Opioid Epidemic

As I opened up the USA Today paper this morning, October 17, 2017, the snapshot statistic was this: Fatal overdoses related to heroin use:  533% from 2,089 in 2002 to 13,219 in 2016, quoted from the National Institute on Drug Abuse via CNN.

As I open up the Skimm, an email news source, the lead story is about hundreds of thousands that have died from opioid use and that the death rate is going up every year. Rural, lower income communities in Ohio and West Virginia have been hit the hardest.  One of the most alarming statistics is that last year, more people were killed by drug overdoses than guns or car accidents.

When I recently attended the ARHE (Association for Recovery in Higher Education) conference this Fall in Washington, D.C., there was a “Town Hall” meeting there with some of our U.S. Senators and Representatives. Do you know someone who has died from opioid use?  I do hope that we can declare this crisis a national emergency… because it is!

How do we help? What can we do as individuals in our country?  Like any other world wide “epidemic” or “pandemic” we need to reach a critical mass of people who say ENOUGH.  These deaths and these issues matter enough for ALL of us to take notice.  Beyond that, we need to eliminate the shame associated with addiction and instead focus on acceptance and recovery.  People don’t “choose” addiction, it (the addiction) chooses them.  When our families, friends, medical resources, and communities start to truly pay attention and decide this is a health crisis, not a “moral” crisis, we can change how we relate to people struggling with addiction.  I remember as a kid seeing the skull and crossbones with a sign that said, “moonshine kills”…. well, prescription opioids and heroin kill also.

I have learned, very recently, how painful and hurtful it can be to be labeled and called “co-dependent” or “sick” or “addicted”. How can we change the way we use language so that people are seen as having a disease?  We are beginning to learn that underneath the drug use, so often there is some type of trauma that causes people to use as a way to self-medicate.  And, as I have learned, the drugs used to medicate physical pain, that are often used responsibly, are super excellent, perhaps more so, at alleviating emotional pain.  The problem is not the drugs, it is the underlying trauma and emotional pain.  How do we help people, especially young people, feel comfortable enough to seek out community and to seek out help when they feel bullied, or anxious, or depressed?  How can we use what we know now about trauma to help people begin to heal in a longer term, healthier way?  Many of the programs and schools we recommend at The Price Group have led the way to improving mental health through learning ways to deal with emotional pain, trauma, and anxiety.  Our real underlying “crisis” is the mental health crisis we need to address!

Louise Slater