Ride Or Die? I Chose To Live
My addiction to prescription opiates started back in 2001. After I got sick, my addiction ran my life for the next 15 years.
It was an insane ride. By the end, I lost my wife of 23 years, my children, my home, my job, my vehicles, and most importantly, my life. The progression of this disease is astronomical.
I used to take one pill at a time a few times a day. However, my illness worsened. By the end, I was taking 10 pills at a time and anywhere from 50-100 pills a day. My addiction grew to over 1,000 pills per month. I would suck on fentanyl patches, eating a 100 mcg patch in less than 8 hours.
I looked in the mirror and saw a 40-year-old ‘junkie’. I was wrong! I was a sick person, and God doesn’t make junk! I finally got so tired of waking up every single day to do the same thing over and over knowing I’d get the same result. My addiction was insanity at its peak.
The only way out was death, or so I thought. My anger with God grew by the day. I used to wake up every morning and curse him because I’d begged for death the night before. Thankfully, He had bigger plans for me!
On March 16, 2016, I swallowed 20 pills and walked into rehab. It was the best decision of my life! I spent the next 44 days learning how to deal with life on life’s terms, how to be mindful, how to deal with situations, and more. I owe my life to those people that cared enough for me to help save my life. I will be forever grateful.
My life after 2 1/2 years in remission is more than I could have ever dreamed of. I have a fantastic girlfriend, a relationship with my children, a job, a car, and a house. Most of all, I feel the respect for myself and my fellow people in recovery. I give back as much as I can and enjoy paying it forward.
All people can do this, but you must give it your everything. Live, laugh, and love!
LGBTQ Youth Face Increased Risk of Substance Use
We may be living in an age with more visibility for LGBTQ people, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to more acceptance. “Minority stress,” or the pain of social stigma experienced by marginalized groups, is especially hard on young people.
A new study of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence makes it painfully clear that LGBTQ youth remain “at increased risk relative to heterosexual youth for polysubstance abuse.” The study’s author, Oregon State University psychology professor Dr. Sarah S. Dermody, told The Daily Beast that substance use in young people was a coping mechanism.
Dermody’s study is a statistical analysis of over 15,000 young people who responded to a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey. They were asked questions about how frequently they used substance use. They were also asked to identify their sexual orientation as “heterosexual,” “gay or lesbian,” “bisexual,” and “not sure.”
According to The Daily Beast, Dermody identified four different groups, or classes, of substance users: alcohol, marijuana and nicotine, polysubstance and e-cigarettes, and polysubstance and tobacco. Alcohol was the class in which most young people reported binge drinking; the majority of nicotine and marijuana users said they used “at least one nicotine-containing product. Everyone in the the polysubstance and e-cigarette class “reported alcohol and marijuana use and most participants reported binge drinking and e-cigarette usage.”
Young people who identified themselves as “questioning,” or unsure about their sexual orientation were more likely to be in the polysubstance and tobacco class than young people who were sure they were straight. This group of LGBTQ substance users face a higher risk of several negative health and social outcomes, such as addiction, and poorer cognitive, social, and academic functioning.
Bisexual youth presented the highest risk of substance use, because they face discrimination both within and outside the LGBTQ community. Bisexual young people were statistically more likely than heterosexuals to be in each of the four classes of substance use. That suggests that bisexual youth have to endure high levels of minority stress.
“One of the leading theories for the increased drug use in bisexual youth is that bisexual youth face even more stigma and discrimination based on their sexual identity,” Dermody told The Daily Beast. “There are sometimes misconceptions about bisexual individuals being ‘confused’ about their sexual orientation, because they are not aligning with a binary view of sexual orientation—either homosexual or heterosexual.”
LGBTQ-specific support for recovery is important, especially for young people. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that LGBTQ people have a “greater likelihood” of developing a substance use disorder, such as alcoholism. They also tend to have “more severe” substance use disorders when they start rehab programs. These problems develop in adolescence, sometimes in response to a hostile, homophobic environment.
Dermody said that’s why it’s important to help LGBTQ youth while they’re still in the early stages of substance use disorder. If they get help “when they are first experimenting with substances, they can be provided the necessary interventions to prevent the development of difficult-to-treat addiction.”
Feeling lonely, isolated, and hated causes many young LGBTQ people to use substances. Breaking the social stigma of homosexuality and queerness, along with the stigma of addiction is one step forward for the recovery community. Working closely with at-risk groups is key to close the gap and ensure that all young people are supported in recovery.
Do People With Substance Use Disorder Have Higher Suicide Risk?
Suicide prevention is a top priority in the treatment of substance use disorders. New research published in the Journal of Affective Disorders showed that individuals with SUD who attempt suicide have potentially avoidable or treatable risk factors, particularly psychiatric hospitalization, sedative use disorders in women, and nicotine dependence in men. Addressing these co-occurring risk factors may help save lives.
For people with substance use disorder, suicide and self harm are serious risks. Recurrent suicide attempts are common in this patient population and are associated with successful attempts that result in death. Sixty-one percent of people with substance use disorders who attempt suicide report recurrent suicide attempts.
In the current study, researchers sought to identify risk factors for recurrent suicide attempts, controlling for gender and addictive substance exposure, by assessing the lifetime history of 433 people with substance use disorder who were in outpatient treatment. The study collected data from mostly men (77 percent) with either cocaine or opiate use disorder, using standardized questionnaires.
Of the total 433 participants, 32 percent had attempted suicide, and 61 percent of this subgroup reported 2 or more suicide attempts. Women reported more lifetime attempts than men.
According to Psychiatry Advisor, the study researchers did identify a number of risk factors for recurrent suicide attempts that are treatable or avoidable. Most of these risk factors “are highly prevalent in treatment seeking individuals with [substance use disorders],” and are similar to risk factors for serious suicide attempts, suggesting “a common liability towards suicidal behavior.”
No data was available in the study for people with other types of substance use disorder, or people who were non-binary or transgender. However, it is known that homophobia and other social stigma can be a contributing factor to both suicide and addiction.
Suicide rates have risen dramatically in the United States. Their exponential increase mirrors the rising number of substance use related deaths. According to the Washington Post, “Nearly 45,000 suicides occurred in the United States in 2016 — more than twice the number of homicides — making it the 10th-leading cause of death. Among people ages 15 to 34, suicide is the second-leading cause of death.”
