As we come to the end of 2016, I’ve heard people say, “I can’t wait for 2016 to be over”. Almost as if once the calendar turns the page, the issues of 2016 will be over. Wouldn’t that be wonderful if life worked that way.
The truth is, 2016 saw a never before seen spike in drug overdoses and overdose deaths. Toxic substances like Fentenyl and Carfentenyl changed the way drug use is seen.
Many in society went from the mindset of addicts being weak or morally corrupt to seeing addiction for what is truly is – a horrific, unforgiving and devastating disease. To the one addicted and to those of us who love them.
For many, they started to think of addiction, what you and I have always known – it was much more than bad choices. We have seen loved ones struggling to just get through the day. We have seen the drastic and dramatic change in who they were. It was as if we were looking at two entirely different people. One the person we loved. And the second, the person we loved on drugs. And we knew they were polar opposites.
The kind, loving, gentle person was gone. The angry, aggressive person we didn’t know was there.
Tragically, it took “middle class mothers”, “middle class parents”, and youth dying for people to stand up and take notice. All of a sudden it wasn’t only “junkies” dying. All of a sudden people with “normal” lives were dying.
It took people like Sarah Blythe who cared about the numbers of people overdosing and dying on our streets to take action and open up unsanctioned pop-up life-saving tents in the back alleys where drug use was rampant. That action drew attention the government could no longer ignore. We have an epidemic going on and something had to change. Not tomorrow. Right now. Because every single day we are seeing more people dying. More lives devastated.
For years parents and loved ones of those addicted have been begging for additional detox and treatment beds. Our loved ones were treated as “less than”. Parents of addicts were often made to feel they had somehow “failed” as parents.
The truth is, addiction is a disease. Why drug use affects one person differently than the next is brain chemistry.
What we need is immediate multifascited, long term support for those struggling with addiction. There is no quick fix. But lives are at risk every single minute of the day and society can no longer turn a blind eye.
Addicts are not bad people. They are sick people. Sick people who often do “bad” things to get the money to pay for that fix. There is a huge difference. These are very sick people who need multifacited, long term treatment and ongoing support.
We often think of this drug overdose crisis in terms of number of deaths. The fact is, many people survive overdoses because of Naloxone/Narcan. Many survive because of intervention.
But, those who survive very often have lost cognitive functioning. We don’t “see” it. We think, “they made it”. The fact is, many people who survive overdoses now have severely altered brains. Their brains have been damaged. Many fill hospital wards and will require long term care for the rest of their lives. Many have lost the ability to properly process acceptable behavior or have lost the ability to problem solve which often leaves them extremely vulnerable.
When overdose occurs, the heart stops. The body is not getting blood pumped to all the vital organs. The person is no longer breathing. Brain cells begin to die. Unless someone is there immediately to inject Naloxone and to begin breathing for the person down – that life will never be the same again. Damage on some level has occurred. The seconds/minutes between overdose and intervention, determines the outcome. But make no mistake, damage has occurred.
Those of us who are committed to changing the outcome for those battling drug addiction have to continue to speak out. Your voice, your opinion matters. Change will only occur is enough people say, “Enough”.
We now have doctors going to the street, meeting people where they are at, filling prescriptions for Methodose and Suboxone, trying to encourage those addicted. We have first responders exhausted and begging for help in this crisis. We have police and fire departments, ambulance services demanding help. We have finally gotten some government officials working to implement change.
This is just the first step. We cannot allow this to slow down. We have a crisis. It will take all hands on deck to fight this crisis, because we have drug traffickers who are ruthless in their quest for money and power and they have pulled out all the stops. We have to do the same.
So as we turn the calendar page, let us not slow down – keep the pressure on. The lives of those addicted are counting on us. We cannot let them down.
As 2017 is about to come in, I wish you continued hope. Hope that those we care about will find their way out of their addiction. And that those of you who love them will find a peace you so desperately and rightfully deserve.
Take care my Friend – be kind to yourself. Remember you count too. You are not alone, I truly care.