Opioid Hero of the Month: February 2021

Dr. Brian Hurley

Current Work and Impacts of COVID-19

Dr. Hurley works for the county of Los Angeles as the Director of Addiction Medicine and is involved in a variety of efforts and initiatives surrounding providing medications for addiction treatment of those with alcohol, tobacco, and opioid use disorders. COVID-19 has impacted Dr. Hurley’s work by pushing both administrative and most clinical meetings to a virtual setting. However, Dr. Hurley continues to see patients at the LA County jail in person. Dr. Hurley has observed a worsening of opioid overdose during the global COVID-19 pandemic and he explains that many who were previously in remission have unfortunately relapsed in recent times. He suspects that lifestyle stability is a key factor in OUD remission during the pandemic as many lack access to telephones and housing. 

Accomplishments, Future Plans, and Advice for Students

One of Dr. Hurley’s major accomplishments during the pandemic is working with LA County to arrange local sites where those suffering from homelessness can both quarantine and shelter during the pandemic. By spacing individuals out and providing them with housing at these sites, Dr. Hurley believes that this is a both novel and promising way to assist the homeless during the pandemic that provides increased lifestyle stability. In addition, Dr. Hurley has been able to expand medication assisted treatment of OUD during the pandemic due to suspended federal regulations that required waivered providers to be physically present with patients in order to prescribe medications such as buprenorphine and naloxone. He has worked with the city to train a group of outreach workers to quickly link people to these types of medications through a phone line, enabling patients to get started on life saving medications much quicker than before.

Dr. Hurley’s future plans surround the challenge presented by the prevalence of patients with OUD seen in various settings. He explains that people with OUD present in hospitals, ERs, clinics, and many medical settings but access to OUD treatment is not necessarily available in all of these settings. As such, Dr. Hurley aims to work with local leadership in LA and OC to prepare clinics and other medical establishments to treat or link patients with OUD to the appropriate resources.

For students interested in Addiction Medicine and/or Addiction Psychiatry, Dr. Hurley suggests to rotate and get involved in multiple different experiences. He explains that students are often only able to have one or two experiences and it is not always enough. He recommends getting as much exposure as possible to the field which will enable students to understand the different parts of Addiction Medicine more thoroughly - whether it be care directed at reducing opioid use or harm reduction care (i.e. needle exchange programs). Dr. Hurley recommends that students attending meetings such as the California Society of Addiction Medicine (CSAM), American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), and the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP) in order to network with others in the field. He suggests the book: Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America by William L. White as an insightful read for those interested in the field. Overall, Dr. Hurley has been vital in combating addiction in Southern California and continues to have a momentous impact on the Opioid Epidemic.

Introduction and Path to Addiction Psychiatry

For our next Opioid Hero of the Month, we would like to introduce Dr. Brian Hurley! Dr. Hurley is an Addiction Psychiatrist who attended medical school at the USC Keck School of Medicine in the joint MD/MBA program with the Marshall School of Business, and completed his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and McLean Hospital. Dr. Hurley grew up in Los Angeles, and after training in Boston and New York, returned to LA County to work on expanding access to addiction treatment. He first became involved in addiction treatment as an undergraduate working towards the methamphetamine epidemic. When Dr. Hurley was a resident in 2009, the national conversation around opioid usage began to be described as an ‘epidemic,’ and years later, as a 4th year resident he was the chief resident in Addiction Psychiatry. Dr. Hurley went on to complete an Addiction Psychiatry fellowship which allowed him key, front-line opportunities to treat those with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD). Dr. Hurley conceptualized his work as helping those with OUD through the use of technology in the form of medications such as buprenorphine to treat addiction.

Is there an Opioid Epidemic Hero in your community in Orange County? If so, let us know at saferxoc@gmail.com!  We would love to include them in our series.