Overdoses do not have to be Tragic

Too many families and friends are losing loved ones to opioid overdoses. 129 each day is the horrifying statistic that I keep hearing. Not all overdoses result in death – many people can be revived with life-saving naloxone (brand-name Narcan).

If you know someone who uses opiates, including prescription pain medications, fentanyl patches or street heroin, please carry naloxone, and insist that the first responders in your community do, too. Here in my state, Minnesota, organizations like the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation are working hard to provide training and access.

Naloxone saves a life and provides one of the most timely opportunities to encourage a person to seek treatment and recovery from addiction. I once heard a counselor say, “I can’t save dead people.” Spot on – let’s save lives and get people the help they need.

Opioid-use is not just a big-city problem and naloxone isn’t just a big-city solution. This is happening everywhere and this means communities of all sizes need access and training on life-saving naloxone.

Here’s a wonderful story from Montevideo, Minn., about the valiant efforts of local police officers who saved a young woman from a Fentanyl overdose. http://staging.wctrib.com/news/region/4119566-life-saving-act-carrying-narcan-squads-proves-its-worth-montevideo

Naloxone wasn’t readily available when my son was using heroin; it wasn’t even something that treatment professionals or counselors told us about. If it had been, I would have carried it and given a naloxone kit my my son and his friends (several of whom overdosed and died).

Shortly after my son started treatment and recovery in 2014, I learned about naloxone and promptly got a kit and training at Valhalla Place. It was also around this time that I connected with the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation and began helping them share their mission and message with others. I am grateful that I’ve never had to use my naloxone kit, but am so glad to have it available.

We have posted resources and links on the Our Young Addicts website so you can learn more.

Please take this to heart and encourage your first reponders, family and friends to #CarryNaloxoneNow.

Midwestern Mama

 

 

 

 

Guest Blog: A Student Athlete Overcomes Opiate Addiction

PrintA brave, confident young man candidly shares his story of opiate addiction – initiated by using a friend’s prescription pain medication following a sports injury during high school. Now in recovery, he has an important message for parents, coaches, student athletes and more.

It will never go away. The pain, excitement, joy, sadness, fearful, obsessive, happiness, fulfilling, and euphoric feelings I still experience when just hearing someone mention any form of opioid. I can still feel every emotion bundled into one every day of my life. Having experienced the addiction of opioids I am forever lost in its vice grip that will never let go.

It honestly came out of nowhere.  I was the stereotypical high school jock playing two intense contact sports, football and lacrosse. I came from a wealthy, supportive, and loving family with both parents and a younger brother.   I went to a well-respected high school with high academic standards. I grew up with every advantage in the world.

I started drinking my freshman year of high school like many others do. I took my first hit of weed my sophomore year and usually mixed the two on most weekends with several friends. I had access to all the money I ever needed so no amount of anything was out of reach.

My senior year of high school was when I transitioned from a weekend user to an everyday abuser.

I didn’t drink alcohol every day but smoked weed before, during, and after school. Two of my best friends sold large amounts of weed so I never had to worry about getting any and never paid a dime to smoke. I continued to smoke and never considered myself an actual addict of anything. I was still getting high marks in school and still excelling on the sports field. It was one day at lacrosse practice during the spring of my senior year that everything changed.

I suffered a minor knee injury during a practice but thought it would keep me out of upcoming games. Our team was ranked top 3 in the state and I played on the first line so I believed I owed it to my teammates to make sure I stayed on the field. One of my teammates had surgery the previous year and was prescribed 30 oxycodones to help manage his post-surgery pain. I told him about my knee and said he had something that could help me manage my pain and possibly keep me playing.

That day I used opioids for the first time and never looked back. Some people describe their first time using opioids as making them sick, drowsy, or nauseous but not me. It was the most euphoric feeling I ever had.

Smoking a little weed on top of taking that cannot even be described in words. I was HOOKED. I did anything and everything to continue to find them from peers or strangers.

I continued to dabble through the summer after my senior year and into my freshman year of college.

