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We are what we put into our brains; at a recent symposium on the opioid epidemic held March 6 at First Church of the Brethren.
Representatives from Hope Initiative highlighted that Americans represented 5% of the global population.
However, Globally, Americans consume 80% of oxycodone and 99% of hydrocodone; resulting in a whopping 2/3 of all illegal drug usage in the world.
A project, known as the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (P.A.A.R.I.), based in Gloucester, MA. started in 2011. It sought to educate, the public on the drug epidemic and the resulting deaths that may occur.
“What we have done here (in Roanoke) is based on police chief Leonard Campanello’s program to address the drug epidemic in Gloucester, MA,” said Nancy Hans, executive director, Preventative Council of Roanoke. As one of the program’s co-founders, Campanello launched the program (2012) that involved offering treatment instead of jail time. Hans said things came together in former Roanoke City Police Chief Perkins’ office where the local effort was established based on the HI model.
“We’re just going to do this because we can’t keep having people die and not help them find treatment,” she contended. It was an initiative born out of group consensus.
During the presentation, Hans noted that Rhode Island has been winning the war on drugs, based on data collected from the late 1990s, on drug use and over-dose deaths among both young and old. Additionally, research showed many subjects started using opioids as early as High School.
Research conducted by Trust for America’s Health and Well-Being shows first drug over-dose deaths involving kids were recorded in 2010. In addition to drug overdose, the report included alcohol related deaths and suicide, with the caveat that most deaths occurred from alcohol use–that is linked to culture and lifestyle.
“…The brain is everything it reacts to what we put in our bodies, food, emotions, etc. We have to talk about brain health,” she said prior to playing a documentary “Chronic State,” available on YouTube, that showed in great detail the damaging effects of marijuana particularly on the brain.
One of two other pre-senters was Dr. Cheri Hartman, OBOT administrator, Carilion Clinic and president of Roanoke Valley HOPE Initiative. Hartman is a psychologist who early in her career worked with truancy and later started a program for adolescent addiction. In the beginning (2010) she had a waiting list for those wanting to get into the program. She reported that strangely enough, the program was currently on the verge of closing because parents were not interested in their child’s participation-as the face of addiction has, for some time, become more socially acceptable– saying its “just marijuana.”
“You want to let your body get back to its natural state,” she added and spoke about the psychotherapy and mindfulness as a way to achieve normalcy. In closing her in-depth discussion, Hartman reflected on how rewarding it was to watch people turn their lives around from chemical dependency to a life of stability.
“If it wasn’t for women like this (Han and Hartman) I’d be dead,” confessed Niles Comer, a quick-witted recovering addict who closed this enlightening program talking about his experiences with a host of drugs and alcohol. He’s been clean since 2011 and for a while was working as a certified addictions counselor in Washington D.C.,
As a man who’s been on both sides of the dilemma Niles has now become a certified peer recovery specialist.
“The stuff out here now, is not your grandmothers marijuana,” he urged calling attention to the THC level in today’s marijuana that he referred to as being “highly addictive.” His testimony was wrapped in an energetic delivery that complemented his compelling presentation.
The opioid problem also involves doctors over-medicating patients and those patients going on to become addicted to over the counter drugs, then moving on to harder drugs and opioids. Specific note was made of dental procedures and their influence on the opioid epidemic. Beginning about 20 + years ago, doctors started medicating for more things than necessary. Thus contributing to the over-medicating epidemic.
Therefore, if you felt a small pain, the first thing to do was to get medication; resulting in the rise of the RX generation. Consequently Dr. John Burton, head of Emergency Department, Carilion Hospital realized the implications of over-medicating and instituted a collaborative Peer to Peer Evaluative Program to combat this epidemic from a care giver’s perspective.
In one year Burton was able to reduce prescription rates by 40%. It was argued that we needed a paradigm shift where patients question doctors on the need for medication, the use of medication and the level of exposure to addiction; as it can be proven that early childhood instability may contributes to the problem.
A brief history of the opioid problem revealed that a heroin ring moved into the area in 2007 – 2008 and the problem has existed in the valley for at least 20 years; gently bubbling to the surface. In whatsoever way it existed, none knew how to classify it; in particular, none could link oxycodeine to heroin and addiction.
The drugs were not referred to as heroin or opioids. Hence, the problem remained hidden until 2010 with the institution of the National Take Back Day. However, it still did not place great emphasis on the issue until 2012, when local writer Beth Macy wrote a 3-part exposé after a slew of overdose deaths.
This outreach is geared towards educating parents, councilors, faith-based officers and elected officials to aide in the fight against opioids and the formation of a collective response group to tackle this epidemic that tragically continues to take lives daily.