Alcohol or other substances are the first-leading cause of death for people under 50. According to the Washington Post, the Center for Disease Control “has calculated that suicides from opioid overdoses nearly doubled between 1999 and 2014, and data from a 2014 national survey showed that individuals addicted to prescription opioids had a 40 percent to 60 percent higher risk of suicidal ideation. Habitual users of opioids were twice as likely to attempt suicide as people who did not use them.”
Joshua Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, said that undiagnosed or unreported mental illnesses played a role in suicide attempts. He explained, “When you do a psychological autopsy and go and look carefully at medical records and talk to family members of the victims, 90 percent will have evidence of a mental health condition.”
That indicates a large portion weren’t diagnosed, “which suggests to me that they’re not getting the help they need,” he said.
Stigma and shame prevent many people from seeking help for any kind of mental illness. People with substance use disorder are at higher risk for self-injury. Demanding that people with SUD receive equal respect, care, and support as people with other types of chronic mental health conditions, is key to breaking the cycle and saving lives.
Recovery Goes The Distance In New York Marathon
Yesterday, a team of runners in recovery who live in a residential program ran New York’s world-renowned marathon together. The 45 runners on the Odyssey House team who ran the 26.2-mile event include 19 current clients, plus supporters and alumni. Odyssey House offers inpatient and outpatient treatment for adolescents and adults at sites throughout the city.
The running group was diverse, including people from age 25 to 72. Some had been incarcerated the year before: their transformation into runners in recovery represented a profound dedication to change.
Running, according to John Tavolacci, the chief operating officer of Odyssey House, helps strengthen bonds between runners, builds their self-esteem, and empowers them to push themselves through difficult situations. He’s run 22 marathons. He started the Odyssey House running group in 2001 as a supplement to treatment, based on a strong belief that running can be effective in helping overcome addiction.
New York City has been severely impacted by the drug epidemic. The city’s rate of heroin overdose deaths increased fivefold per 100,000 residents between 2010 and 2015. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioids were linked to more than 42,000 deaths nationwide in 2016, five times the 1999 rate. However, grassroots groups and recovery support are meeting the epidemic at the ground level and helping to change outcomes for people with substance use disorder.
One Odyssey House runner, John Kane, completed treatment five months ago. He became addicted to prescription opioids nearly two decades ago, later moving to heroin use.
He told The New York Times that the running team gave him a drive and vision for his life that goes beyond the actual workouts and training.
“[Running] is also transferable to everything else I do in life,” Mr. Kane said. “The hard work, the perseverance, the dedication it takes to run a marathon can cross over into your everyday life—as far as setting a goal, working toward that goal and achieving that goal.”
Other team members, who are in recovery from substance use disorder, say that running has helped them cope with life changes. However, running on its own is not the solution to sustaining recovery. According to The New York Times, the team sustained more than one loss—to overdose, not recidivism.
The team’s head coach, Andre Matthews, has been in recovery for two decades. He recalled a woman, Laura Thompson, who ran the marathon with the Odyssey House team in 2011. Matthews, who estimates that he has run about 20 marathons, said he recruited Thompson to join the team after seeing her on a treadmill at an inpatient center, where she had been living with her infant son.
Running was part of the puzzle, but not the cure for substance use disorder. Laura Thompson died at age 35 last January from an apparent overdose, according to the State Police in Middletown, New York.
However, for those who actively participate in their recovery, great things are possible. With finishing times of under 4 hours, the Odyssey House team is serious about taking strides forward. The support of their friends, residential staff, and family is invaluable in helping them cross the finish line.
Matthews told the Times that he was proud to cheer on his fellow athletes. “You’re there waiting at the end—you’re like an anxious parent,” he said. “I find that when you stay connected in recovery, it’s one person in recovery helping another. It’s a parallel process as you grow and mature in recovery and continue to be a part of people in their recovery, it also benefits you.”
New Healthcare Payment Model Incentivizes Recovery
This September, Facing Addiction with NCADD and other members of the Alliance for Recovery-Centered Addiction Health Services announced an alternative payment model for recovery. In a huge step forward for people in recovery and healthcare advocates, the new model centers recovery across a spectrum of care. The Incentivize Recovery model bundles payments, quality targets and shared-savings. It is designed to promote improved integration of treatment and recovery resources.
“As addiction to alcohol and other drugs now impacts 1 in 3 households in America, we must urgently work to turn the tide on this health crisis,” said Greg Williams, a person in long-term recovery and Facing Addiction with NCADD’s Executive Vice President. “In late 2016, the U.S. Surgeon General issued the seminal report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health: Facing Addiction In America. In this report, an urgent call to action for mainstream health systems to begin integration of substance use health services was afforded an entire chapter, and the industry leaders in this Alliance have responded in unprecedented fashion to that call.”
This groundbreaking innovation acknowledges one important aspect of healthcare: recovery flourishes when the patient is well managed by a multidisciplinary care team. For many people with substance use disorder, the “spectrum” of care can include medical care, inpatient treatment for addiction, outpatient care, group or individual therapy, support groups, sober living homes, and medication. These services are not necessarily provided under one roof. Bundling those services is a vital step toward integrating recovery services and incentivizing healthcare providers to improve their treatment of substance use disorder patients.
“Designing a new payment and care delivery model is no small task and required a lot of work and collaboration,” said Joanna Hiatt Kim, vice president of payment policy at American Hospital Association (AHA). “We are thrilled that it is now public so that the most important work—the work to help our patients and our communities—can begin.”
The monumental work of coordinating the new plan was made possible with collaboration from the members of the Alliance, which include major commercial insurance plans, health care associations, health systems, and stakeholder groups. Diversity and integration are the north star of the new Addiction Recovery Medical Home (ARMH) model. As an Alternative Payment Model (APM), it’s engineered to provide patients with a long-term, comprehensive and integrated pathway to treatment and recovery. That means that people seeking care and support for substance use disorder will no longer have to design their own road map to wellness. Using supported, covered, and comprehensive approaches to care, they’ll be in better hands and have better health outcomes.
The new model is also innovative because it acknowledges that not everyone’s recovery is the same. Instead of a “one size fits all” approach, the model supports and celebrates all forms of recovery as desirable and achievable. Within the ARMH-APM framework, providers and payers are encouraged and incentivized to tailor the approach to the needs of each patient. That means complete abstinence from all substances may not be an initial recovery goal for many patients. Harm reduction, medication assisted recovery, and other approaches are supported as well. The care team is positioned to meet people where they are and move that patient along a journey toward improved wellness while reducing emergent risk factors.
