Dr. AJ Strickland

Citizen Spotlight: A. J. Strickland

A professed Trekkie Dr. Strickland poses with his friend, Bones (photo by Courtney Cole).

Doctor, A. J. Strickland hasn’t been in the Excelsior Springs community very long, but he’s already made quite an impact. A family medicine doctor at Excelsior Springs Primary Care, he specializes in addiction medicine and takes a keen interest in helping those who are struggling with substance use disorders. “The need in this community is astounding… I knew there would be a demand here but I vastly underestimated the volume and the intensity of treatment that the community needs,” he said. Strickland works to know his patients on a personal level so that he can get to the heart of what each individual needs to make their lives better. “That can be everything from treating diabetes to high blood pressure, coughs and colds, to cancer,” he said. Strickland is very concerned about the rise in opiate additions he’s seen coming from both Clay and Ray Counties. As detrimental as methamphetamines can be to a person’s life, he pointed out that the effects of a drug like meth are fairly obvious in the physical and mental identifiers, unlike opiates. And, while there has been a general rise in addictions in the past two years, opiate addictions and overdoses have risen most dramatically.

Strickland calls the rise in opiate addictions terrifying. “In Missouri, right now, you’re more likely to die of an opiate overdose than a car accident,” he said. Many times people have an image in their head of an addict being someone who’s homeless, dirty, or in obvious distress. Strickland says he’s seeing cases of opiate addiction across a wide swath of socioeconomic status and ages, “It’s your grandma, your aunt, your daughter, your cousin… normal folks in some cases holding down full-time jobs. And, often, they’re using that substance so that they can keep working, and they don’t realize that it’s actually taking their life apart one piece at a time”. According to Strickland, there’s still a lot of stigma about addiction being a kind of “moral failing.” He points out that there are now “decades of data to show that substance use disorders are a chronic medical condition.” Addictions can occur for a variety of reasons. Psychosocial aspects such as an individual’s environment, history, and experiences may all play a part in their struggle.

Although funds have recently come available at state and federal levels the way that those funds are divvied out can be slow and bureaucratic, and often the funds go towards helping large centers that have long-standing relationships with government entities. Strickland says the hospital has partnered with a number of different grassroots groups like EPICC, (Engaging Patients in Care Coordination) which provide peer support to the community. He says EPICC utilizes individuals who have a history of addictions and substance use disorders, who are in sustained recovery and have made it their full-time job to help others. 

A.J., Aniesa, and Henry had fun at the pumpkin patch last fall (submitted photo).

Finding and helping individuals early is also important to achieving a plan for recovery. Instead of waiting until individuals hit “rock bottom,” Strickland feels like there needs to be more done to identify problems before they become serious. He emphasized that not everyone who takes pain medication is, or will become addicted.  Substance use disorders are characterized by impulsive use or using more than intended. He says “Folks who take these medicines, they take them very regularly and their brain develops some tolerance. Just like if you drink coffee every day, it takes more coffee to get the same effect from the substances to get you to where you’re used to being, you need higher and higher doses.” Unfortunately, doctors who care about their patients and don’t want to see them suffering will sometimes continue increasing medications without a clear plan for treating the underlying issues or a way to wean patients from those medications. But, Strickland says that if you can get people into treatment and give them the care they need, they can get better, and they can go on to lead wonderful, productive lives.

Strickland and his wife, Aniesa Slack, who is also a family medicine doctor and hospitalist at Excelsior Springs Hospital, just had their first child, Henry, 19 months ago. Having a child has made them reevaluate where they want to raise their family. He said they love Excelsior Springs because of the sense of community, “the ability to know your friends and family are nearby and being able to be a part of a community like that, that’s just not something that living in the middle of a big city really offers.” Strickland says he hopes Excelsior Springs will continue to build on the sense of community pride that attracted young professionals like him and his wife here. “What you have here is very special and it doesn’t happen by accident. It’s very obvious that Excelsior springs has put effort, intention, and community-wide efforts into making this an incredible community.” 

EPICC Hotline (816)412-9417

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