Helping hospitalized patients address addiction with empathy

Certified recovery specialist Eric Ezzi brings compassionate care to for patients dealing with substance use, a role that is part of Penn Medicine’s efforts to address the urgent drug addiction crisis.

For any patient in the hospital, their stay entails a constant stream of health care professionals visiting the room. For some patients at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center (PPMC) there is one more potential member of the team: Eric Ezzi, a certified recovery specialist, will come to meet with patients who are experiencing addiction. But he is not there to add to the cacophony of monitors and hospital staff. He is there to listen.

Eric Ezzi with his wife and baby.
Peer recovery specialist Eric Ezzi and his wife with their daughter. (Image: Courtesy of Penn Medicine News)

While Ezzi’s goal is to help as many people as possible who struggle with addiction enter recovery, he doesn’t rush to bring up the subject. In his first meeting with a patient, Ezzi focuses on how they are doing at that moment: are their withdrawal symptoms tolerable? Are they in pain? Do they have any concerns? Is there anything the doctors or nurses are doing that they do not understand? 

Ezzi is particularly adept at this role as translator because he has been in the patient’s shoes: he struggled with opioid addiction for over fifteen years. Now in remission, he wants to help patients understand that while recovery might seem impossible, it is worth it, and he is there specifically to help them through it if they want. 

With the addition of Penn Medicine’s Addiction Consult Service at PPMC in the spring of 2023, a team of physicians, addiction medicine fellows, social workers, and peer recovery specialists aim to provide compassionate care to all patients at PPMC, regardless of their substance use history. 

The program addresses unique concerns for patients dealing with substance use, helps them navigate resources within the health system and in the community, and offers guidance for accessing treatment. 

“Recovery from addiction is a complicated process, and is not linear for many patients,” says Samantha Huo, an assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine, and director of the Addiction Medicine Consult Service. “And while the rate of return to use and non-adherence to medications for individuals with addiction is on par with that of other chronic conditions, like diabetes or heart disease, the negative stigma around substance use adds additional barriers for patients to recover, and their concerns in the hospital might not be taken as seriously.”

Read more at Penn Medicine News.