Overcoming Drug Overdose Stigma - By Carl Babbitt

Americans are said to consume about 80% of the world’s supply of opium-derived painkillers. More than two million of us are addicted to oxycodone and hydrocodone, and another 460,000 to heroin and fentanyl.

The threat of opioids killing someone you love is not a scandal, or a secret. It is an imminent cry for action.

Right now, parents need to open up, educate, and invite conversation to assist in conquering the stigma of addiction. Recovery from addiction has to become a combined and concentrated effort. If we are to have any chance at overcoming the stigma that is put on people, we should continually seek truth on how this affects families.

The first step in understanding how much we’re all in this together, is to soften our hearts and throw open the doors of conversation. Ask, share, question, and continually pursue the facts on why and how this disease needs action. Talk about it in school, at home, everywhere – treat the fight like an exercise program, or a new course of mindfulness. Then keep seeking the truth.

Fentanyl is a game-changer. It’s 100 times more potent than morphine. Any drug can be laced with Fentanyl and the person taking it has no idea. Dealers can press it into pills, and you wouldn’t know. This means someone can take one pill and die.” Just a few grains of Fentanyl can kill. The Drug Enforcement Agency reports that the lethal dose of fentanyl, and a similar drug, carfentanil, can be as small as 2,000 micrograms or just 2 mg. That’s equivalent to a few grains of sand, or a pinch of salt at most.

It’s critical we face that addiction recovery is never “one size fits all.” Thirty-day treatments for rehab are not enough, they are simply all that most insurance companies will cover. The success rate is only 5-10%. Statistics show that opiate relapse rates tend to be higher than the 40%-60% relapse rates seen with other addictions. “Rehab doesn’t work because they don’t focus on the individual. They just give you 30 days to get your head a little bit clear; but that’s all it does.”

Over 70,000 Americans died in 2017 from an overdose. That's nearly 200 people every day. It’s equivalent to a commercial airliner crashing each day. It’s more than the number of people who died in service during the wars in Vietnam and Iraq.

The culprit may even exist in your own house. It’s time we learn everything that’s contributing to the opioid crisis and work to remove the drugs, and the stigma.

Any addiction has to be recognized for what it is: a disease. So many people think it’s a moral failing. Or a weakness. Or...they say, just quit. Just stop. But there are so many factors involved. Some people can stop, and some people can’t; depending on a lot of different reasons. Integral to eliminating stigma is to embrace that it’s not a moral failing, but a disease that’s treatable. The National Institute on Drug Abuse clarifies that “addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness.” We need to discontinue the slurs of "junkies" or "users." People (like us), who happen to have a substance abuse disorder, have a lot in common with those who don’t. You may struggle with sweets, lying, unforgiveness, any number of battles...theirs is a battle too. One that will only worsen if we suffocate it with the isolation of shame. As a disease, it’s likely not realistic to “just say no.

Addiction is often a family disease, so family members need support as much as the person with addiction. There are groups that can reach out to both people who are looking for recovery and their families. “I would talk to anyone about it. Those of us who are in it, or have been through it, can prevent one person from going through it, we will. Equip small groups with welcoming, non-condemning language. When small groups are given direction on how to care for each other – there’s a better chance real healing can take place. Conversely, when group dynamics include off-putting banter such as “my children never,” or “we have always,” or “it shouldn’t be”, the wounded and needy among us will likely remain unserved. Support groups work, because addiction is very isolating. You typically feel like you just can’t talk to your neighbors about it, they’ll walk away or wonder what you did wrong, and there’s judgement. So, you need a group where other people understand what’s going on.