The ARMH framework establishes a broad continuum of care ranging from emergent and stabilizing acute-care settings to community-based services and support that are essential to managing patient needs in a chronic disease model.
This new program is truly groundbreaking, and will have an immense, positive influence on the treatment of people with substance use disorder. Learn more at incentivizerecovery.org.
Who Rescued Whom? Dogs Support Sustained Recovery
Dogs are sometimes called “man’s best friend.” For people in recovery, dogs can be a valuable support. The emotional and mental health benefits of having a dog (or another animal to care for) can be helpful for people who are coping with feelings of isolation, rejection, or other social stigmas.
The benefits can be significant, as one sober living home in Lexington, Kentucky is learning. Evan Rice, who volunteers at the Shepherd’s House in Lexington, brought the dog he’s fostering to the facility. Shepherd’s House is a long-term recovery residence for men with substance use disorder.
Rice told CBS that Shep “was barely able to stand up, so we were having to carry him everywhere we went.” Shep had been severely neglected by his previous owner. He had a shattered hip from being hit by a car and never received care for any of his injuries. He was rescued and brought to Paws 4 the Cause Rescue in Lexington, where Rice became his foster parent.
According to CBS, Rice took Shep with him one day to the recovery residence. One of the men living at the house carried the dog outside to use the bathroom.
Jerod Thomas of Shepherd House told CBS, “Another man [living there] asked a question about the dog and he said, ‘It’s the broken helping the broken.’ Those men have been helping to care for Shep as he heals … it dawned on us we need to keep this dog.”
Since then, the other residents have stepped up and are helping take care of Shep while he gets his balance back.
According to TherapyPet, there are powerful benefits to keeping a pet or other kind of emotional support animal. Taking care of a dog can help by providing:
- Reduced Levels of Stress
- Lessens Isolation
- Reduces Anxiety
- Keep You Distracted
The emotional benefits of having an animal to care for are documented in many research studies on the psychophysiological and psychosocial benefits of positive social interaction with a pet, such as holding or stroking an animal. “These benefits include calming and relaxing, lowering anxiety, alleviating loneliness, enhancing social engagement and interaction, normalizing heart rate and blood pressure, reducing pain, reducing stress, reducing depression and increasing pleasure. Based on the results of these studies, it is plausible that living with an emotional support animal may alleviate symptoms associated with a number of emotional and psychiatric disabilities.” That includes substance use disorder, which is a mental health disorder.
According to Counseling Today, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recognizes the benefits of emotional support animals and provides regulations allowing them to live with an owner in designated non-pet housing (with a few exceptions) without requiring a pet deposit fee. HUD states, “Emotional support animals by their very nature, and without training, may relieve depression and anxiety, and/or help reduce stress-induced pain in persons with certain medical conditions affected by stress.”
And for rescue dogs like Shep, there are lots of perks of living in a recovery home.
Thomas said, “I tried to figure it out: does Shep needs us more, or do we need Shep more?”
Good dog, Shep.
Missing My Daughter And Loving My Son
On June 9, 2018 my first born was taken from us by heroin.
When she came home after serving her sentence, she was the daughter I knew before she started using heroin. Her genuine laugh was infectious, and she had a smile that could light up the world. She seemed content to be home with us.
However, just one month later, Martiana used heroin again. She came home the next day and was very honest about what she had done. We told her we understood. We said we were very proud of her regardless, and we would work through this.
She left again the following evening and didn’t return the next day. I started having one of my “bad feelings” and I could not feel her anymore. I did not want to upset everyone, as Marti had done this before. The following Tuesday, after I had heard nothing from Marti for 72 hours, we filed a missing persons report.
I left for work and not 20 minutes later, my husband answered the knock at the door. It would forever change our lives.
My baby girl had passed away June 9.
I am not sure if I have fully accepted her being gone. There is a open police investigation into the man who made the call to 911. None of his statement made sense; however, they have not gotten her autopsy results back yet.
I know that people can overcome addiction with the love and support of others. There is another factor to my story: my youngest my only son is in recovery from heroin addiction, too. He has been in remission for nine months. He’s working and living the life a 20-year-old young man should.
There is recovery after addiction. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. I am actively involved with a few different groups to help end the stigma, educate others, and be a positive influence on those in recovery. I want to be a support for others who have lost loved ones due to this disease.
For Kids Affected by Addiction, Love On Wheels Goes A Long Way
Dr. Kathleen Kunkel didn’t plan on starting a nonprofit. Her veterinary hospital, Little House Animal Hospital in Franklin, Tennessee, filled her days with work, horses, and her husband, Scott. But when she and Scott got interested in foster care, she discovered that there was room for more in her life.
Dr. Kunkel said that she and Scott went to one of the foster parent workshops that’s given as part of the certification process in Tennessee. They watched a video about how the kids are transferred from their homes to foster care.
“The video showed a police officer picking up a kid, handing them a trash bag, and telling them to get their stuff,” she said. “From the very first moment, it’s like they were being told: ‘you’re garbage.’”
She was moved to make a difference and started Love On Wheels.
Love on Wheels is a nonprofit that provides suitcases with basic necessities for children entering foster care in Tennessee. Dr. Kunkel and Scott personally deliver the suitcases all over Tennessee. The kits are then distributed to foster children in need. Each suitcase is prepared by volunteers who personally see that each suitcase includes new, gender-appropriate clothes, socks, underwear, pajamas, toiletries, a blanket, and a small toy.
Love On Wheels has seen a significant increase in the number of children entering the foster care system as a result of the drug epidemic. According to Opioid Justice Team:
- New foster care cases involving parents who are using drugs have hit the highest point in more than three decades of record-keeping, accounting for 92,000 NEW children entering the system in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- The crisis is so severe—with a 32 percent spike in drug-related cases from 2012 to 2016—it reversed a trend that had the foster care system shrinking in size over the preceding decade.
- All told, a total of 437,000 children were in the foster care system as of Sept. 30, 2016. Child and family assistance spending related to the epidemic was about $6.1 billion in 2016.
