Issue: Beyond’s Top Influential Educational Experts Making a Difference, 2020

Dr. Jason Beaman: An Addiction Specialist Driving Change in Oklahoman Lives

From 1999–2018, almost 450,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids. This increase in opioid overdose deaths can be outlined in three distinct waves. The first wave started with increased prescribing of opioids in the 1990s, with overdose deaths involving prescription opioids (natural and semi-synthetic opioids and methadone) rising since at least 1999. The second wave began in 2010, with rapid growth in overdose deaths involving heroin. The third wave started in 2013, with substantial increases in overdose deaths including synthetic opioids, particularly those involving illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

In the U.S., there were 67,367 drug overdose deaths reported in 2018. Opioids were involved in 46,802 overdose deaths in 2018—nearly 70% of all overdose deaths. In Oklahoma, an estimated 43% of drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018 totaling more than 308 fatalities. Among opioid-involved deaths, those involving heroin or synthetic opioids other than methadone (mainly fentanyl and fentanyl analogs) remained steady with a respective 84 and 79 deaths reported in 2018. The opioid crisis is real for Oklahomans, and Dr. Jason Beaman understands this very well. He has been at the forefront of fighting a battle to combat the crisis for a long time. Serving as the Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences, as well as the Director of Training and Education for the National Center for Wellness & Recovery at OSU Medicine and Medical Director for 12&12, Inc., Dr. Beaman wants to give back to society by helping people with addiction. This is his story!

Training the next generation is an ethical obligation

Growing up, Dr. Beaman wanted to be an archeologist, but it changed when he realized Indiana Jones was not real, he humorously recalls. He went into medicine to help people and particularly psychiatry, because he believes to this day, “It is the biggest bang for your buck – able to help people dramatically with very little cost”. And his journey began. He graduated medical school from Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. He then completed two simultaneous residencies in Psychiatry and Family Medicine. After residency, Dr. Beaman completed a fellowship in Forensic Psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He holds board certifications in Family Medicine, Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine. After fellowship, Dr. Beaman completed a master’s degree in Pharmacology with an emphasis in Forensics at the University of Florida. He also obtained a Master’s in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University. “I think it’s an ethical obligation of every physician to train the next generation – which carries on one of the foundational principles of Hippocrates. Teaching future physicians and other professionals provides me the most enjoyment,” Dr. Beaman says of his motivation to educate future physicians.   

Dr. Beaman’s experience in family medicine, psychiatry, forensic psychiatry and addiction medicine all converge to provide insight into the opioid epidemic. So, in his role as chair of psychiatry, he has been very involved in trying to save lives in Oklahoma. He says one of the unique challenges of the opioid epidemic is that you really can’t talk about just opioid prescribing without talking about how you appropriately and effectively treat pain. “So, I got involved in opioid litigation through my forensic psychiatry role and my expertise in addiction. It all just kind of wrapped up as a perfect storm as Oklahoma was one of the first states in the country to file the nuisance claim against the pharmaceutical manufacturers,” he said.

Marketing campaigns of companies is the reason the crisis exists

Dr. Beaman strongly believes the opioid crisis in Oklahoma is real, and it is not confined to any particular demographic. “It is killing the rich and the poor alike, urban and rural dwellers, and men and women regardless of their politics, career choice or insurance status,” he says. Therefore, when Dr. Beaman was testified in Oklahoma Opioid Trial last year, he had said J&J is largely responsible for the opioid crisis. Dr. Beaman says one of the important ways to getting this epidemic under control is to stop pharmaceutical companies and market opioids in a better, safer way. He said he believes the marketing campaigns of companies is the reason the crisis exists. “You don’t heal the healthy, you have to go to where people need the help the most, and I feel like that’s Oklahoma,” he further added. “These are my people, this is my state. I feel quite a bit of obligation and responsibility and duty in coming back here and caring for Oklahomans,” he had said. 

