Changing lives for the better
Professor Edward Ogden originally thought he was going spend the latter years of his career as a country General Practitioner.
Instead, Professor Ogden has enjoyed a career spanning forensics, general practice, a stint as the Medical Director of NSW Ambulance and 17 years as the Principal Medical Advisor to the Victoria Police.
“All of this led to my research and clinical interest – alcohol, drugs and traffic safety,” said Professor Ogden. “As Secretary of the International Council of Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety we’ve done work on cannabis, benzodiazepines, methamphetamines and alcohol with simulated driving.”
The Goulburn Valley Alcohol and Drug Service (GVADS) appointed Professor Ogden as Addiction Medicine Specialist (AMS) in April. This new role covers the Goulburn Valley and East Hume catchments.
An AMS is a medical doctor who has had special training focusing on the prevention and treatment of addiction.
Professor Ogden, who is a consultant at St Vincent’s Hospital and Swinburne University of Technology Deputy Director (Addiction and Forensic Medicine), Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, spends two days a week in the region consulting with doctors and health professionals.
“The reality is the majority of drug and alcohol issues can be managed in general practice,” said Professor Ogden. “Many just lack the experience and confidence to do that - I see part of what I offer being to help support people getting help in their own community.”
In the late 1990s, Ian Hickey, the founder of Beyond Blue, conducted a survey of 45,000 patients being treated in private practice. Around 20 per cent were dealing with an alcohol or other drug issue.
“These are big issues. I’m still trying to understand the complexities of the demand for the services in the region,” said Professor Ogden. “I see my role as helping raise awareness while overcoming prejudice. Hopefully people will begin to think about the person who has the problem, not about the drug.”
Professor Ogden says his job is also to improve the ability of local resources to deal with the substance abuse issues in the region, and to use his experience to help build the capacity and complexity of local health services’ care.
“The reality is that there are only two of us in rural and regional Victoria,” said Professor Ogden. “The other is in Warrnambool, and I’m only part time. The question is: ‘how do I help others in rural and regional Victoria to do the work?’”
Citing the prevalence of alcohol as a social lubricant in Australian culture, Professor Ogden notes that there is a level of hypocrisy in the public perception of those dealing with a substance abuse issue. He points out that alcohol does the most damage in our communities, and says that a major part of his role is to raise these issues and get health services workers thinking about how they can assist vulnerable people.
“If we put people in boxes we don’t have to confront our choices,” he said. “People use substances for a reason. Very commonly, they use substances to relieve physical or mental suffering.”
“There are exciting outcomes to be achieved by concentrating on the person, not the substance”, Professor Ogden says.
“Part of my role here is to help people empathise. Every person in treatment has a family – if you can help them find their way, it’s very satisfying.”
Professor Ogden says there are many rewards in helping radically change peoples’ lives by overcoming their substance dependency.
“Watching people turn their lives around is fantastic,” he said. “You actually see the patient’s life change dramatically for the better. This is the most fun I’ve had since I graduated!”