Destigmatizing Addiction

Gerald Mckenna, M.D.

Gerald Mckenna, M.D.

Gerald Mckenna, M.D.
Board-certified Pyschiatrist, McKenna Recovery Center

McKenna Recovery Center’s Ke Ala Pono Kauai Program is a comprehensive addiction evaluation and treatment clinic staffed by board-certified psychiatrist Gerald McKenna, who specializes in addiction medicine. The program includes a multidisciplinary team of therapists, licensed social workers trained in psychology, and high school counselors. The clinic also hosts fellows and psychiatric residents from various schools, including University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine on Oahu. The program facilitates group therapy, including sessions with family members; provides addiction evaluation treatments;addresses co-occurring psychiatric disorders; administers drug screening and, when appropriate, implements medication-assisted recovery treatments. The clinic opened in 1989 as the first intensive outpatient addiction treatment clinic on Kauai.

Please tell us about addiction.Addiction is a disease, though it’s still a stigmatized illness. People don’t want to have it and they don’t want to talk about it, but that has to change. I think if we can convince people that this is a neurological disorder, then it will be eventually considered the same as having diabetes, cancer or heart disease.

What is the recovery rate for people who come to see you? It depends on how committed they are to get into recovery and how long they stay with us. People who walk through the door, at least a third of them don’t come back because of factors like deciding they’re not ready to stop. But if we only count the people who come and stay for a minimum of three weeks, we have a recovery rate of 50 percent or more.

The staff and students of McKenna Recovery Center (front, from left): Randi Olds, Wendy Beckett, Gerald McKenna, Lani Nagao, (back) Jim Dubuar, Erica Hill, Colette Nagao, Rebecca Kinney and Charlene Medina | Coco Zickos photos

The staff and students of McKenna Recovery Center (front, from left): Randi Olds, Wendy Beckett, Gerald McKenna, Lani Nagao, (back) Jim Dubuar, Erica Hill, Colette Nagao, Rebecca Kinney and Charlene Medina | Coco Zickos photos

What are the steps in the recovery process? It’s usually detoxification first, if that’s what the person needs. The next part of it is to help them through that initial phase, where there’s a lot of craving and where their chances of relapse are high. The brain is going through important changes during that time. The next phase of treatment is coming to understand how this disorder has affected other people in your immediate environment, like your family. Everyone also is assigned a case manager.

This entire process takes about three to six months of outpatient treatment followed by aftercare for another three to six months. And then, lifelong monitoring of the illness, so that if you do relapse, it’s a quick relapse and you can stay sober and get the needed support.

What’s the No. 1 addictive substance on Kauai? At the moment, it appears to be methamphetamine. At least half the people in the program right now have meth dependence.

Where did you go to school? I went to Marist College in upstate New York. Then I attended Upstate Medical University in Syracuse to get my M.D. I did an internship at University of California at San Francisco General Hospital and residency in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Gerald McKenna, who is also a professor at University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine, hosts medical students as well as physician assistant students from the Mainland in his office on Kauai

Dr. Gerald McKenna, who is also a professor at University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine, hosts medical students as well as physician assistant students from the Mainland in his office on Kauai

What did you do after medical school? I was in the military for a couple of years and came back to be on the faculty at Harvard for about six years. Then I was on the faculty of UCLA for another six years. After that, I literally hopped on a boat and sailed over to Hawaii and dropped anchor at Hanalei Bay. That was it — I sold all my belongings and moved over here 26 years ago.

Why do you do what you do? I got introduced to it during my internship. I was reintroduced while serving in the military, where there was a lot of drug and alcohol addiction among the troops. I’m also a recovering alcoholic and have about 29 years of sobriety, which became another motivating factor to get into the field. I find it just a very rewarding field. People come to you, they’re in trouble, their lives are a mess. And you can help them find a way to recovery.

What’s most rewarding aspect of being a doctor? It’s been a wonderful career, and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. It’s something different every day. Not often you get to sit down and listen to people’s life stories. People share so much with us, and it’s a real privilege to work with them.

mckennarecoverycenter.com

4374 Kukui Grove St., Ste. 104, Lihue
246-0663

cocomidweek@gmail.com

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