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MailTribune.com
  • A long recovery

    Doctor who abused painkillers is using his experience to treat other sufferers of addiction at his new Medford clinic
  • Dr. Shawn Michael Sills has spent the past two years turning his life around after paying the price for improperly prescribing and becoming addicted to opiates almost a decade ago.
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  • Dr. Shawn Michael Sills has spent the past two years turning his life around after paying the price for improperly prescribing and becoming addicted to opiates almost a decade ago.
    The Medford pain specialist's reputation was tarnished, his license was suspended for two months, he lost his medical practice and his eight children fended off uncomfortable questions from the community, he said.
    While the Oregon Medical Board kept him under close scrutiny, Sills decided to put to good use what he learned from his former addiction to opiates.
    "Addiction hijacks the brain," he said. "When you have addictions, you cross boundaries."
    As part of his recovery, Sills learned to transform his failures into his "treasure," while remaining mindful of his addictive personality.
    He's now helping about 60 patients break free from drug addiction at his new pain management and addiction treatment clinic, Touchstone, in east Medford.
    He also helps patients suffering from cancer and other debilitating diseases with pain management therapy that can include opiates.
    "He is a wonderful, fantastic doctor," said Nadine Sankey, a 71-year-old Central Point woman who battles cancer.
    Sills gave her injections on Tuesday in the nerves of her spine to dampen the pain and help her walk better. She said the procedure went so well, she didn't feel the shots Sills had given her.
    "I know I feel real good," she said. "I feel like a million bucks."
    Many of Sills' patients may not be aware that their doctor went through a rough patch six years ago.
    He last used opiates on Aug. 5, 2008, he said, remembering a time when he tried to escape from life and to numb the pain of a divorce and other family issues.
    Since then, he sought dependency treatment, underwent therapy, submitted to random drug testing and attends a 12-step meeting three times a week.
    The Oregon Medical Board conducted a lengthy investigation of Sills, finding that he began diverting opiate-based medications for his own use in November 2005. It cited two cases in which Sills prescribed drugs without a legitimate medical purpose or didn't follow correct procedures in prescribing controlled substances.
    The board also found he violated professional boundaries in treating an employee he was infatuated with at Pain Specialists of Southern Oregon in 2007 and 2008, including giving her medications in a "special cup of tea" to treat flu-like symptoms without her consent.
    Sills underwent a detoxification program in May 2008 and more treatment between August and October of 2008, the board said.
    On July 12, 2012, the OMB determined Sills was in danger of losing his license. It suspended his license for two months and placed him on probation. If he had violated the terms of the probation, Sills' license would have been revoked.
    Two years later, on July 10, the OMB removed the revocation order, though Sills is still subject to a probationary period of another eight years.
    Sills got a divorce, lost his house, and his relationship with Pain Specialists, the company he helped found, he said.
    Sills opened his new clinic in 2012 at 2925 Siskiyou Blvd.
    Sills said many patients and community members mistakenly believed his substance abuse was fairly recent, even though it happened six years ago.
    Still, his addiction issues continue to haunt him.
    "I remember being afraid of addiction when I grew up," he said. "Addiction is terrible. Addiction leaves you feeling defenseless."
    Based on the recovery programs with which he's been involved, Sills said he suspects that many pain specialists gravitate into abuse.
    "Sometimes you get a cavalier attitude to these medications," he said.
    After struggling with his demons, Sills decided to commit himself to helping others because he is so familiar with the seductiveness of addiction as well as the downsides.
    "Sometimes psych doctors can't help you, but another addict can," he said.
    He uses many of the recovery techniques he's learned over the years to help others.
    Sills said he subscribes to the "Four Pillars for Addiction Recovery." This involves treatment that weans patients from opiates, often including Suboxone, which takes away cravings.
    In addition, patients undergo behavioral therapy, a 12-step program and constant management and monitoring.
    Some patients seek treatment because of pressure from their parents or because they got in trouble with the law.
    Sills said certain patients resist treatment, and he tries to show them how their addictive behavior is damaging their lives and the lives of others.
    "Unless life becomes painful enough, you're never going to change," he said.
    One of Sills' patients, "Don," who asked that his last name be withheld, said he has been clean and sober for 28 months, thanks to Sills.
    "He brought me out of a dark place and put me back on my feet," the 63-year-old Josephine County resident said.
    Don said he was active in sports when he was young and that led to injuries that required surgeries. He got addicted to the pain pills, he said.
    "I went through a horrible stretch," he said.
    A friend of Don's asked a mutual friend, Dr. Jim Shames, medical director for Jackson County Health and Human Services, to help him. Don said Shames urged him to see Sills.
    "Shawn is just such an honest guy who went through a lot himself," Don said.
    Shames said the use of Suboxone for opiate withdrawal is effective and is used by Allied Health Services on about 100 patients at the Medford methadone clinic. About 650 patients receive methadone treatment.
    Shames said he knows Sills professionally, though he hasn't worked closely with him.
    "I know how he courageously and honestly dealt with it (the addiction)," Shames said. "I want Shawn to do well and succeed."
    Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.
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