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

 

 

 

 

Life-saving Naloxone

When it looks like rain, half the time it seems like I don’t have an umbrella with me. Invariably, caught unprepared, that’s it when it rains – heavily. Other times, I remember an umbrella and never end up needing it. In fact, bringing an umbrella almost guarantees it won’t rain. Not a bad insurance policy given that you can’t control the weather.

The weather isn’t the only thing you can’t control. As parents, we learn that we can’t control addiction, but we can learn to be prepared for the situations that accompany it. One of those is an opioid overdose.

Before I knew much about addiction, I thought that an overdose meant that someone died. It never occurred to me that someone could survive an overdose, and I never knew that it’s possible to reverse an overdose. Heck, I didn’t even know the signs of an overdose let alone that there was such a thing as naloxone (brand name Narcan®), a drug that can reverse an overdose and save a life.

Today, I carry naloxone and believe that anyone who knows someone who uses opiates, including heroin, should be ready to reverse an overdose. Saving a life with naloxone may be the most relevant action you can take but may represent the most receptive that person will be to consider treatment and recovery.

Signs of an Overdose

According to the Harm Reduction Coalition, sometimes it can be difficult to tell if a person is just very high, or experiencing an overdose. They say, if you’re having a hard time telling the difference, it is best to treat the situation like an overdose – it could save someone’s life. Here is some of the information from their website:

If someone is really high and using downers like heroin, or pills:

  • Pupils will contract and appear small
  • Muscles are slack and droopy
  • They might “nod out”
  • Scratch a lot due to itchy skin
  • Speech may be slurred
  • They might be out of it, but they will respond to outside stimulus like loud noise or a light shake from a concerned friend.

If you are worried that someone is getting too high, it is important that you don’t leave them alone. If the person is still conscious, walk them around, keep them awake, and monitor their breathing.

The following are symptoms of an overdose:

  • Awake, but unable to talk
  • Body is very limp
  • Face is very pale or clammy
  • Fingernails and lips turn blue or purplish black
  • For lighter skinned people, the skin tone turns bluish purple, for darker skinned people, it turns grayish or ashen.
  • Breathing is very slow and shallow, erratic, or has stopped
  • Pulse (heartbeat) is slow, erratic, or not there at all
  • Choking sounds, or a snore-like gurgling noise (sometimes called the “death rattle”)
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unresponsive to outside stimulus

If someone is making unfamiliar sounds while “sleeping” it is worth trying to wake him or her up. Many loved ones of users think a person was snoring, when in fact the person was overdosing. These situations are a missed opportunity to intervene and save a life.

It is rare for someone to die immediately from an overdose.  When people survive, it’s because someone was there to respond.

The most important thing is to act right away!

Reversing an Overdose

If a person shows signs of an overdose:

  1. Call 911 right away.
  2. Begin rescue breathing, if the person isn’t taking in air.
  3. Give the person naloxone.

Getting Naloxone & Training

Naloxone Kit & InstructionsThroughout the United States many organizations and pharmacies have naloxone available and it does not require a prescription. These same groups offer training on how to administer naloxone. It only takes a few minutes to learn how to use naloxone.

To learn more, I recommend an outstanding organization called the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation. This group has become one of the nation’s go-to experts for overdose prevention, life-saving naloxone including getting it into the hands of first responders and to lay people.

Midwestern Mama

©2006 Our Young Addicts      All Rights Reserved.

The News No One Wants

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Wednesday afternoon, I learned that one of the kids my son used to hang out with (aka use drugs with) has died. He was 22, just a year younger than #SoberSon. I don’t have any of the details and do not know the young man’s parents, yet I feel very connected to them because we have been on parallel paths.

Less than two years ago, before sobriety and recovery, we feared our family might get that horrific news, the news no one wants. That’s just how fragile addiction rendered his life. Hope existed, but it was dwindling. We knew that such a tragedy was a distinct possibility, an unfortunate reality.