That means more police pick-ups and more garbage bags. Normally, children are given a trash bag and 15 minutes to collect their toothbrush, toiletries and personal items. Then, the police and state authorities take the child or children to temporary foster homes. With Love On Wheels, the child is able to feel supported and cared for, no matter where they are.
“It’s ridiculous to expect a young child, 7 or 8 years old, to collect all their important things in 15 minutes,” Dr. Kunkel said. “How many of them are going to remember their toothbrush? Their homework? Clean underwear for tomorrow? It’s unrealistic, and since many foster families are not high-income, it’s also unfair to expect that they’ll have an extra supply of personal hygiene items and clothes. Love On Wheels helps fill the gaps for children and families.”
“That’s why we’re so happy to be working with local and regional non-profits like Love on Wheels, or even national organizations like Facing Addiction,” said Dr. Brent Bell, a medical expert with the Opioid Justice Team. “A medical-legal partnership is needed to be sure the needs of children experience hardships due to their parents’ or caregivers’ dependency have a voice and are cared for. Partnerships with organizations like Dr. Kunkel’s help us find families and organizations who need advice and help in this national epidemic.”
Dr. Kunkel said that seeing children open their personal suitcases was the most rewarding part of her nonprofit. Although the kits are usually handed over by social workers or other authorities, she got a hail-Mary phone call from a foster parent in need: two kids needed help, immediately. Dr. Kunkel invited them over and she got to watch the children receive their suitcases.
“Oh, it was just—tears,” she said. “They picked up each little thing in there like it was Christmas. ‘Look, a toothbrush!’ It was so meaningful to see the impact we can have. To kids, these are not small things. They’re a big deal.”
To support the group or learn more, visit: love-on-wheels.org.
Alcohol Kills Over 3 Million Annually
Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) released its annual global status report on alcohol and health. The report found that more than 3 million people died in 2016 due to drinking too much alcohol.
The report estimated that, globally, 237 million men and 46 million women are “problem drinkers”. That’s about 3 percent of the world’s population. Alcohol use disorder negatively impacts both the person who has it and the social ecosystem that surrounds them, including their family, community, friends, and place of work. The cost of alcohol use disorder is significant and must be addressed, said the WHO.
“All countries can do much more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol,” said Vladimir Poznyak, of the WHO’s substance abuse unit. One in 20 deaths worldwide was linked to harmful drinking.
Men were not only more susceptible to alcohol use problems, but also negative outcomes from substance use. According to Reuters, “Of all deaths attributable to alcohol, 28 percent [of deaths linked to alcohol use] were due to injuries, such as traffic accidents, self-harm and interpersonal violence. Another 21 percent were due to digestive disorders, and 19 percent due to cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.”
Many of the health conditions linked to alcohol use are treatable, reversible, and not fatal. However, without addressing the root issue—addiction—treatment for any of these conditions may not be enough to save a life. Because of its many coexisting health issues, untreated addiction can place an immense strain on healthcare systems. This is especially true in the United States, where alcohol use is the third leading cause of death, after tobacco use and poor diet. According to a report published in 2008 by SAMHSA, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated the annual total resource and productivity cost of substance abuse at $510.8 billion, with alcohol use responsible for $191.6 billion (37.5 percent) of the loss. That was in 1999. Since then, substance use has only increased. Alcohol use is projected to rise, both in the US and globally, over the next decade.
Some countries have attempted to stem alcohol use by focusing on financial reforms. For example, almost all countries have alcohol excise taxes, but fewer than half of them use other pricing strategies such as banning below-cost sales or bulk buy discounts. Poznyak said “proven, cost-effective steps included raising alcohol taxes, restricting advertising and limiting easy access to alcohol.”
Men in wealthy countries were at a significantly higher risk than women. Easier access to resources, early intervention, and substance use education may be making a dent in developed nations. Eliminating the stigma of substance use disorder, incentivizing recovery, and changing social stereotypes around men and alcohol could go a long way toward saving lives.
My Daughter Overdosed And Died In Sober Living. What Are Treatment Facilities Going to Do About It?
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.
Have National Opioid Addiction Rates Hit A Plateau?
The number of national diagnoses of opioid use disorder declined from 2016 to 2017, from 6.2 per 1,000 patients to 5.9, according to a new survey by Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). This is the first decline BCBSA had measured in eight years, since it started tracking opioid use disorder diagnoses. However, that doesn’t mean that the drug epidemic is in decline, even though this is a positive sign for people in recovery.
The Blue Cross data shows an important trend in opioid prescriptions: prescribers are following guidelines and, as a result, fewer people are being given highly addictive painkillers. Opioid prescriptions dropped by nearly 30 percent from 2013 to 2017. Two-thirds of opioid prescriptions filled in 2017 were within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended guidelines.
”It means that there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University, told Vox. “The decrease in new cases of opioid addiction is likely due to the trend in more cautious prescribing and greater public awareness of opioid risks.”
However, this doesn’t mean that the drug crisis is winding down, or even decreasing. Addiction is an illness with no upper limit. Although the data may show more responsible trends in prescribing behavior, that doesn’t correlate with rising death rates in 2016. According to Vox, “overdose deaths reached new highs in 2016, when more than 60,000 people died of drug overdoses, most of them from opioids.” Addiction rates are not slowing down, and the presence of fentanyl in heroin and other substances like cocaine and methamphetamine dramatically increase the likelihood of a fatal overdose.
Furthermore, the study offered no data about recovery rates, the prevalence of naloxone in American homes and public places, and whether patients with chronic pain were receiving adequate care. Although the BCBSA data is encouraging, addiction in America is not a simple problem. Vox pointed out, “We do seem to be getting better at preventing overprescribing, and addiction rates do seem to be stagnating. Nevertheless, we need to do a lot more if we are to stop setting new records every year for overdose deaths.”
Maureen Boyle, a former researcher at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told Vox, “One concern is that this will make all of the public health efforts of the last few years seem like they have failed, when in actuality they have shown success, and have likely slowed the increase in overdose deaths. But controlling the supply of synthetics is probably impossible — given the incredibly small volumes that need to get across the border. I just hope policymakers don’t get disheartened by the raw numbers.”
Any progress in turning back the drug epidemic is a win. This complex issue can only be solved by a multi-pronged, long-term plan with significant funding and federal support. As policymakers catch up to grassroots advocacy efforts, it’s important to celebrate our progress while we continue to work for change.
