PARADISE, Calif. - Dr. Kelley Otani began his journey to fulfilling his life's purpose of practicing pain management in the Joshua Tree Desert. After walking away from his home, job and marriage, he embarked on a quest to gain personal clarity and sharpen his intuitions as a doctor.
Over the years, Otani combined various cultural takes on treating spiritual, emotional and physical pain to come up with his own unique perspective on pain treatment and management.
He believes the opioid addiction epidemic in America has stemmed from a variety of factors that occurred over time, but one stands out in his mind.
"Back in the 1990's, there was a concern of the oversight medical communities that we were under-treating pain."
At that time, several doctors across the country were sued for millions of dollars because they, "under-treated pain."
"So the governing bodies decided to make pain the fifth vital," said Dr. Otani.
His philosophies turn the core values of traditional Western Medicine upside down.
"We're all mind, body and spirit, we're not just physical beings," he said.
Today, Dr. Otani specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Feather River Health Center in Paradise. Prior to his position in paradise, he was the Director of Medicine at Enloe Hospital in Chico. More recently, he wrote a book about his unique medical perspectives titled "Paradox of Healing."
He said many of his patients are low-income residents of Butte County that come from backgrounds of family addiction.
"A lot of the times, the patients hate me at first because I'm making the jump through hoops. I'm making them work to get their pain medication."
In some cases, he expects them to attend counseling while he treats their physical pain with opioids.
"There are certain emotions attached to addiction," he explained. "That of fear, that of anger, that of shame, that of guilt."
He said without addressing and facing these feelings head-on, patients remain chained to their addictions.
"What the medication does is block out those lower levels of emotion, so all you experience is love and joy."
The ultimate remedy, he believes, is developing authentic, lasting relationships.
"I think a large part of recovery is to develop human-to-human connections." However, in today's tech-dominated world, achieving this can be difficult.
"There's a higher level of stress, there's a higher level of division going on right now, and I think that's contributing to the higher level of anxiety people are experiencing and they want to escape," Dr. Otani said. "It's about people pulling together instead of relying on somebody else to fix the problem, and as a community, try to take care of each other."