Thanks to an appointment by Mayor Sylvester Turner, and a unanimous vote by City Council, Asim A. Shah, MD is Houston Recovery Center’s newest board member and board chair.
Shah holds the Barbara & Corbin J. Robertson Jr. Chair in Psychiatry and is Executive Vice Chair and Professor of Psychiatry, Family and Community Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, and Chief of Psychiatry for Ben Taub Hospital/Harris Health System. He also is Chief, Division of Community Psychiatry & Director of Mood Disorder Research Program at Ben Taub Hospital.
Dr. Asim Shah’s life-long goal is to help people with mental illness – not only to decrease stigma around the word “mental” in mental health but also provide access to care to those who are uninsured but need services.
“As a psychiatrist I know that substance use and mental illness go hand-in-hand,” Shah relates. “A psychiatrist can better advocate about treatment of substance use disorder as it is our bread and butter, and we see it day-in and day-out.”
When Shah first started at Ben Taub 15 years ago, he was told the hospital didn’t treat substance use disorder. It was not included in the schedule of benefits. In the next few years, he worked to get it added. Stigma was so bad around substance use disorder, although it is an issue with two-thirds of all mental health population.
“My desire is to provide substance use, mental health, and psychiatric services to people who need services at the time they need services, without any stigma,” Shah relates. “I know it is a huge task, but together we can achieve a lot.”
Collaboration is the key to bigger goals and achievements, Shah says.
“Just yesterday we were talking about many collaborations between the sobering center and the Suboxone clinic,” Shah says. “So many things can be done together. That’s the beauty of these meetings and collaboration.”
Power of sobering centers
Shah believes sobering centers play a huge role in the community, because the needs are high and the stakes are high. Without insurance, these individuals have to access publicly funded programs, and the sobering center is one of them. He says if you catch this problem in the beginning, that’s when you can potentially treat the problem.
“Sobering centers, and programs like these, are essential needs for cities like Houston,” Shah relates. “I would say we need more sobering centers — one is not enough for Houston. But the one we have does a very good job with the resources it has, so that’s definitely appreciated.”
In the nearly 25 years since Shah’s residency, he has witnessed changing trends around substance use disorder. People are talking more openly about substance use, which is good. But he describes several bad things, as well. The biggest challenges now, he says, are 1) the rise of vaping, especially among teenagers, and 2) the under-recognition of the problem of marijuana.
“People are taking marijuana very lightly,” he relates. “It’s not legal in Texas, but we live in Texas. And it also can be mixed with something else that can cause problems. It may be mixed with Kush, for example, which can make you completely psychotic.”
Contribution to board
With Shah’s psychiatry background, he will be a strong advocate for the board around substance use disorder and take it to another level.
“Leonard (executive director) is your best advocate, of course,” Shah relates. “But I can enhance that advocacy and hopefully take it further. Together we can do more, and together we can help more and more people every day.”
Shah serves on additional boards and task forces including chair of Mental Health America of Greater Houston, Texana, The Alliance, chair of COVID-19 Mental Health Task Force for Fort Bend County, and co-chair, Public Health Committee, Mayor’s Health Equity Response Task Force.