Research, Clinical Services, Advocacy, and Education

At the National Center for Wellness & Recovery at OSU Medicine, Dr. Beaman and his team provide comprehensive care for those suffering from addiction while advancing treatment through education, research and policy. The center is designed to have four major pillars of research, clinical services, advocacy and education. “We know it’s going to take concerted effort in all four of those areas to get Oklahoma out of the throes of the opioid epidemic and really put a dent in the addiction burden that we have. The center is largely geared toward opioid addiction but then also toward evidence-based treatments for pain. One of our major areas of focus is research from the bench level all the way up to the public health model. So, we start with a molecule and would eventually end up studying the effects of that molecule on the population as a whole and every step in between,” he shares.

Dr. Beaman says that he sees mental health of Oklahoma as an academic chair. For him, it is his responsibility. So, when he was first practicing in Oklahoma four years ago, he realized “you can’t even begin to talk about improving mental health unless you get a handle on the opioid addiction. So, I started kind of aggressively putting together a public health framework working with our different state agencies on what would be available to start monitoring at a very fine level opioid prescriptions and high-volume prescribers. I pushed out extensive education on the proper use of opioids, the danger of opioids and appropriate frame management. And we have seen a dramatic decrease in opioid prescriptions.” Twenty-nine percent decrease over the last few years. “But I can’t just come and tell you there’s a problem right and doctors don’t respond very well when you say stop prescribing opioids. So, I feel we must come up with solutions and appropriate non-opioid based recommendations for pain management and really try to assist those doctors. Because it is a very difficult job that they have right now shifting back to the blood samples from clinical trials and having access obviously can help investigate genetic pathways that drive pain and addiction,” he further adds.

Improving the process of transferring psychiatric patients

As the Chair of Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the OSU Center for Health Sciences, Dr. Beaman provides undergraduate medical education, residency programs, research and patient care. One of Dr. Beaman’s successful projects has been the Project Blue Streets protocol. The protocol is focused on improving the process of transferring psychiatric patients into an appropriate setting in an emergency situation in Tulsa; it was developed by the Project Blue Streets Task force, which gathered information and obtained stakeholder input to develop the protocol. The goal of the protocol is to provide mental health treatment facilities and emergency departments a common standard of efficient and evidence-based recommendations to better care for persons with psychiatric disorders, including emergency custody, voluntary and involuntary civil admissions.

Continue to find ways to connect with our friends and loved ones

Dr. Beaman says starting in the 1980s, the major pharmaceutical companies began a ploy to change the way physicians and patients think about addicting medications and addiction. This has spilled over into recreational drugs and a thinking that it’s not ok to feel uncomfortably and we need some sort of medication to treat and that’s not always the case. He further states that overdose deaths are slightly lower than an all-time historical high, so there is room for optimism, but we are still dramatically higher than we were 20 years ago. “We still have much work to do on prescribing controlled substances and we need to dramatically expand our treatment opportunities for everyone, regardless of ability to pay. I am very concerned by unprecedented rates of mental illness and addiction due to the loss of social connectivity that we have seen with COVID-19. We need to continue to find ways to connect with our friends and loved ones, so we not devolve into isolation or despair,” he suggests.

Eyeing toward a paradigm-shifting way we treat mental illness

One of Dr. Beaman’s achievements include evaluating serious criminals, including Ariel Castro and Michael Bever. He says he has not yet achieved his goal of demonstrating measurably improvement in mental health and addiction outcomes in Oklahoma. The biggest obstacles he faces on a daily basis are having funding available for all of his patients and personal agendas sidestepping meaningful improvement. He believes that any person can make meaningful change with hard work and perseverance and a well thought out plan. “So, I am optimistic that we will start to see large scale improvements in addiction and mental health outcomes in Oklahoma sometime soon.” He finds it important to make time for friends and family. He enjoys a yearly vacation to someplace tropical, but also it really helps that he enjoys his work. Dr. Jason’s personal plans revolve around innovative research methods, including the mirror, which hopefully one day soon will allow for a paradigm-shift in the way we treat mental illness.

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