In Recovery, I’m A Dopeless Hope Fiend
My name is Adam and I’m a person in recovery. I come from what I believe to be a normal family. My mother divorced my biological father when I was 5, due to his drug use. She remarried not too long after. I firmly believe my addictive traits were passed to me by my father.
When I was 10, my father moved to Colorado from Connecticut with his new family. I was devastated. At 12, I took my first drink and smoked my first cigarette and at 13, I tried marijuana. I loved it. At 15, I tried crack for the first time. I never looked back. I smoked crack all through high school. Amazingly, I graduated.
I was a heavy drug user all through my twenties. I had two failed attempts at rehab. When I was 30, I tried heroin for the first time and I was in love. At 33, I became an IV heroin user. This is when everything changed. For the next three years, heroin was all I cared about. I ruined every relationship and every job. I had no friends and my mother was the only family member speaking to me. I stole from almost everyone I came in contact with and ended up living in my truck for the last year of my drug use.
On June 4, 2017, I decided it was enough. With one bag of heroin left, no home, no gas, no friends, and no money I asked for help. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I entered a detox, then an inpatient program, and finally a sober house. Instantly, my life got better. I finally wanted to be in recovery. No one was forcing me to do it. I surrendered.
Almost 15 months, later here I am. I have a beautiful girlfriend, apartment, and cars. I’m a father figure. My family relationships are stronger than ever, and most importantly I work a program of recovery. It’s a 12 Step program that I am very honest and open about. The one thing I have learned since getting into recovery is that I do not have to use. No matter what. I realize that life happens. Every day isn’t going to be rainbows and butterflies. And that’s okay.
I’m able to weigh the pros and cons of my actions. When it comes to drug use, there are no pros. Only cons. Knowing that I’m not unique and there are others going through the same things as me allows me to make it through tough situations. Most of the time, it only takes a phone call to deal with what I’m going through.
My drug use caused a lot of harm and hurt a lot of people, but it also made me very strong. I believe that if you can beat heroin, you can do anything.
My life of addiction brought me to a lot of places where I saw a lot of pain. That’s why I do my best today to give back. I volunteer very often. I’m a member of my program’s subcommittee for hospitals and institutions. We go into rehabs, detoxes, and prisons to speak with people with substance use disorder. I try to get involved with every organization I can to promote substance use prevention and recovery.
I simply try to give back what was freely given to me. Hope. I dedicate a lot of my time trying to convince addicted people to not give up. To ask for help. To know that recovery is possible. I’m living proof. It is my goal and dream to have a career working with others that suffer from addiction and with at-risk youth. When it comes to addiction, recovery is literally a matter of life and death.
If I could change anything, it would be the way that people with substance use disorder are viewed. We are not monsters.
I will never give up hope. I will continue to help the still sick, suffering person as long as I live. I feel it is my calling.
Event: The Family Recovery Conference, November 1
I am mother of a 25-year-old in recovery and the founder of The Family Recovery Conference. I created this conference because it’s an event and a resource I wish I’d had when I was starting my family’s recovery journey.
In the beginning, I was scared, confused, and sad. I felt extremely alone when my oldest child was deep into his addiction to prescription drugs. I understood that he was suffering, but I didn’t know how to properly help him. What I was doing wasn’t working. The message I was getting told me to go against my true mother-nature and disconnect from him completely.
In the summer of 2015, we intervened with love, compassion and professional treatment. We didn’t wait for an imaginary “rock bottom.” Our family defined for ourselves our threshold for pain. When we hit it, we moved with swift, strong, empowered action.
On our journey to recovery, I sought answers, solutions, and actions that would change the way we were treating addiction and substance use in our family. I wanted to end the suffering for myself, my son, and my other children. I turned my face towards recovery. I put my faith in the power of love, knowledge, and connection. I sought help from people who were living in recovery and professionals in the field of addiction medicine.
The help I got from those people healed us all and showed me how to create an environment that supported recovery in our family and laid the foundation for a beautiful life.
I kept sticky notes on the wall in my closet to to track what was working to keep us connected, what patterns I was seeing, what I knew for sure, what wasn’t clear, what actions weren’t working, what I believed, and what I was feeling. I wrote down what I learned from professionals, books, and blogs.
At the same time, I sought healing for myself. I added routines, structure, wellness practices, and therapies which are found in treatment programs. I learned about trauma, brain science, and family history. I stayed connected to my son while strengthening and healing myself from the impact and trauma of addiction in our family.
We felt embraced and supported in our struggle with active addiction. The recovery community showed its face and its full power during the first-ever Unite To Face Addiction Event in October 2015. That event showed me that I was indeed surrounded by people devoted who were living in recovery. It was an infusion of strength and power. Recovery was not only possible, but probable. Soon after, I was invited to a Family Education Meeting in Richmond, Virginia. Professionals, providers and families left the presentations with actionable solutions, a feeling of connection, and better understanding of how to help the person you love and yourself. It was exactly what I was searching for.
My understanding of recovery evolved as we healed as a family. I benefited from following the guidance I received from professionals, healthy peers, and a spiritual guide. I devoted myself to whole family wellness.
I feel that the millions of families struggling need better access to the amazing, intelligent, wise, innovative people driving recovery. By connecting with other recovery leaders, I hope to help others by sharing what I learned and experienced as a mother of a young person in recovery. I know that during the active years of my son’s illness, I felt like a hostage in my own home. I was unable to go places or even travel for fear of that something would happen in my absence. Now, I am no longer alone.
This past July, following the ARHE (Association for Recovery in Higher Education) ARS (Association for Recovery Schools) Conference, I felt called to create something for other families of recovery. I wanted to provide an experience as abundant, educational, informational, and connected as the one that helped me. I am a big believer in the “meet people where they are” philosophy. I felt a virtual event would be the best way to reach the most families, make attending easily accessible, and have the most impact.
I reached out to the people who’d had impact on our family recovery by providing treatment, support, guidance, knowledge, wisdom, solutions and massive infusions of love. I asked if they would allow me to amplify their voices. They said yes! The Family Recovery Conference was born.
This November 1, the first-ever Family Recovery Conference comes home, to you, where families live. The event’s 32 speakers and 30 hours will help with family healing, guidance, and answers to the question “What do I do?” Families will have the whole month of November to listen, learn, heal, connect, and feel loved, supported, and end the suffering.
It is our mission to change the way addiction is treated. We’re sharing the message that recovery is possible. We empower families to walk the path of recovery together, all the way to the other side.
