"Sucking the marrow out of life doesn't mean choking on the bone."
- -Robin Williams as John Keating in the 1989 movie Dead Poets Society
On August 31, 2015, the AOD Committee of the Scioto County Drug Action Team will join many other organizations in the U.S. and abroad participating in International Overdose Awareness Day. The day honors and remembers those who have lost their lives to an overdose.
The occasion is also an opportunity to educate policymakers and the public about a variety of proven solutions, such as "911 Good Samaritan" laws and the life-saving opiate overdose reversal medication, naloxone.
Scioto County is, perhaps, the ideal community for commemorating the day. As both the epicenter of the prescription drug epidemic and a nationally recognized model of an active community fighting opiate drug addiction, the county is dedicated to betterment and to establishing effective drug education.
To do this most effectively, Scioto County needs to concentrate efforts among health agencies, treatment facilities, schools, lawmakers, court systems, enforcement agencies, and citizens to be "on the same page" while combatting addiction on multiple fronts. In order to accomplish this, we must confront many basic truths -- and this requires breaking down old stigmas about drug addiction.
I believe recognizing the following realities is most important for making progress:
* Drug and/or alcohol addiction is surprisingly common. Some reliable sources say approximately 1 out of every 8 Americans is living with some form of addiction. This includes drugs and alcohol.
* Of course, not all those who die from overdoses are drug addicts. A victim can be a first-time user. And, not all of those who use drugs are drug addicts. Use can develop into dependency, then into full-blown addiction.
* Addiction is a chronic disease similar to other chronic diseases such as type II diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. As with all complex diseases, environmental risk and protective factors interact with genetics to determine the course and outcome of disease.
* Although many programs help drug addicts, the need to understand chronic drug misuse as an illness is best left to physicians. Doctors have been slow to recognize addiction as treatable, so patients have been encouraged to find help outside of the medical community -- in 12-step programs. Why not a combination of both? Often this is most desirable.
* Even though the statement, “Once an addict, always an addict” may not be true for all addicts since recovery is possible, many addicts still may require lifetime treatment to lead productive lives as fully functioning human beings (just like a person suffering from diabetes or heart disease).
* Though people can agree that most become addicted by their own means, they should acknowledge that, as responsible citizens, they have an obligation to protect those with addictive behaviors, especially risk-taking minors, from the snares of addiction and an obligation to help treat all who fall into those deadly traps.
* Despite passage of Federal Mental Health Parity legislation, mental health and substance use disorders continue to be treated differently -- and often poorly -- compared to “medical” illnesses. Some coverage appears co-equal on paper, but frequently the coverage that's allowed is not authorized, leaving people without the treatment for them to meet their goals.
* The drug war stigmatizes and dehumanizes people who use drugs, responding with punishment (criminal and social) to an issue that could be handled more effectively by the public health sector.
* Stigma breeds shame and a sense of unworthiness, which can prevent affected persons and their loved ones from demanding the kinds of services available to sufferers of other diseases.
* Incarceration and overdose represent two sides of the same coin. Both carry stigma and shame and both are perpetuated by a lack of needed reform based on research about justice and clinical medicine.
* The poor and people of color are overrepresented among those arrested for drug possession, while their white middle-class counterparts are more likely to experience overdose.
* Those in recovery from addiction face ongoing stigma and discrimination. People in recovery are faced with obstacles, especially those who have been in treatment or in the criminal justice system for chemical dependency. Employment, education, insurance and the ability to vote are all fraught with uncertainty and discrimination for those in recovery. People in recovery have a harder time finding and keeping jobs, getting licenses, food stamps, and benefits that help their children.
* A certain percentage of the population will never be entirely drug-free, and we have to decide how best to address this fact. It’s costly and regressive to respond continually with arrests, drug courts, and incarceration, so society must explore additional, less costly methods of stopping addiction.
Here in Scioto County, we have an option -- we can confront the truths about addiction and overdose while working on that "same page" to stop the pain, destruction, and death -- or we can continue to "pick and choose" what we want to believe about drug abuse and stubbornly tread ever-deeper waters that still threaten to flood our community and take record numbers of lives.
I invite all to attend Scioto County's International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) event in collaboration with the Fastop Market (on 8th. St. beside Mitchellace) on Monday, August 31 from 10AM-3PM. Even if you can stay only a few minutes, take advantage of the event to educate yourself about drug abuse, addiction, and overdose. Community grows as each individual becomes more aware.
Portsmouth City Health Deptment will be there distributing naloxone kits, and all treatment providers and applicable social agencies are invited to set up a booth adjacent the store to target citizens who would like to learn more about prevention and treatment and other available services.
The health department encourages all to take part in a commemorative march supporting human life as part of the event. The march will begin at noon at Fastop Market at 1735 8th Street.
Wear something silver if possible. The silver badge is the symbol of awareness of overdose and its effects. Wearing silver signifies the loss of someone cherished or demonstrates support to those bearing a burden of grief. Wearing silver sends out a message. That message is that the infinite value of each human being nullifies presumption, prejudice and stigma towards people who use drugs.
International Overdose Awareness Day aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have met with death or permanent injury as a result of drug overdose. Overdose Day spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable. In doing so, it is a meaningful day of rethinking.
More about IOAD can be read at:
Lisa Roberts R.N.
Portsmouth City Health Department
Drug Free Communities Support Program
605 Washington St.
Portsmouth Ohio 45662
Ph. (w) 740-354-8943