Once I began college, I had cut back considerably for the most part with my usage mainly because I did not know anyone right away who had access to them. I actually stayed clean for the most part during my freshman year and the summer after but my sophomore year at college is when everything changed. I moved into a house with people I knew and some I did not but one thing we had in common is that everyone used opioids and I again had access. I also had met someone who did not go to school there who told me he could get me large amounts of oxycontin for a cheap price. Being they are extremely marked up because the demand is so high (sometimes $1.25 per milligram) I took full advantage. I continued to use this connection for the next year in which I would obtain roughly three hundred 80 milligram brand name oxycontins for half of the street value. My friends and I would pool our money together but buy every single one of them.   I started using them every day again. At one point I would regularly use 80-120 milligrams, smoke an eighth of weed, and drink 10 beers every day. I was completely lost in the addiction and did not even know what would soon come thereafter.

About three years ago is when it went from bad to worse. In an attempt to stop the abuse of oxycontin, manufacturers created a pill that was wax based and people were unable to crush and snort the pill anymore. I saw what happened next coming from a mile away. Because people could no longer get high from the prescription opioids, they began resorting to buying and using heroin. This was exactly how I started. After my sophomore year I had dropped out of college and moved back to my hometown to live with parents.

My hometown was and still is a place where heroin has taken over. I bought my first “foil” of brown heroin and it was 1/10 the price of what I was paying for the prescription drugs. I used that for several months while I lived there before eventually moving to Minneapolis. Once I moved back I connected with a fellow user from college friend who was now using black tar heroin as a result of the oxycontin extinction. I began using this with him every day and was considered now a regular user again.

Over the course of the next year or so I had drained all of my bank accounts and went flat broke. I would call and ask my parents for money weekly to help me get through life. It had taken over me.

It was when I finally met a girl through a mutual friend that finally made me stop. I began hanging out with her more and more and began weaning myself off of the drug.

It took the power of a connected someone through a friendship and eventually a relationship to make myself realize there was still a future for me and I could still get back onto my feet.

I no longer am dating this girl but am forever grateful for the hole she helped me dig myself out of.

I am extremely proud to say that I have been clean for 3 years but still find myself thinking about it every single day.

Our community, teens and especially parents, need to understand the dangers of prescribing synthetic opioids to people to manage pain from sports injuries and injuries in general. The downward spiral that happened to me from managing pain to play a high school sport is something I can never get back and even though I have been clean, I am forever an addict.

©2015 Our Young Addicts      All Rights Reserved

A Day-By-Day Gratitude Journal

Midwestern Mama continues 30 days of gratitude, days 7 to 12.  What a delight to find there is something to be grateful for every day! 

Each day as I think about what to post during 30 Days of Gratitude, it is becoming easier and easier to identify the good things.  Even in the depths of my son’s addiction, I would take time each day to give thanks for what was good.  Call it praying, call it meditation, call it whatever you want — pure and simple it is an “attitude of gratitude” that others would tell me about and that I soon discovered as a powerful way to find strength even in trying times.  Now, when I pause to give thanks, I find my list is growing.

Here are some of the recent things for which I am grateful:

Day 7: I am grateful that we continued to set boundaries for our young addict so that he could find his way to treatment and now to recovery. #Gratitude2014

Day 8: I am grateful to other parents who have shared their experiences with me. Through them, I know there is possibility and hope for our young addicts. #Gratitude2014

Day 9: I am grateful my son is alive, has survived addiction and several relapses. For the past 100-plus days, he is choosing sobriety. #Gratitude2014

Day 10: I am grateful for Our Young Addicts on Twitter and Facebook. #Gratitude2014

Day 11: I am grateful for medication-assisted treatment and recovery, especially Suboxone. #Gratitude2014

Day 12: I am grateful that we are rebuilding trust with our son. #Gratitude2014

With gratitude,

Midwestern Mama

The Dog Days … of Recovery

Midwestern Mama is pleased to share an update on her son’s recovery in what she likens to the “dog days.” Find out why and let us know if you can relate!

He’s sober. He’s still sober. Oh, how pleased I am to share that!

Beyond sobriety, I am even more pleased to share that my 22-year-old son is taking a daily dose of Suboxone and faithfully is attending a high-intensity out-patient (HIOP) program – which meets for three hours, three days a week. He even sees a counselor for a one-on-one hour once a week, although the counselor has been out of town the last three weeks … but I digress.

