We fight an inadequate healthcare system, along with the stigma and misconceptions associated with substance use disorder.
I am writing as the mother of an opiate and heroin substance user. Addiction has negatively impacted my family, as well as millions of other Americans and their families. We fight an inadequate healthcare system, along with the stigma and misconceptions associated with substance use disorder. I too held these misconceptions about this disease until I was face-to-face with it. I still cannot believe my daughter’s addiction was so severe and how little control she had over her life at times.
My daughter Kaitlynn was an honor student and cheerleading captain. She was destined for a wonderful life. She had a small academic college scholarship. She was charismatic, genuine, and compassionate. She was full of life and amazing energy. I have heard countless stories about people with substance use disorder just like hers and the similarities amaze me.
Addiction is a hereditary disease with the same symptoms in each case. Kaitlynn hated the fact she had this disease. She was not weak. In fact, the courage it took for her to face each new day is something to be admired. The emotional pain created by a life in active addiction is not easy to overcome. It becomes a vicious cycle impossible at times to break.
Kaitlynn needed intense psychotherapy. She suffered trauma before and after recovery. She was in rehab on three occasions. The counseling, which was not psychotherapy, was mediocre at best. In each session, her counselor would ask what you want to talk about today. She often answered nothing, and the session ended.
Kaitlynn was afraid and ashamed to tell her deep, dark secrets. She needed to be coaxed. She needed someone to connect with her, to probe her, and reach the root of the issues. She went to two 90-day programs. One was state-funded and the other was self-paid, costing over $40,000. Her final facility was a 30-day program, the maximum that her insurance would cover. This final rehab released Kate at the end of February 2018. They gave her five prescriptions and no contact for follow-up therapy.
Each of these treatment centers promoted dual diagnosis and psychotherapy but did not deliver. They pushed Kaitlynn to a sober living facility. The sober living brochure promised the world but only collected rent. There were 16 women living in this home. They each paid $450 per month for a shared room with two to three other people. There was no transportation to meetings, no referrals for mental health, and no requirements to attend an outpatient program or even mandatory meetings.
My daughter died on May 3, 2018. She was 25 years old. She died of a fentanyl or heroin overdose in this aftercare program.
Kaitlynn left behind her beautiful two-year-old daughter Kenzley. Kaitlynn did not want to die. She told me so on many occasions. My daughter died with several other people in the room with her. They each thought she looked strange the way she was sleeping and thought they heard her snoring but did not have the education to identify overdose. There was no naloxone in this facility, to reverse her overdose and save her life. This facility was aware my daughter had relapsed on two occasions. She was allowed to stay, endangering the other residents. Only after the death of my daughter, the staff distributed naloxone and provided training on how to administer the anti-overdose medicine.
We must stand up and act. Training needs to occur on the dangers of prescription drugs in our homes. Children think this medication is safe. We need to teach them and ourselves the dangers in our medicine cabinets.
We need to demand strong mental health care in rehab facilities and aftercare programs. Sober living and aftercare programs should be regulated, with state required mandates for operators. These facilities should require residents to follow a strict regimen that supports sobriety, including required weekly meetings. Relapse should be dealt with in a manner that aids the client as well as protects the other residents.
We are losing our loved ones in an epidemic that must be resolved quickly.