Because we knew it could happen – it happens all too often with our young addicts – it makes these lost lives all the more sobering for me. (And for another time, I’ll talk more about my commitment to overdose prevention and why families and friends need to have life-saving naloxone.)

This past fall, my son had asked it if would be OK to drive over to this kid’s house. Word had it the kid was leaving the next day for a treatment program in another state. They hadn’t really been in touch since my son’s recovery, but he wanted to wish him well and offer encouragement that treatment is a smart decision. The kid wasn’t home but my son was able to talk with the dad for a few minutes.

I remember all the hope that families feel when a loved one goes to treatment, and rightly so. Treatment is a positive step forward. It is a move away from addiction toward recovery. It just isn’t always a one-and-done experience as we learned with our son – it can take more than one go until there is a true readiness.

Again, I don’t know the specific circumstances or scenario with this particular kid. I just know that my heart goes out to the kid’s family and friends.

Later this evening, my son will be home from school and working out at the gym. I don’t know if he will have heard the news because he’s truly cut himself off from the old crowd. This is not the first of his friends to die, but it is certainly one too many.

I hug my son every day. I will most certainly be hugging him tonight. Hugs, not drugs. Right? It just seems like the right cliche for this post.

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Guest Blog: A Foundation for the Future by Bill Rummler

This week’s guest blogger is Bill Rummler from the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation. In this poignant blog post, he share’s his son’s story of pain, addiction and death, and the efforts of the Foundation to prevent future opioid-overdose deaths.

Lexi Reed Holtum, vice president of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, with high school sweetheart and fiance Steve Rummer, September 2010
Lexi Reed Holtum, vice president of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, with high school sweetheart and fiance Steve Rummer, September 2010

Our son Steve Rummler was one of the more than 16,000 people who died from prescription drug overdoses in 2011. He died on July 1 of that year at the age of 43 and we miss him more than you can ever know.

Steve was a very intelligent and highly talented person. He was a deans list college student. He was a competitive athlete, an all-conference soccer player and division-one college prospect. He was a gifted piano, guitar and drum player who wrote many beautiful songs. He was an astute businessman and a top financial advisor in the Twin Cities.

All who knew Steve respected and loved him. He was very caring, loved being with people and was engaged to be married to Lexi, his high school sweetheart. He was in many ways the all around success story that every parent hopes their child will become. He was living the American dream and we were very proud of him.

In 1996, at the age of 28, Steve suffered a severe injury to his spine, which began his tragic story. He sought medical advice from the top doctors in Minnesota and they were never able to find what caused the shock like symptoms that surged up and down his spine every single day. The pain was especially severe at night and he suffered from lack of sleep for the rest of his life. Steve continued to work hard and play music and sports. He even ran a marathon in under four hours. He was able to be quite active during the day, but the nights were intolerable.

The pain and lack of a medical diagnosis caused Steve to become depressed. So, he was prescribed anti-depressants, which were supposed to help his depression and his pain.

He soon began to like the idea of getting help from a pill. This was a major fork in the road of his life. He had chosen pills, rather than other healthier alternatives.

The pain continued and he was then prescribed anti-anxiety medications known as benzodiazepines.

Finally, in 2005, when Steve was 37 years old, he was prescribed opioids by our family doctor. This doctor was well intentioned, but unaware of the potential side effects of these highly addictive pills.

The FDA was calling them safe and effective for treatment of long-term pain. And the pill manufacturers were making huge profits as a result.

This was the beginning of Steve’s end of life struggle. He soon began to show many of the signs of addiction, which included taking more pills than were prescribed to him in order to maintain his high and seemingly “treat” his pain. He had become totally convinced that these heroin-like pills were the only way to solve his pain problem. After he died we found a note in his handwriting: “at first it was a lifeline, now it is a noose around my neck”.

Addiction is a disease of the brain, the most valuable asset we have for dealing with life’s challenges. But, when something adversely affects our brain, it can severely limit our ability to make good choices. Taking a narcotic did not eliminate the cause of Steve’s pain; it simply made him less aware of it. His brain became numb to the pain just as it became numb to most things that matter in life.

We sadly saw this begin to unfold with Steve. Not long after he began taking opioids, we began to notice serious side effects. He lost his enthusiasm for most things in life. He often seemed out of it and would sometimes slur his words. He became less sharp in business and began losing clients. He became more irritable and blamed others for his problems. He stopped paying his taxes on time and was less punctual. He spent most his waking hours sedentary on the couch, stayed up late, slept in late and rarely exercised. He was often sick and would go for days without returning our phone calls. Always honest, he began to lie.  And the pain was still there and likely even worse. So he wanted more opioids. Steve was very sick with an addiction to the very pills that were supposed to help him.

We could see this tragic scenario unfolding, but were powerless to help. Steve had to help himself.

But the drugs numbed his brain and made him unable to do so. We begged and pleaded with him to try any alternative for help with his pain. It was heart wrenching for us.

We thought we had been good parents and now all was unraveling before our very eyes.

It is difficult for anyone to take a single opioid pill without it having some effect on that person’s mind. These drugs are basically a form of heroin that can produce a high that is very difficult to resist. Steve used prescription opioids for over five years, in ever increasing amounts.  In reality, he likely became addicted to them within the first few months.

While opioids are very risky and can lead to death when used to treat chronic pain, they do have a benefit for acute and end of life pain.

In 1995 my sister Peggy was dying from pancreatic cancer and in great pain. Her morphine pump worked wonders for her. She was in a constant state of euphoria from the drugs, but her pain was tolerable until the end. Sadly, Steve became addicted to those very drugs that were so helpful to his Aunt Peggy. For him, with chronic pain, it was a death sentence.

The tragedy of Steve’s untimely death and our resulting grief, have motivated us to work very hard to prevent others from suffering as he did.

The Steve Rummler Hope Foundation (SRHF) was born out of Steve’s death. Its mission is “to heighten awareness of the dilemma of chronic pain and the disease of addiction and to improve the associated care process”. Through its Overdose Prevention and Prescriber Education programs, and through its Advocacy efforts, SRHF saves lives, educates healthcare professionals, and engages the public as well as public-policy-makers in addressing the epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths. (Opioids include narcotic painkillers and heroin). This public health crisis has been labeled an “epidemic” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There is much that needs to be done to help pain patients avoid the risks of addiction and bring this epidemic under control. Our emphasis has been to focus first on the areas in which we can have the greatest immediate impact: stopping overdose deaths and educating physicians about the responsible prescribing of opioids.

At its inception in 2011, SRHF founders explored the nonprofit environment for organizations focused on providing hope for those with chronic pain and addiction. They found that there was a need for this focus and were encouraged to fill the gap. To date, this uniqueness has led to many opportunities for success and many demands from the community for us to do more.

We encourage you to get to know more about the SRHF. Please visit our website at:

http://www.steverummlerhopefoundation.org/

Here you can learn about Steve’s Law, a Minnesota good-Samaritan and Naloxone law, named for our son Steve. The implementation of this law (similar laws are in effect in many other states) has already saved, and will continue to save, many lives. Our website has a wealth of other information, too.

Please consider making a donation to help us continue our life saving work. Anything you can give will be very much appreciated.

Finally, we encourage you to tell others about us and join us in our effort to change and save lives.

Thank you for your interest.

Thank you, Bill, for sharing your story with the #OYACommunity. We are grateful for your efforts and accomplishment on behalf of families and friends who are concerned about substance use and addiction.