Recovery is not only possible. It’s probable when we are together.
Arrested For Substance Use? In the UK, That Means Time in Treatment
Last month, England’s Ministry of Justice announced a new pilot program that will divert people with substance use disorder into treatment, not prison. The program aims to reduce reoffending by replacing “ineffective” short prison sentences with programmes that “will tackle the root causes of criminality.”
England’s National Health Service (NHS), Public Health England, and Department of Health are testing the program in five areas before the government hopes to roll them out nationwide. So far, the results are promising. Mental health support and recovery programs are a key element of the program, where psychologists are stationed in courts to assess offenders for eligibility for a community order. Local panels of judicial and health officials also liaise with magistrates and judges to ensure positive outcomes for communities and individuals. The Ministry of Justice said that 29 percent of offenders currently starting community sentences say they have mental health problems, a third misuse drugs and 38 percent misuse alcohol.
Understanding the link between recovery and recidivism is key to reforming criminal justice policies that punish people with substance use disorder. In the United States, 80 percent of inmates have substance use problems, and over half of the population is clinically addicted. “Incarceration rates in the U.S. are nine times greater for young African-American men between the ages of 20 and 34 years,” according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals. Data for the UK is similar: a new survey from the United Nations confirms that developed, industrial countries have the highest rates of unsafe substance use.
David Gauke, England’s justice secretary, has been pushing against the use of short prison sentences amid a crisis driving drug abuse and record self-harm and violence in overcrowded jails. According to The Independent, he said, “We are all clear that we need to do more to support vulnerable offenders in the community. I want to improve confidence in community sentences, and early evidence from these sites has shown that treatment requirements can have a significant impact in improving rehabilitation and addressing the underlying causes of offending.”
Incorporating mental health into courts and criminal justice produces better outcomes. According to The Independent, the lead judge in Merseyside’s complex case court, which is part of a pilot in Sefton, said having psychologists in court meant judges can make community orders without having to delay a case by adjourning it.
District Judge Richard Clancy said that the new program “is a remarkable and innovative move which I fully support. This is an excellent joint venture, and I have seen firsthand how this allows us to ‘nip in the bud’ one of the major causes of crime.”
A 2017 joint report by the Ministry of Justice and Public Health England showed a stark drop in offending by people who underwent treatment, with the number of crimes committed down a third over two years and 59 percent for alcohol treatment. After the pilot is implemented nationally, these outcomes may continue improve further. The UK’s new perspective on justice and people with substance use disorder is creating a progressive, effective program that could potentially be replicated or adapted to courts in the United States.
I Was Addicted To “Helping” My Family. It Didn’t Work
Addiction is part of my story. It wasn’t all my addiction, though. I have woken up every morning wanting to use for the last three years. Every morning, I have to make a conscious effort not to. What I have learned from my blue collar, hard working family is there is no shame in this. We all have issues. It’s a family disease.
I was born to a person with alcohol use disorder who has been sober 20 of the 30 years I’ve been on the planet. I have a brother who was addicted to cocaine and booze. He was abstinent for eight years, relapsed, and been in remission this time for one year. I have an uncle that was addicted to alcohol and has been in recovery for about 15 years. My two cousins were both addicted to heroin. One is currently in prison and the other took his own life.
My cousin who passed away was sober for probably three years. He needed psychiatric help and acknowledged that. However, he learned he would have to wait four months before a good doctor could see him.
Apparently, he couldn’t wait that long. He hung himself.
He said once, “I would rather die then use again.”
We all have our problems with substances and other struggles. I say, never be ashamed. Our struggles made us who we are. I learned it’s okay to take a mental health day when you feel overwhelmed. Take a sick day and veg out on the couch.
I also learned that, despite how much I love every single one of my addicted family members, they are not my responsibility. Sure, I will love them and help them, but their choices are not for me to make. As a teen I used to drive around looking for my brother. Most my young adult life was consumed by locating my brother when he was on one of his binges while my mom sobbed at home, wondering if he was dead or in jail.
I learned that making other people’s decisions for them is not my job. My job is to live my life. If my family members need or want help, they have to ask. No matter what I did to try and help in the past obviously didn’t work. So I learned to live my life, love them unconditionally, and be there with open arms when they came knocking.
That is all we are capable of. We cannot babysit them, stop them, or any of that. All we can do is love them and let the chips fall where they may. We have to pray they hit their rock bottom and find recovery. It’s an awful thing to deal with and I pray one day this isn’t a struggle for families to face!
CEOs Ask For More Regulation of Treatment Center Ads, Marketing
Most industries lobby for less government involvement. In treatment, however, CEOs are pushing for more government oversight to protect people from bad actors who use unethical practices. In a July hearing, multiple CEOs called for a “federal intervention” on questionable marketing practices.
According to Pacific Standard, “Members of the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee organized the hearing as a part of their months-long examination of unethical practices among addiction treatment facilities. Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Gregg Harper (R-Mississippi) asked all the witnesses to take an oath to tell the truth, which typically only happens during investigative and confirmation hearings. All the witnesses agreed.”
The hearing focused on call centers, which may masquerade as a general “help line” but is really a service that screens and refers callers to treatment facilities. Rehabs may pay a per-head fee and give salespeople incentives for convincing callers to check into their facility. Pacific Standard said, “News investigations have found that unscrupulous call centers refer patients to shoddy facilities—especially patients with private insurance that they can bill—and often hide the fact that they’re paid by the treatment clinics to do so.”
Questionable marketing practices conceal the intention and abilities of treatment centers. One witness, according to a Florida grand jury report on unethical practices in the state’s treatment industry, described how “online marketers use Google search terms to essentially hijack the good name and reputation of notable treatment providers only to route the caller to the highest bidder.”
Fake help lines and call centers are easy to find in internet searches, often the first result to appear when someone searches for help for substance use disorder. Marketing these call centers as treatment has become such a problem for patient safety that web companies like Facebook and Google elected to shut down treatment marketing completely.
Greg Williams, Co-CEO of Facing Addiction with NCADD, was instrumental in helping set limits on treatment marketing practices. He praised Google’s decision to pull the plug on marketing that targeted vulnerable people with misinformation about recovery. He said, “This is a bold move by one of the world’s biggest companies, saying people’s lives are more important than profit.”
