Anna and her husband, Dr. Dennis McClure, are working to change wellness and treatment for substance abuse and addiction in Ohio.
The couple have studied and researched chronic pain for more than 10 years. Together they have worked one-on-one with hundreds of patients experiencing opioid dependency and addiction in southern Ohio.
In the spring of 2017 they will open a new wellness and treatment center in Fairborn. Within their wellness and treatment center they will offer an addiction recovery program they have developed over the years.
Anna was born and raised in Ohio. Dennis grew up in the small town of Union City, Ind. While he was in medical school he became interested in brain surgery. He said he liked the excitement of it and started a private practice for neurosurgery at Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton in 1995.
“There’s a euphoria that I felt when I did brain surgeries,” said Dennis.
Over the years he performed not only brain surgeries but spinal operations on people with chronic pain from back and neck injuries.
Dennis said there was one question he would continuously hear from his patients: can you find a cure for back and neck injuries that does not require needles and surgeries?
Over the years things have changed for Anna and Dennis and eventually, so have their medical practices.
A new way of treating chronic pain
In 2003, Dennis found the answer to his patient’s question: Accu-SPINA, a non-invasive, non-surgical machine that treated back and neck issues.
Anna and Dennis began to study the Accu-SPINA treatment on patients and soon discovered the Accu-SPINA machine had an 86 to 92 percent success rate in treating patients with back and neck issues.
“I got interested in treating chronic low back and neck pain with these machines and was amazed to see their improvement in pain, both in those who had surgery and those who didn’t, and those who were candidates for surgery,” said Dennis.
Instead of performing surgeries, he spent the next two years using the Accu-SPINA machine on patients with back and neck issues.
“About 95 percent were able to get off their pain medication. About 70 percent were able to get totally off all their medications, including muscle relaxers,” said Dennis.
Dennis retired in 2006 after practicing neurosurgery operatively for 20 years and began to treat patients solely with the Accu-SPINA machine. Anna worked as a life coach one-on-one with the patients who were healing and overcoming dependency to opioid pain medication.
After studying the effects of the machine and documenting the results it had on their patients, Dennis gave a speech and presentation of the research to colleagues at a conference in Chicago, Ill.
“I gave a talk to my peers at the National Association of Neurosurgeons the 25th of April, 2008. The conference was called ‘Back Pain: Treatment and Causes,’” Dennis said. “I got to stand up and give an oral presentation to my peers on our results.”
In one example, a patient with a herniated disk in their back was treated with the Accu-SPINA machine. A third-party doctor took before-and-after MRI images of the herniated disk and found that after being treated with the non-invasive Accu-SPINA machine, the disc material was pulled back into place non-surgically. The before and after images, and a mini-model of the Accu-SPINA machine, are now on permanent display at the International Museum of Surgical Science.
But soon after the conference, Anna and Dennis received what they said was devastating news.
“A month later I got an audit from Medicare and they questioned the medical necessity of my practice,” said Dennis.
“We think there were people in those circles not liking what was happening,” Anna said.
“After that we saw an increase in opiate prescribing and heroin use,” said Dennis.
“It started to skyrocket,” Anna said.
With doctors prescribing opioids and not counseling their patients, the number of people dying from opioid and heroin-related overdoses has risen across Ohio, and the country. In Ohio, opioid drug overdoses continue to be the leading cause of accidental death, surpassing even that of car accidents.
But none of that was the worst news the couple would receive that year—Anna was pregnant, and there was a complication with the pregnancy. They didn’t know if their baby was going to live.
Solving chronic back and neck pain non-surgically
“When I did operative surgery at Good Samaritan Hospital, I probably brought in $20 to $30 million a year in revenue for the surgeries,” said Dennis. “Once I switched to alternative, non-invasive treatment of people with spinal pain, that changed to about two million dollars in surgeries I did.”
Dennis said that because the Accu-SPINA machine was so effective, it only became necessary to do one or two spinal surgeries a month compared to the 10 or 20 surgeries a month that he had been doing. Not only was Dennis no longer bringing in enough money to be able to cover the expenses of his medical malpractice insurance, but he wasn’t sending in bills for anesthesia, medications and surgical equipment.
The insurance companies told Dennis and Anna that their non-invasive, non-surgical spinal treatments with the Accu-SPINA machine were not medically necessary and wanted their money back—over $1 million.
Anna said their patients were crying because they were getting better and didn’t understand how the insurance company could do that. The Accu-SPINA treatments were cheaper than surgery.
“It’s at least $50,000 for spinal surgery, not including if you had a complication, and with a 60 percent success rate. It’s $2,500 for the non-surgical treatment with an 80 percent success rate,” Dennis said.
Anna and Dennis didn’t have the million dollars to pay Medicare.
“I had patients say to me, ‘Dr. McClure, we don’t want to be stuck with needles and shot up with steroids. We don’t want to take pain pills. Can’t you find something?’ And gosh, I found something. And it had over an 80 percent improvement rate. It’s better than the surgery improvement rate. The surgery improvement rate within one to two years is 60 percent,” said Dennis.
The couple said they did what their lawyer told them to do.
“We declared bankruptcy.”
Understanding chronic pain and addiction
“Addiction is definitely a disease of the brain and manifested by loss of control, craving, obsessing the drug, and taking a substance when you know it’s going to harm you,” said Dennis.
After the Medicare audit in early 2008, Anna and Dennis closed their practice in Dayton. A friend bought the Accu-SPINA machine so they wouldn’t lose it in the bankruptcy and they opened an out-patient clinical office in their Yellow Springs home.
In September their daughter, Nadia, was born with Apert syndrome.