Since mid-July to present, my son, our family dog and I have made trips to the clinic each morning. We head out around 8 a.m. on Monday through Thursday, and at 7:15 on Fridays so he can see his counselor before group, and on Saturday, we get there before the clinic closes at 11 a.m. On Monday, Thursday and Saturday, the dog and I wait in the parking lot five to 30 minutes while we wait for him to dose. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, his group meets until noon, so the dog and I go about our business of errands, work or meetings.

This routine will continue until the middle of October, when he graduates from HIOP and at which time he may be eligible for take-home Suboxone a week at a time and then up to 30 days at a time. Currently, since the clinic is closed on Sundays, all clients take home their Sunday dose on Saturday, in a lock box.

It’s been our routine. A good routine. A routine we hoped, dreamed about and prayed for. A routine for which we are grateful. A routine that we don’t take for granted. Yet a routine that is routine, that is at times mundane, and at times harder than it is easy.

Early on in my son’s addiction, I was very much like my cohort Mid Atlantic Mom in thinking that drug treatment equaled success, equaled putting addiction behind us. I quickly learned through research, networking, reading, counseling, Al-anon, and more, that this might not in fact be the outcome. At least not the immediate outcome.

The underlying situation. The one that existed before the drug use. The one “we didn’t cause, can’t change, can’t control and can cure,” exists whether our young addicts are using, are sober or are recovering.

Without the substance, the reality of their mindset or mental illness is immediately front and center. It’s no longer masked. It exists and it is painful without the relief of substance. It remains to be diagnosed and treated. It is. It is. It is. It is there.

Some days, my son will share. Other days, he is silent but seemingly content. And still, other days, he is irritated, agitated, moody and resistant. We don’t always know how he will feel, how he will be. It often feels it’s all about him. In some ways, it is. Yet, the family must continue on, and for the first time in several years, I think he understands and respects this even if he remains sensitive to it, perhaps even hyper sensitive to it since he’s dealing with it sans chemicals.

It’s almost like the wound is far more open and raw than ever before.

The difference this time – now on his third or fourth experience with treatment and recovery – is that he wants to change and that we are more open and patient about small evidences of change. However, he wants it to go quickly and on his terms. I dare say, we do to.

Through all of this, and I come back to the “dog days” headline, our family dog has been as influential as anything in our son’s recovery progress. I’ll go it one more and say that our family dog has been the motivation and encouragement for him.

Every day, since having our son return home, he has taken great interest and pleasure in our young dog. They take walks together. They take naps together. The more they do together, the more they have bonded, and the more our dog has grown from a frisky puppy into a well mannered adolescent dog.

Our dog has responded exceptionally well to consistent, caring training, not to mention the positive rewards of pats and “good boy.” Our dog, has increased his listening and willingness – even in the face of dog training challenges: distance, duration and distraction — because our son has exhibited kind-hearted, positive discipline. Our dog has learned patience as he awaits clarity and permission. Our son has learned that setting and enforcing expectations works.

Through these “dog days” of recovery, we are all learning albeit at different paces, with differing expectations and with varied perceptions of progress.

Midwestern Mama

The New Normal

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One month into treatment, Midwestern Mama contemplates the new normal for her son and family.

The first time I heard the descriptor “The New Normal,” it was in economic terms referring to how families were faring in 2009. I understand that more recently there was a short-lived television series with this title about gender and families.

Whatever its origin and original intent, it’s an expression that seems to capture our family’s connection to addiction and recovery. Ironically, this coincides with the timing when it first manifested for us. Since then, we’ve accepted and adapted to many new normals. If you’ve been reading this blog or any of my other writings, patterns emerging as the new normal and the next new normal and the next one after that … these have been the mainstay of our family experience.

More recently, we’ve been party to yet another new normal – treatment and recovery. At the end of 2013 and early part of 2014, we got a preview of what this might entail. Then, in a blink, it all unraveled. Our son’s immediate and lower-than-ever-before relapse hit. It hit hard, for all of us.

