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Dr. Joe Blum Keeps Focus on His Veteran Patients Despite Health-Care System’s Restraints

Fellowship Story Showcase

Dr. Joe Blum Keeps Focus on His Veteran Patients Despite Health-Care System’s Restraints

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This article was written by Noozhawk Staff Writer Alex Kacik as part of Day 10 in Noozhawk's 12-day, six-week special investigative series. Related links are below.

The Noozhawk's Prescription for Abuse series is a special project exploring the misuse and abuse of prescription medications in Santa Barbara County. Our series is a result of an exciting and unique partnership with USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which awarded Noozhawk a California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship to undertake this important work.

Through our reporting and presentation, we will establish an independent baseline of where our community is with respect to the misuse and abuse of prescription medications; how the problem is affecting health care, education, law enforcement, criminal justice, addiction and treatment, and our culture and society; what we as a community can do to educate ourselves about prevention and controls; and how we can perhaps reverse what appears to be a very troubling trend.

Noozhawk staff writers Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli are the lead reporters on the project, and they've been assisted by managing editor Michelle Nelson; reporters Alex Kacik and Sonia Fernandez; interns Kristin Crosier, Jessica Ferguson, Tim Fucci, Kristen Gowdy, Jessica Haro, Daniel Langhorne, Alexa Shapiro, Sam Skopp, Erin Stone and Sarah Webb; photographers Garrett Geyer and Nick St.Oegger; content producer Cliff Redding; and Web development staffers Will Macfadyen and Edgar Oliveira.

Ashley Almada, Garrett Geyer, Hailey Sestak and Billy Spencer of the Santa Barbara Teen News Network filmed more than two dozen public-service videos featuring many of our story sources.

The project is sponsored by the Santa Barbara Foundation in partnership with KEYT, sbTNN and Zona Seca. The Annenberg School is assisted by the Renaissance Journalism Center at San Francisco State University.

 

Day One:

» Quiet Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse Taking a Toll on Santa Barbara County

» After Losing It All, Former Drug Addict Looking Forward to Renewed Life

» USC, California Endowment Unite to Support Health Journalism at the Source

» Bill Macfadyen: Prescription for Abuse Project Is a Series of Opportunities

Day Two:

» Local, National Statistics Reveal Alarming Jumps in Misuse and Abuse of Medications

» Marijuana Use Trends Higher, Especially Among Young Adults, Sparking Public Health Concerns

» Alcohol Plays a Role All Its Own in Setting the Stage for Local Abuse, Overdoses

Day Three:

» Understanding Addiction Key to Dealing With Prescription Drug Abuse

» Donna Genera Has Seen the Price and Perils of Drug Addiction from All Sides

» Rich Detty Bears Burden of Not Knowing Extent of Dead Son's Drug Use

Day Four:

» Escalation of Drug Overdose Deaths Includes Increased Presence of Prescription Medications

» Santa Barbara Teen News Network Adds Another Dimension to Prescription Drug Abuse Series

» Dr. Chris Lambert Sounds Warning on Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol

Day Five:

» Local Oversight of Prescription Medications Is Far More Focused Than State, Federal Controls

» Elderly Are Particularly Vulnerable to Both Misuse and Abuse of Prescription Drugs

» Second-Generation Pharmacist Peter Caldwell Fills a Vital Role with Patient Health Care

Day Six:

» Early Education for Parents and Youth Emerges as Critical Tactic to Thwart Drug Use

» Student Highs Can Lead to Tragic Woes with Addiction's Hook Just One Fateful Step Away

» From an Early Age, Shereen Khatapoush Saw the Horrors of Substance Abuse

» As a Parent Herself, Prosecutor Von Nguyen Brings Empathy to Job in Juvenile Justice

Day Seven:

» Law Enforcement Fights Battle Against Prescription Drug Abuse from Outside and Inside

» Sheriff Bill Brown a Strong Supporter of Re-Entry, Drug Abuse Treatment Efforts

» Speaking from Experience, Zona Seca's Kevin Smith Keeps Drug Abusers on Road to Recovery

Day Eight:

» Prescription Drug System Is Rife with Loopholes, Fraud and Lack of Oversight

» For Clinical Psychologist Neil Rocklin, Addiction Education Can't Begin Soon Enough

Day Nine:

» Drug Abuse Treatment Programs, Expertise Are Plentiful on South Coast

» Dr. David Agnew Sees Pain as Pathway to Abuse But Cautions Against Overreaction

Day Ten:

» Awareness, Disposal Key Elements to Reversing Tide of Prescription Drug Abuse

» Dr. Joe Blum Keeps Focus on His Veteran Patients Despite Health-Care System's Restraints

Day Eleven:

» Operation Medicine Cabinet Gets the Drop on Prescription Drug Disposal

» Lacey Johnson Gives UCSB Students an Education in Dealing with Drug Abuse and Addiction

Day Twelve:

» Santa Barbara County Officials Look for Solutions in Battle Against Prescription Drug Abuse

» Noozhawk Journalists Recount Lessons Learned from Prescription Drug Abuse Series

» Annenberg Fellowships Take a Diverse Approach to Community Health Journalism

» Dr. Nancy Leffert Champions Antioch University's Role in Fight Against Substance Abuse

» Professionals Working in Addiction Field Often Share Roots at Antioch University Santa Barbara

VA doctor mindful of larger obstacles and obligations while prescribing treatment in as personal a setting as possible
Noozhawk
Monday, October 10, 2011

Name: Dr. Joe Blum

Location: Santa Barbara

Role: Veterans Affairs Clinic physician

One of Dr. Joe Blum’s patients was an Army colonel in the Vietnam War who suffered multiple wounds and endured dozens of surgeries.

Blum, a Santa Barbara Veterans Affairs Clinic physician, prescribed the colonel powerful painkillers and his quality of life began to improve. But as he got better, Blum’s superiors decided he was overprescribing.

“He couldn’t move on the drugs they gave him, so he got blood clots in his legs that ended up killing him,” Blum said.

From then on, Blum decided he would do whatever is reasonable in the best interest of his patients.

“You are responsible for your patient so have to use your best judgment,” he said.

Blum studied civil engineering at Purdue University, where he met his wife, Marty, who is currently an SBCC trustee and the former mayor of Santa Barbara. After the couple settled in Santa Barbara in 1968, he went to medical school and became one of the first internal medicine specialists in the area.

Blum has taken care of veterans in Santa Barbara for the past 28 years.

“You try to alleviate human suffering and do no harm,” he said. “It’s a tough balance but that makes it challenging.”

Knowing one’s limitations is the most important characteristic a doctor can posses, according to Blum.

Blum shies away from drugs likeOxyContin because of its street reputation, and he asks each patient about his or her background because one can never be too careful, he said.

“There are so many different prescription drugs at people’s disposal,” he said. “As a society it gets tougher. There are a lot of people unemployed and we need to be more alert for people who are desperate to put roofs over their head and get food.”

Blum said one of the biggest problems in the health-care industry is the decreasing amount of time doctors have to spend with each patient.

“Most of us have social situations like playing sports or other activities, but some veterans’ only social situation is the clinic,” he said.

But that’s what makes Blum’s job special, he said.

“I’m working with veterans who sacrificed for country,” he said. “It’s more challenging but also more rewarding.”

— Noozhawk staff writers Daniel Langhorne and Alex Kacik can be reached atdlanghorne@noozhawk.com and akacik@noozhawk.com, respectively. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect withNoozhawk on Facebook.