“2008 was a difficult year for both of us,” said Anna.
Despite their hardships, the couple continued to do out-patient treatment and counseling in their home-based office for another seven years. They found that about 40 percent of the people who have chronic pain also have depression and issues with addiction and dependency.
“Doctors, I don’t think, put it together that pain and depression go together,” said Dennis.
“That’s a lot of people. We have a nation of over 300 million people. Over 100 million people in our country are experiencing pain. That’s one in three people are experiencing pain and that’s not including children and people in the military—they don’t give us data on those. That’s a lot of people.”
Managing patients with chronic pain and addiction
Counseling, urine testing, and treating patients with chronic pain in their home-based office was hard work, said Anna. Sometimes they would have patients who would show up for a urine test with fake urine. Once, it was Mountain Dew. Another time, it was someone else’s urine. Sometimes patients who were dependent upon opioids would refuse treatment.
In 2015 the couple closed their home-based office. Today Dennis works at the Dayton Pain Center. He treats and counsels patients with opioid dependency and heroin addiction and continues to be a doctor to those with chronic pain issues.
“I prescribe Suboxone and Subutex for opiate dependency,” said Dennis. But he maintains that counseling is one of the most important aspects of treatment.
He said the problem he sees is that doctors don’t always take the time to counsel their patients or spend time getting to know who their patients are.
“Doctors spend less than five minutes with a patient,” said Dennis. “But they need to have counseling and be monitored with urine testing to make sure they’re not dealing it or selling it.”
And after years of studying and practicing medicine, Dennis said he’d like to “do it better.”
Anna and Dennis are now bringing everything—the non-invasive, non-surgical Accu-SPINA machines, physical therapy, wellness, chiropractor, addiction treatment, and counseling—into center slated to open in spring 2017.
“We came to the realization that we could do it better,” said Anna.
Their goal is to cut down on waiting room time to increase efficiency and spend more one-on-one time with patients. They believe being able to bond with a patient through counseling is a necessary step in treating addiction and pain management.
The center will offer a variety of healing and therapy modalities combined with counseling. The substance addiction treatment program will be based on Butterfly Recovery, a book they are writing about the treatment and recovery process.
“It’s a recovery program for people who are dependent on opiates. I like to look at it for those who are on medication-assisted therapy. We tell the patients to go to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous because that’s all we have, or counseling, and it really depends on the counselor, if they can bond with them or not, but we know addicts can help addicts and we are writing this book based on what patients have taught us about recovery,” said Anna.
Anna said the Butterfly Recovery program is also about what she and Dennis have learned from their own addictions.
“I have had an actual experience with addiction,” said Anna. “I was a poly-substance abuser for about a year until I overdosed and entered in-patient residential treatment.”
Following 30 days of in-patient treatment, Anna lived with a co-sponsor for a year and attended three recovery meetings a day. She began to work at the hospital, where she met Dennis. Now she has been clean for 17 years.
For Dennis, it took him two open heart surgeries to realize that his addiction to cigarettes was killing him, but he was able to eventually quit smoking.
“There is no such thing as perfect and there is no such thing as a permanent cure. There is only progressive maintenance when it comes to recovery,” writes Anna in the book, Butterfly Recovery.
Learning to love
“They have to learn how to love themselves. Most of the patients I have seen have said, “Dr. McClure, I don’t love myself,” and that’s a big thing to get through,” said Dennis.
He said patients aren’t immediately willing to see themselves for who they truly are. “They’ve neglected themselves, their lives, everything around them.”
“It starts with the foundation of getting their health back. Diet, water, seeing a psychologist, all of those basics,” said Anna. “That’s all in one step.”
The advice they have given their patients over the years plays a major part in the development of their plan for Butterfly Recovery.
Dennis said it’s important that people with opioid dependency and heroin addiction realize addiction is a disease of the brain.
“It’s not a disease of weak willpower,” said Dennis.
“We need to stop shaming,” Anna said.
In Butterfly Recovery Anna writes, “Love is the driving force upon which the foundation of this recovery program is based, for love is the very energy which is life. The absence of love is fear. Therefore we must learn to work through our fears to bring ourselves out of the cycle of destruction and into the universal life-giving and healing energy of love and the cycle of life.”
Finding their way into faith
“We want to replace the God stuff with love,” said Dennis.
Dennis said supplanting God or religion as the basis for recovery can help, but sometimes it’s a deterrent for addicts. “They have to learn to love themselves. Most addicts are atheist or agnostic.”
“We want to replace it with love,” said Anna.
“What about a Jew or a Muslim? We want to remain open to all people, all religions,” said Dennis. “They have to learn to love themselves. Then they learn to love others. Then maybe they get back into a higher purpose.”
But while Anna and Dennis won’t force religion or faith in God upon their patients, they think it should be available for those who want it.
“Whatever belief a person uses in their recovery, it’s what they need,” said Dennis.
Treating people right
“We want to really target a lot of these addicts who, their pain continues, they’re afraid of their pain coming back and that’s why they’re using. They were never treated properly to begin with,” Dennis said.
“They go to a pain clinic and they’re put on opiates. They lose their insurance or prescription and then someone comes around and says, ‘We know where you can get this powder that will cure your pain’ and a five dollar cap of heroin, now laced with fentanyl, is cheaper than a five milligram percocet.”
Anna and Dennis said they are excited to be working to change wellness and treatment opportunities for opioid-dependent people in southern Ohio. The couple believes that their work over the years, and especially their hardships, has strengthened them together and their ability to help others.
“Looking back, I can see how all these pieces have fit together,” said Anna.
Reach Ashley at the Record-Herald (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton