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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Drug Tragedy In Athens: Is Scioto Really To Blame?

This is a recent letter to the editor of the Portsmouth Daily Times. I understand the feelings of the writer. The author of this letter is a loved one in dire straits. She is a mother who was desperately seeking a means to save the life of her young daughter who was struggling with a disease. That disease, left untreated, eventually killed her precious child.

The Letter To the Editor:

"I am the mother of 23-year-old Roxanne M. Spears, who died Oct. 12, 2011, from drugs. I had called the hospital less than an hour before she died and they informed me that if I thought I had to bring her in to the E.R. I could but they did not do anything with drug addicts. I had also called five other numbers and was told that there was no help unless I had about $2,000 to start. I would have to set an appointment and that would be at least six months before they could get her in, and that would cost another $195 on the spot. The last place I called that day, about 10 minutes before she died in my arms, was the crisis hot line and was told there was nothing they could do, unless I could pay for it, and then there was a six-month or more wait.

"I know that for a lot of the people that were giving her the drugs were and are not in jail but all they do is slap their fingers and are told not to do it again. I have been told that if I put their names on Facebook or in a newspaper or anything like that is that I could get sued. All I want to know is why I, to this day, cannot get any one to help or even hear me.

"I have moved out of Scioto County and to this day I blame Scioto County for her death. I moved from there to Athens to keep her safe and after I was there found out it was even worse."
Laura L. Stiers

As any caring person interacts with someone who abuses drugs, that person may find immediate, affordable help in short supply. The demand for treatment is so great, and, often, the cost for any available treatment is so high that the caregiver cannot secure the services needed to insure the safety of the addict.

And, unfortunately, sometimes when the addict gets to the threshold of receiving treatment, he or she has not sufficiently committed himself or herself to following through. I have seen all of these things happen, and they are very frustrating, often even dehumanizing, in their effects on successful rescue.

I wonder myself if part of the problem in receiving assistance lies in a breakdown of communication between the parties involved. As the loved one(s), the addict, and the health facilities assess the seriousness and complexity of a particular case of the disease, the possibility that inadequate or unclear communication can occur becomes very real.

Who shares the culpability for misdiagnosis and lack of sufficient treatment? The disease of drug addiction is both a deceiver and a shape changer. This gives addiction, even in its early stages, the horrendous power to be a surreptitious killer. This is the nature of the disease

The disease of addiction starts with a genetic proclivity and often a long “incubation” period starting with drinking or using a substance off and on for years, with no noticeable deleterious effects. Until there is noticeable impaired functioning, there is often no verified recognition of the disease.

David Kerr, founder of Integrity House, a nationally recognized provider of substance-abuse treatment and support services, says, ".As substance use becomes excessive and compulsive it turns to substance abuse, impairing normal functioning often leading to usually non violent criminal acts and alienating close friends and family. The abuser becomes desperate as the realization sinks in that there is no way out without more drugs. Then, the disease is out of control and the addict knows it."  (David Kerr, "The Nature of Addiction, 2010," New Jersey Online LLC, January 16 2010)

Yet, since addiction promotes a fantasy lifestyle in the mind of the addict, rationalizations develop. These fantasies and excuses help the addict account for things such as criminal acts, time in jail and hurt to his closest friends and family. In truth, the addict must commit to being the prime agent of his/her own cure. The patient must actively be involved with his or her own treatment process and must understand that this disease can only respond to treatment that is totally accepted and completed by the patient him or herself with the support of others -- both professionals and loved ones.

So, as concerned loved ones take steps to find help for the addict, they find themselves swimming in unfamiliar seas of loosely coordinated programs and institutions. They also meet waves of stigma and indifference. Would anyone say something like, "We don't really offer help" to terminal cancer patients? Of course not, but many people still do not believe addiction is a potentially terminal disease. I have heard many say that the responsibility for the outcome of an addiction rests entirely upon the addict -- the person who chooses to take the drugs. How sad. Again, imagine saying this about someone suffering from another disease.

It may benefit people to understand drug addiction in terms of two well known chronic diseases -- hypertension and diabetes. Both require lifestyle change and possible medication. To recover, an addict must have change and medication, too.

For example, medication is often used for the detoxification process and other medications are sometimes needed to stabilize an individual’s addiction and to prevent relapse. Kerr states, "Unfortunately even though these medications have been available since the mid 60’s, they are not nearly as effective with the disease of addiction as other medications are with the diseases of hypertension and diabetes." (David Kerr, "The Nature of Addiction, 2010," New Jersey Online LLC, January 16 2010)

Loved ones find that in order to help an addict, they must answer many pertinent questions. I can only imagine the bombardment of inquest Laura Stiers met from those she contacted. She probably never thought that finding assistance would be so difficult. I'm sure she was at her wits' end searching for someone... anyone who could offer a lifeline. To a parent with a child in harm's way, nothing short of 100% quick, effective resolution is acceptable.

I am just speculating; however, these questions may have been a part of any inquiry for help:

Has the addict overdosed? What can the hospital do to save the life of someone who has overdosed or who is in danger of overdosing? What does the hospital really mean when the loved one hears the hospital say "we cannot do anything with drug addicts"? At what stage is the addiction? What kind of treatment does the addict need now? What kind of treatment has the addict had in the past? Has the  addict committed to being leveraged into treatment? Does the addict have a criminal record? Who is the family physician of the addict? What can be done if the loved ones lack funds for proper rehabilitation? What steps can a drug hot line take to save a life? Can anything be done to shorten the time of entry to a program?

A million questions and answers become so pertinent in times of panic and fear of  tragedy. And still, the unthinkable can and does occur -- a young life is extinguished.

To me, Roxanne Spears, age 23, was a child at her passing. She did not have a chance to develop the reasoning needed to cope with addiction. The frontal lobe areas of her brain, which were involved in her decision-making and her risk-taking behaviors, were not fully matured.

And, as addiction began to control her every waking hour, she was unable to avoid taking higher and higher risks -- her incompletely formed brain and her drugs of choice formed a perfect alliance to rob her of her life. Her death is unacceptable, no matter the circumstances.

I never knew Roxanne or her mother, and I don't know any facts about their attempts to obtain treatment that might have saved Roxanne's life. Don't say I am blaming anyone for her demise because I am not. I have seen too many young lives destroyed by abuse to understand no simple answer exists.

I am blaming our society for refusing to prioritize an issue. Too many in society choose to ignore the death and devastation caused by drug abuse. They see the victims of this disease as expendable losses that "will occur regardless of  people's efforts." Through their inaction, those who have not suffered a loss contribute to the continuation of a health epidemic. To them, needles in the arms of youth or opiates in the hands of children do no harm as long as they are not agents of their own loved ones' deaths.

Drug abuse and the refusal of society to commit to stopping it killed Roxanne Spears. You and I should be ashamed. Each time another tragedy occurs, we say, "Thank God she or he wasn't my child." Then, we turn away and ignore the strong rumbling of the ever-growing death machine because "It's just too big for little people like us to stop." Or, maybe we shake our heads in sorrow and ask "How many more?"

How many more? People, answer your own question. These pitiful reactions are not getting the right things done. Nothing will until we all begin to care and cooperate together. In this case, it doesn't "take a village" to raise a child -- it takes "a nation."

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