©2015 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Guest Blog: Judy Rummler on Being FED UP! with the Opioid Addiction Epidemic

This week we are reblogging a guest blog from the Phoenix House. It profiles Judy Rummler, founder of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation and leader of the recent FedUp! Rally that took place in Washington, D.C., this past weekend. Thank you, Judy, for being an action-oriented advocate for overdose prevention.

http://www.phoenixhouse.org/news-and-views/our-perspectives/judy-rummler-on-being-fed-up-with-the-opioid-addiction-epidemic/

This blog ran on the Phoenix House website on Wednesday, September 16th, 2015

Judy Rummler (2)Our guest blogger this week is Judy Rummler, president of the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, which provides programming and hope for those with chronic pain and addiction. She has been chair of the FED UP! Coalition since its inception in 2012 and is working with the committee that is planning this year’s FED UP! Rally on Saturday, October 3 in Washington, D.C. The coalition and annual rally bring together individuals and organizations to prompt federal action to end the epidemic of addiction and overdose deaths related to opioids, encompassing both heroin and prescription painkillers. Here, in a Q&A conversation, she discusses FED UP!, the rally’s goals, and what individuals can do to help fight the U.S. opioid epidemic.

Phoenix House:  How did you become involved in FED UP!?

Judy Rummler:  My son Steve died of an accidental opioid overdose after becoming addicted to the painkillers that were prescribed to him for his chronic pain. After his death, my husband and I created the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation to provide hope for those with chronic pain and addiction. We had no idea at first that his death was part of a national epidemic of overdose deaths, but we quickly learned that federal action would be required to bring this epidemic to an end. I started attending hearings at the FDA [Food and Drug Administration], where I met Dr. Andrew Kolodny. And I met others there who were passionate about creating change, many of whom had also lost loved ones. We decided that change would come faster if we created one voice as a coalition.

PH:  When you first started, what did you hope FED UP! would accomplish? Has it lived up to your expectations?

JR:  One of our first goals was to get the FDA to reschedule hydrocodone combination products from Class III to Class II, which was important because a doctor’s visit is now required for refills of prescriptions for these drugs. This has happened. We also wanted to increase public awareness of the epidemic. We now see it in the news regularly. So, we are happy with these and other successes, but there is much more to do!

PH:  What do you hope will come out of this year’s rally?

JR:  We hope to get President Obama to speak out about the epidemic. It wasn’t until President Reagan spoke out about the AIDS epidemic, after 20,000 deaths, that the nation began to seriously look for solutions. We have a petition on change.org asking the President to provide the needed leadership and speak out about the opioid epidemic.

Fed-Up-Flyer-2015PH:  What part of this year’s rally are you looking forward to the most?

JR:  This year’s rally will be held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the site of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech. I am looking forward to this special location and to our partnership with UNITE to Face Addiction—in addition to our usual array of amazing speakers.

PH:  When most people hear “prescription drug abuse,” they think of a teenager rummaging through the medicine cabinet looking for a quick high. How does that jibe with what you know about the opioid epidemic?  

JR:  The root of the epidemic is the overprescribing of opioid painkillers, not the “abuse.” The medications in medicine cabinets were prescribed to someone. Many people mistakenly believe that because these medications are prescribed by a doctor that they are safe.

PH:  What do you wish you could say to people who currently have a loved one struggling with opioid addiction?

JR:  This is a very difficult question. My husband and I did everything we could think of to save our son from the disease of addiction. I now know more than most people about the disease, and I would do some things differently, but I’m still not sure how we could have saved him. I would tell people to learn as much as they can about the disease as soon as possible and to be sure that medication-assisted treatment is available at any addiction treatment program they might choose.

PH:  If someone can’t attend the rally but would like to do something to fight the opioid addiction epidemic, do you have any suggestions for things they can do?

JR:  I would suggest that they join an advocacy group in their local community that is working to fight the epidemic. I would also encourage them to tell their story as often as they can. Public awareness of the issue is increasing, but we need more people to speak out.

– See more at: http://www.phoenixhouse.org/news-and-views/our-perspectives/judy-rummler-on-being-fed-up-with-the-opioid-addiction-epidemic/#sthash.3qGogI6T.dpuf