Recovering addicts: A solution to the opioid epedemic

I once struggled with substance abuse. For years, I sought refuge in a plethora of substances, that ranged from prescription pills to alcohol. It began to take a toll on me just as my high school graduation loomed. I had no intention to stop. Not because I didn't want to. As a matter of fact, I tried so hard to do so. Therapy wasn't working, neither was my faith in god, which is the foundation of many principles that I live by today. My brain was hijacked by a virulent disease that permeated through every ounce in body. It was almost as if I needed it to survive. Looking back, those days were both a blessing and a terrible affliction. The latter is self explanatory, but the former only began to make sense years into my sobriety and it played a pivotal role in the work that I am doing today.

I need not go into too much detail about the magnitude of this crisis. For most Americans, the numbers and statistics are on every news feed, television screen, and smartphone. Just recently, the costs reached a staggering $1 trillion. We know it's a problem. But what about the solutions? What and who are they, and where can we find them?

They surely are not on every news feed or T.V. screen. They are hidden from the public's eye because of the stigma that remains, which restricts them from speaking up and sharing their story. The witch hunt against 'addicts' has and still remains to be the 'wall' that restricts solutions. As an individual who struggled with substance abuse and is currently living a sober life, I understand what it means to feel marginalized and ostracized. Also, as a professional who is working towards implementing a solution to the opioid crisis, I know how difficult it is to share my story, albeit important. What I've also come to understand is that the stories of recovering addicts are the holy grail of solutions. They've experienced the epidemic first hand and led a life of sobriety and recovery against all odds. They know what signs to look for when screening for addiction, be it in a physician's office or at home. They know what types of interventions work and what don't. They hold the fruits of recovery and embody the message of 'hope'. While influencers and regulators, such as government officials and medical specialists have the ability to implement solutions, they lack a missing link that recovering addicts share: experience and empathy.

Even-though recovering addicts aren't public figures in this epidemic, not yet at least, their voices are becoming louder. In the last three opioid events that I've attended, at least one of the many speakers was a recovering addict or a person who was afflicted by it. Their stories were impactful and left many in tears. They embodied courage and empathy because they broke free from the stigma that silenced them for many years. They rattled the cages of naysayers and fear mongers, bridging the empathy gap between the afflicted and bystanders. At the opioid symposium, which was hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services on December 6th 2017 , one of the speakers was a mother who lost her 24 year old daughter from a heroine overdose. Her daughter's face was centered on a large screen just behind her seat, facing a large room of government officials, policy makers, and entrepreneurs. Every person from all age groups, income brackets, and backgrounds sat there in silence. Listening quietly, with bloodshot eyes, to the messages that she shared about addiction and how it affected her daughter. Her story was the solution. It had all the elements, from prevention to recovery.

The most important takeaway to her story was the need for empathy in treating and dealing with the afflicted. They are daughters, fathers, employees, men and women of worship; Americans. We need to encourage them to sit on the table and dictate solutions. It's great to have them speak at events and share their stories but that's not enough. We need to brainstorm ideas and collaborate with them and not just parade them as a spokesperson. We need to further bridge the gap between the afflicted and the policy and decision makers because they are not one in the same.

I've come to understand the importance of working collaboratively with people from all backgrounds and ways of life. Pilleve, as a solution to prescription opioid abuse, is centered around early intervention, which was the crux to my recovery. We have yet to test its efficacy but we are hopeful that it will impact the lives of many who remain at risk. Solutions that stem from personal stories can be extremely powerful and we've seen them work in the past. It's a matter of encouraging and empowering the millions of recovering addicts to share theirs and learn from what they have to offer.


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