We met this new normal with the same resolve as times past, yet something was very different, and thankfully so.

So what is it like to parent a young adult who is earnestly participating in treatment and recovery? It’s far from anything we’ve experienced to date. Will it be the be-all, end -all? I can’t answer that, but I do know it is laying the strongest foundation for ongoing and future success than we’ve seen. The experts are just as good as the experts we’ve been fortunate to work with in the past, but this time it seems to be the right experts at the right time.

What’s different? Our son. He truly seems to want this. Not for us, but for himself. It’s not something we could have made him want, although we’ve certainly tried to influence, encourage and support it. I encourage every parent to keep trying, no matter what but to not drive yourself nuts when it doesn’t turn out like you want it to. In due time, in due time.

So what else is different? He is slowly and selectively reconnecting with former friends who are not addicts and who he’s been honest with and that support his efforts without being in his face about it. These friends accept it and applaud him, but not in a way that makes him feel self conscious. Having a social component has given him a positive outlet for his energy and interests. Too much treatment, too much recovery, is an overload. Having an outlet to just be a 22-year-old is extremely important.

What else? Suboxone, a medication that curbs cravings, negates the ability to get high, and offsets withdrawal symptoms for opiate use. It’s not without its downside, but for now the upside seems to be worth it. (Downsides: It’s daily trips to the clinic for at least the first 90 days before he can get take-home doses. This eliminates being able to go out of town for family vacation this summer. It means having transportation available. It causes constipation, which of course, the heroin did too. It initially messed with his sleep pattern. It generally requires a long-term commitment. There’s conflicting research on the benefits and precautions, but overall, it seems to be just what he needs now and is making an immediate and noticeable difference.)

Our new normal impacts the whole family, but it is such a welcome change. We have a long way to go to reestablish trust, communication and to support our son toward independence, but for now I just hope he can stick with it. Each day with it, is a day stronger. For all of us.

We’ve been waiting and praying for The New Normal. Now we are here, embracing this stage and optimistic for the next new normal and the one after that. I guess that’s normal, too.

As parents and families, we are often ready long before our young addicts are ready. In my own exploration and effort to understand addiction, I was encouraged by many of the writings of Buddha. In particular, the blessing of a good guide and for the readiness and willingness to let the guide to their job, while I did mine. Until I was ready, it was going nowhere. When I got ready, WOW!

It seems the same enlightenment is starting to happen for my son.

Midwestern Mama

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Buddha

Not That Far From Home.

Midwestern Mama discovers a community of opiate users in recovery — just miles from her suburban home – as her son begins Suboxone treatment and counseling for Heroin addiction.

Less than five miles from my suburban home is an outpatient treatment center that offers Methodone and Suboxone dosing in addition to individual counseling, group sessions and training. Although it’s close to where I live, it’s not on a road I ordinarily take and even though I’ve driven that road many times over the 20 plus-years that I’ve lived here, it’s not a structure that I ever noticed.

The past two days, however, changed that. I have taken notice and I have spent several hours there. It has been eye opening and I actually look forward to seeing and experiencing more in the days ahead. As part of my son’s journey with addiction, I have yearned for an insider’s perspective to better understand the complexities of substance use disorder – if not his, that of others.

Sitting in the waiting room for several hours yesterday as he met with a physician, had a lab test and met with the intake coordinator, I busied myself with a proposal, client emails and some trade publications. All the while, I engaged in people watching and caught snippets of their conversations with each other.

It was clear that most of the men and women were regulars, although there were definitely some other first-timers and perhaps a few other supportive parents. The regulars were animated in their talk, joking and catching up with each other. Their faces and bodies evidenced difficult times, but their conversation indicated hope and commitment to better times. Many of them carried backpacks stuffed to the gills and I wondered if they were transient. Quite a few had large beverage containers from the convenience store across the street – sodas, chocolate milk, juice. Several of them had small lock-boxes.

