’re there to help patients in a way that few others can. When you have a love for society and a love for community, it’s difficult to turn away.

Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?

I wish I could say that I do, but until money and people who have the legal right to do what they please are removed from this problem, we won’t defeat it. We are fighting something bigger than this epidemic. Those obstacles must be removed before we can think about defeating the issue.

How do you define “Leadership?” Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is leading by example. Someone who walks the walk and talks the talk is my definition of a leader. It’s not telling people, it’s showing people.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

I wish someone told me how difficult the field of addiction is. I wish someone told me to not beat myself up over the behavior of patients, it’s not them, it’s all part of the disease. I wish someone would have told me how bad it hurts when you find out a patient relapsed or worse.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’m currently trying to start a movement and it has to do with my background in working with the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a telehealth practice that helps particular communities get easier healthcare access. There would also be a substance abuse component added that would target communities that are disproportionately affected by addiction.

The practice would offer medical care over the internet. Meeting a provider in person can be an obstacle for many reasons. I hope to fill the gaps in communities, especially the LGBTQ+ community, that don’t have a lot of resources.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I don’t know if it’s an exact quote, but it’s from the movie “Shawshank Redemption.” The character says, “you either have a choice to get busy living or get busy dying.” No matter what, we always have the choice to get up every day and make a conscious effort to live our lives. If we don’t the only alternative is death.

Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S., whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

Meghan Markle for many reasons. There are many things we have in common — we’re both biracial and I get where she’s coming from. She is someone who inspires me to have a voice and to use it whether it’s because I’m female or of mixed race. Having two sides to me gives me a lot of experience. I, too, think I can help disenfranchised communities.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can follow me on Instagram at @avantrx.

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