Sick of bad actors sullying their industry’s reputation, treatment CEOs are putting people first and calling for more regulation. That includes ethical standards of treatment, guaranteed referrals to outpatient care and sober living, and crackdowns on insurance fraud. These serious problems, unchecked, may frighten people away from seeking help—and considering that less than 10% of people will ever seek medical care of any kind for their substance problem, shutting down treatment centers puts lives at risk. Treatment CEOs are pushing for reforms and asking for federal support in eliminating bad actors. So far, they’ve taken matters into their own hands, with success. Pacific Standard said the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers updated its Code of Ethics in December and has kicked out dozens of members since. American Addiction Centers, a company headed by one of the other witnesses, was one of those expelled, for not branding its ownership clearly enough on the websites it owns, Ventrell said. And American Addiction Centers only started paying their call center workers salaries, instead of compensating them based on commission, on July 1st.
Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Oregon) said that people who seek help by calling an addiction treatment number listed online “have a right to know what type of facility they’re calling and what treatment is offered.” The risk is significant; shame and stigma related to asking for help expose people to greedy, unethical practices like insurance fraud. For example, journalist Cat Ferguson found that the companies involved in the care of one call center user billed her insurance more than $3,600 for a urine test, for which Medicare reimburses less than $80, and nearly $75,000 overall for 11 days of alcoholism treatment. Some companies, she reported, also use “reviews” or other SEO-boosting practices to seem more legitimate than they really are.
Marvin Ventrell, executive director of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, said, “We support the committee’s efforts to clean up the practices that are harming us all.”
The bottom line? People must come before profit. Transparency, honesty, and consistent care is essential to ensuring safety and saving lives.
When You’re Sick or Incomplete, Open Up Your Heart
Tough love. Hard boundaries. Ultimatums. Many families use “tough love” to “help” loved ones with substance use disorder. However, research shows that empathy, not isolation, punishment, or tough limits is a more effective approach.
According to NPR, studies show that a compassionate approach and voluntary treatment work better than tough love. Kindness and empathy engage people in active addiction and can keep them alive and connected to their support network. For parents, whose support often comes from other families of people in recovery, empathy is a key ingredient. Some parents describe a sense of shame when they help their sick children by offering a hot meal or a place to stay; others say they’ve been ostracized by their ‘support’ groups when they refused to set zero-tolerance boundaries with their children.
Some of the programs that support parents, families, and loved ones are parent support network Learn to Cope, the parent coaching program through the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, and Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT).
Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse told NPR that, in this era of fentanyl, the old ways may not be worth the risk. The bottom is much closer, and the person’s next use could be their last. She said, “The concept of letting their children hit bottom is not the best strategy. Because in hitting bottom they may die.”
There is no uniform path to healing for the drug user or parents, and no widespread agreement on the best approach for families. Empathy-based programs help support people switch from enforcing family consequences, like kicking a family member out of the house, to supporting them as they face other challenges, like losing a job because of substance use or mourning friends who have died of the disease.
It also helps families heal and come through the storm of addiction in one piece. Empathy helps maintain trust, which is essential. Asking for help from someone who’s been consistent in their love and support is much easier than going to someone who takes a punitive approach. Families are affected by addiction as well: the feelings of guilt or loss when a loved one or family member has a recurrence of use or struggles with substance use can have a profound effect on their mental health, too.
Michael Botticelli, who served as drug czar in the Obama administration, told NPR, “They don’t call this a family disease for no good reason. The whole design of these services [is] to promote tools and information for families, so they know how to approach a situation and can heal.” If a child had cancer, he said, parents “wouldn’t disengage with them or be angry with them. So I do think it aligns our scientific understanding that addiction is a disease and not a moral failure.”
Recovery can be a family solution to a family disease. Contrary to what some critics say, empathy doesn’t enable substance use or make the person sicker. “That’s a misconception,” Fred Muench, president of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, told NPR. “CRAFT is authoritative parenting, creating a sense of responsibility in the child, and at the same time saying, ‘I am here for you; I love you; I’m going to help you; but I can’t help you avoid negative consequences if you’re not looking to do that on your own.’”
Addiction Doesn’t Affect Me, But It’s Personal
I stumbled into harm reduction by accident. In 2010, I was a struggling writer, trying to figure out how to translate a passion for words into paying the bills. I came across an unusual job posting on Craigslist. The job had some unusual duties: among other things, whoever they hired would have to take a life-sized rubber vagina behind Home Depot department stores to educate migrant day laborers about safe sex.
Well, that sounds interesting, I thought. As a writer, I was always looking for a good story, and what better way to find an interesting story than to live one? I applied right away, and miracle of miracles, got the job.
I spent a few months lugging rubber genitalia behind department stores for show-and-tell with day laborers. But after a while, I learned that my employer, the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, did much more than just sex education. We brought syringes to people who injected substances and hormones for gender transition; we taught violence prevention techniques to sex workers; we trained incarcerated people on how to reverse a drug overdose.
To someone from my sheltered background, this kind of work was fascinating. I admit that my first forays into harm reduction were for all the wrong reasons: more morbid curiosity than understanding or respect for the autonomy of people who use drugs.
From the beginning I felt compassion for people impacted by drugs, but I saw them as victims of poor choice and powerful substances. I considered it my job to scoop them up in my rescue boat and steer them towards abstinence. All I needed was a hero cape.
But after months, and then years, working in harm reduction, up close and personal with people with substance use disorder and the policies that impact them, all my previous beliefs were challenged, tested, and flipped around. I started to see how broken mental health and criminal justice systems contribute to addiction. I saw how sometimes well-intentioned efforts, like assuming that everyone who uses drugs should go to treatment and stop, can be just as stigmatizing and harmful as criminalization. I started to understand the hypocrisy of demonizing heroin and prescribing its sister drugs, opioid pain relievers. I started to realize that the entire way that we approach addiction is based on stigma and lies.
Can someone explain to me why it is illegal to smoke marijuana but not to cheat on your partner, which arguably, causes a lot more pain? Can someone explain why there are 11 million people addicted to illicit drugs and 14.7 million people addicted to sex in the United States, yet no one suggests we imprison people for having sex? Can someone explain why, even though there are 15.1 million adults addicted to alcohol, instead of prohibiting it, our cultural obsession with the substance borders on worship? Or maybe, someone can explain why we declare the exact same drug (such as fentanyl) legal or illegal depending upon who makes money off its sale.