One 50-something man, in particular, had an Irish accent, immediately introduced himself as Chillin’ McDillon, and complemented me on my smile telling me that it may him very happy to see. Without prompt or hesitation, he began telling me his life story. My son was signing in at the reception desk or he probably would have had a fit that I was interacting with Chillin’ McDillon

A younger woman used the clinic phone (sign posted above stating a 3-minute limit for calls). She was trying to get a school transcript to enroll in community college and it sounded like she’d been through a number of hoops already. Yet another woman was quite angry and punctuated her account of the last night’s activities with four-letter words to describe her boyfriend’s shortcoming.

In dress pants and a button-down shirt, another man filled out paperwork and checked his mobile device. He kept looking up hoping his was his turn to get called back to the lab.

Meanwhile, staff with lanyard nametags and jangling sets of keys came and went calling names and taking clients back for various appointments. In addition, someone was job shadowing and someone else was there for a site visit. Clinic staff were giving a tour and explaining the programs they offer.

A few years ago, let alone a days ago, I would not have imagined being here. Although we had suspected opiate use, this drug of choice was quite foreign to us. It’s only been recently that I began learning more and more about it and the challenges of overcoming this highly addictive substance. I had heard about Methadone and Suboxone, and more recently about Naltrexone (a medication our son took while inpatient earlier this year). Now, we were in the midst of it and it was not far from home.

After another round of “now you see me, now you don’t,” our son arrived home last Tuesday evening unannounced and coming down from a high. Our family was united in our expectations and the conditions under which he could stay in our home. We were not feeling very tolerant of another breech and initiated a straightforward conversation – with loving intention but resulting in a somewhat ugly verbal exchange.

My husband’s direct and strong voice expressed the message. We were clear, come morning he had to honor our agreement to do something positive and productive every day toward sobriety and it would begin with a call to some treatment places and start a program or he could not stay with us. His choice.

Midway through this ultimatum, and I hate that it was an ultimatum, he zoned out. I don’t think we realized he was coming down from a high or perhaps we would not have started this conversation, but as cognizant as we are of his use we simply didn’t see this.

For the next 30 minutes, he was half asleep but not at all engaged with the rest of us. We just watched. Finally, we said, it’s late and time to go to bed. My son went upstairs and climbed in bed. We tucked in our younger son and my husband and I proceeded to toss and turn the rest of the night.

True to our word, the next morning, I woke my son and handed him a list of places to call before the day was up. Groggy, crabby and feeling dope sick, he begrudgingly got up and spent the day with me. By late afternoon, he’d talked to one place but didn’t think it was the right place for him (a common theme) and left a message for the other. He didn’t want to talk about any of it and seemed resentful. There was lots of silence.

The next morning, I woke him up and he went with me again. I encouraged him to call back the place he’d left the message because sometimes getting through means being persistent. I’ll be darned, but he reached them and they had an opening with the physician for the next morning. Without hesitation, I changed a meeting to be able to take him.

Again, I had to wake him up. He ate a bagel and cream cheese. Without showering or changing out of his baggy PJ bottoms and sweaty t-shirt, we drove to the clinic. Throughout the morning of him meeting one-on-one with their staff, he would return to the waiting room and gradually began filling me in, being more conversational.

That afternoon, my husband and I took him for a haircut and we ate a late lunch together. He was energetic and pleasant. When we got home, he showered and trimmed his beard. He was feeling better and looking better, too.

Then, of course, he made a last-minute departure to hang with friends instead of attending a family birthday dinner. We know for certain he lied about which friends and we were 50-50 on whether he’d let us know his plans let alone whether he’d come home that night. We were unsettled, but decided to let go and accept that we had done all we could to include him in the family. Shortly after 10 p.m., he texted to see if we were home yet as he was on his way back. Didn’t really expect that.

This morning he woke up on his own and ready to get his Suboxone dose at the clinic. He came out with a list of dates for seeing the physician and counseling appointments. He talked about the upcoming group sessions that he’d be attending. He even gave me the sheet of paper to read, which he’s previously stuffed these things in his pocket and resisted letting us see them.

We had a short conversation about honesty and being a support system, but didn’t belabor it. It remains wait-and-see, but I am ever grateful for some positive motion and the possibilities that this could yield for him to get back on the recovery track. As much as he has fled from home in the past, it’s interesting that he’s sticking so close to home these days and that this current endeavor is not that far from home.

Midwestern Mama