No one can provide a good reason for these policies, because there isn’t one. Our drug laws are arbitrary, based on stigma and politics rather than science and sense.
After years working in harm reduction and advocating for more sensible drug policies, I am starting to realize that addiction is not a disease, it’s a symptom. The disease is that we, as people, don’t know how to treat one another. It’s all the fronting and posturing, the building ourselves up by tearing others down, the judging others’ flaws while justifying our own, the loneliness we refuse to admit, the pretending to be people we aren’t, the swallowing of pain so we appear strong, the dividing into ‘us’ and ‘them’ so that ‘us’ can dominate and ‘them’ can be shamed.
For these reasons and many more, we are all broken in some way. We all search for ways to heal the brokenness. For some people, those methods are socially acceptable. For others, they are criminalized.
I think it’s important for people like me, who have not been personally impacted by addiction, to nevertheless become involved and advocate for reform. It will take collaboration across all fronts to address the root causes that fuel addiction: poverty, unemployment, loneliness, mental health issues, grief, lack of self-love, and many more.
We can start by trying to break down the barriers that divide us. We must realize that no matter our political, ideological or religious beliefs, or where we born, we all want to feel happy, safe and loved.
So let’s start by making our brothers and sisters feel happy, safe and loved, even—no, especially—if they struggle with addiction.
Medication-Assisted Treatment Can Kick-Start Life-Saving Recovery Support
There is no prescription for recovery. In a recent op-ed in the Bangor Daily News, Dan Johnson, who oversees a suboxone program, comments that “Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) works, not just because of the medication but because of the essential counseling that should always be attached.” He says that we should be treating MAT as a bridge to extended recovery support, rather than an end in itself.
Substance use disorder is a complex mental health disorder that often has co-occurring issues, both physical and psychological. It affects relationships, the person’s family, their self-esteem, and many other aspects of life. Johnson said, “Opioid addiction hijacks not only people’s brains, but also causes a neurological disorder, and usually steals what is most precious — their lives. Powerful addictions can cause a person’s life and strongly held priorities to be overturned in a very short period.” Counseling, he says, helps a person readjust after severe addiction and have a better chance at returning to normal life.
Medication-assisted treatment is a piece of the recovery puzzle for many people. MAT can help stabilize a person and empower them to show up for appointments, take part in recovery supports, do self-care, and prioritize their health. MAT is not a one-stop solution for many people with substance use disorder; its purpose is “to assist with the therapeutic counseling that should accompany treatment. While medication stabilizes the physical symptoms of addiction, which is a very important part of treatment, counseling helps people rebuild their lives.”
Working hand in hand, prescribers and mental healthcare providers can help people recover by addressing both the physiological and psychological effects of addiction. Once recovery has been initiated and the person’s condition is stable, they can deal with any medical issues that they may have ignored while they were in active addiction. High blood pressure, obesity, chronic pain, depression and other mental illnesses, and Hepatitis B and C are common problems that people in early recovery contend with. Some people go for years with undiagnosed health problems because they were not able to contend with their substance use disorder first. Those problems are not limited to physical illness. Johnson says, “In addition, individuals need to resolve deeply ingrained negative beliefs about themselves and the world. For many, traumatic events from the past are often lying behind the addiction, and their resolution greatly improves people’s quality of life.”
Addiction is a far-reaching illness that affects more people than just the person with substance use disorder. Few people ever receive treatment or medical care of any kind for their addiction: less than 10 percent, according to the 2016 Surgeon General’s report on addiction. For people with opioid use disorder, that number is very slightly better—but anything under 100 percent is not enough. MAT can be an empowering step for people moving toward recovery. When it’s supported by mental health care and other medical care, it can be a critical element in the spectrum of recovery.
Suboxone Helped Me See What My Addiction Did To Me
Fourteen years ago, I developed addiction to pain pills. I had a C-section with my son and after three days in the hospital I was sent home with not only a beautiful baby boy but also a prescription for Percocet.
I loved the way it made me feel. I could do anything. I thought I was the best mother ever. I also thought I could keep my newfound love for opioids under control. Sadly, I was very mistaken.
When my OB-GYN stopped my prescriptions, I started buying the pills on the street. I worked 60 hours a week but couldn’t afford to buy shampoo or diapers. I relied on neighbors, friends, and family to help with bare essentials. I also relied on these same people to care for my son while I was at work, busting my butt just to support my habit. It was a habit that I said I’d never have, a habit that made me such a great mom, and a habit I was convinced no one knew about.
I remember trying my first line of heroin and thinking how disgusting it tasted. It tasted like a barn full of animal waste. But that didn’t stop me. Not even the taste of animal waste would make me stop and reevaluate my life, my decisions, or my choices. Of course, even using heroin I thought I was still a great mom—for two hours a day, at least. I can remember, clear as day, pushing my son down the street in his stroller, thinking I looked great even though I had to stop to throw up every five minutes.
Shortly after that that, I made a decision to get on the waiting list for the suboxone program. I was tired of not having shampoo and conditioner. The program was fairly new and not many doctors were able to prescribe this medication that would end up saving many lives. I’ll never forget where I was the day that I received that phone call. I felt relief, mixed with gratitude and topped with hope.
A little piece of a orange pill alleviated all the symptoms that I dreaded the most. I got relief from the intolerable aches in my arms, sweating, nausea, anxiety, lack of motivation, and my inability to care for myself or my son. I stayed on the suboxone program for six years. At some point, I realized I had the ability to articulate to the doctor that I wasn’t ready to drop doses. I started getting my life back together, looking back, and realizing that I was not a good mom. I saw that I did not look good: in fact, I looked awful.
Sadly, my brother John, who went to the program with me, didn’t make it. He died of a combination overdose of heroin, benzodiazepine, and Valium on January 29, 2016. He’d been abstinent for 11 days. My family identified his body via email to the coroner by describing his tattoos, noting that he just had a haircut, his height, his weight, his eye color, and his hair color.
I have done everything in my power to honor my brother, including going to Washington DC to advocate for the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act. I will continue to honor his name until the day I die. He was my only sibling and my best friend. He will continue to sit in a box next to our mother’s bed.
Substance use disorder is a serious matter. Over 60,000 people died in 2016. That’s more people than died in Vietnam. This epidemic has got to stop and change starts with each and every person making a choice! There is help out there.