Archive for February, 2018

One Minnesota couple’s story of addiction and loss

Posted on: February 19th, 2018 by sobrietyresources

By CHRISTOPHER MAGAN | [email protected] | Pioneer Press

February 18, 2018 at 6:00 am

Anne Emerson has been living her “worst nightmare” since losing her fiance, Ryan Anderson, to an opioid overdose in December.

“My heart is numb. I’m stuck living in denial that he isn’t really gone,” Emerson wrote in an essay about their relationship and struggles with drug addiction. “The pain inside is too overwhelming.”

Anderson overdosed on heroin that Emerson believes was laced with fentanyl on Nov. 28. His friends didn’t understand what was happening so they took him home, but by the time he got there, it was too late.

“I was frantic. My world just kept spinning,” Emerson said. “In my mind, I just thought, ‘This isn’t happening.’ ”

She quickly started CPR and administered the opioid antidote Narcan to Anderson. But he didn’t come back like he had before. He wasn’t conscious.

At the hospital, Anderson went into cardiac arrest. He was on life support for four days before he died Dec. 3.

Emerson is sharing her story in hopes it will inspire other addicts to get help. What follows was drawn from Emerson’s essay about her relationship with Anderson and both of their struggles with addiction.

“Ryan has been addicted to drugs since he was a teenager. Heroin, meth, Xanax and at one point alcohol. He spent his years in and out of prison and jail. I had no clue the day we first met that my life would be forever changed.”


Ryan and Anne met in 2012. He was in a halfway house on work release, just out of prison. She was living in a sober apartment recovering from an addiction to methamphetamine and studying to be a drug counselor.

The Coon Rapids residents had mutual friends, but had never met in person before. That changed after they both commented on a friend’s Facebook post. They exchanged numbers, started texting and soon started a relationship.

“Ryan called and asked me out to dinner one night and I told him that I’d love to, but had no sitter for my son. His response blew me away: ‘Oh well, that’s OK he can come with.’ He and my son Braeden were best buds, it makes my heart melt to think how close they were.”


Ryan was sober when he started dating Anne, but that quickly changed. A few months into their relationship, he was using methamphetamine, prescription pills and later heroin. Ryan was close with his brother Eric, whom he liked to spend time with and who also struggled with addiction.

“Ryan’s life really began to change when his brother lost his life to a heroin overdose on Oct. 27, 2013. Ryan was in prison when his brother overdosed and died. Sitting in solitary confinement alone, Ryan got the horrible news one prays to never hear. Ryan was allowed one to two hours of time with his brother at the funeral home, but he was shackled and alone.”


When Ryan got out, he started drinking heavily every day. He suffered from depression and anxiety and struggled to mourn the loss of his brother. He soon began drugs again. He tried to hide it from Anne, but she knew and their relationship became rocky. Despite the strain, they remained close.

“… I refused to give up on him because I knew behind this person who was addicted to drugs was an amazing man who wanted nothing more than to get sober and live a happy life. It broke my heart to see him suffer in so much pain, day in and day out, and no matter how hard I tried there was nothing I could do to take that pain away from him.”


Ryan continued to struggle with drugs, but Anne never ended their relationship. A recovering addict herself, Anne acknowledged it was tough at times to live with and be in love with someone who couldn’t stop using. She refused to give up on him.

Ryan spent time in and out of jail and prison. He tried numerous treatment programs, but they didn’t address all the underlying problems that contributed to his addiction. On Nov. 28, Ryan was out with friends when he took heroin that Anne believes was laced with fentanyl or carfentanil, two powerful synthetic opioids.

“Ryan called me at 1:26 a.m. and said his last words to me: ‘I’m on my way home, I love you baby, see you soon.’ He was brought home almost dead, barely breathing. His buddy thought he had merely passed out.”


Anne tried everything she could to revive Ryan, but it didn’t work. Paramedics took him to a hospital, where after a heart attack he was put on a ventilator with little brain activity. He died a few days later after being taken off life support.

“After that moment my life became a terrifying nightmare as I sat there and watched the love of my life die and there wasn’t anything I could do.

“Ryan’s life purpose was, through his death, to save others. By sharing his story I hope it touches the lives of addicts and that they seek the help needed so that another family doesn’t have to go through the horrifying pain our family is going through. You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten.”





Opioid Addiction Crisis Is Targeted From Multiple Angles

Posted on: February 19th, 2018 by sobrietyresources

When someone faces addiction, it affects every member of their family.

Feb. 18, 2018, at 12:02 a.m.

By NICK WATSON, The Times of Gainesville

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) — When someone faces addiction, it affects every member of their family.

The addiction is a lifelong struggle. And when the addiction ends a life, the darkness of grief can seem never ending.

Cindy Gay said there is light after the darkness.

Five years have passed since her son Jeffrey, 21, died of an overdose.

She believes awareness of substance use disorders has increased since then.

“I think we have to talk about it and bring it out and not stay silent because of shame and guilt and whatnot,” she said. “I think it’s important to share your experience.”

Beth French lost her son, Joe, to an accidental heroin overdose.

For months afterward, she pored over old pictures, messages and signs she said she believes she missed.

A burnt spoon in the background of a photo. Complaints of constipation. Isolation from friends and family.

French’s youngest son was an athlete loved by many, a sensitive man who once gave a homeless man his grandfather’s coat to stay warm.

Following his death June 24 at age 32, French eventually sought a grief counselor who encouraged her to put her feelings on paper.

“As I looked back on Joe, my unawareness, my building walls of denial, Joe’s slide into addiction, I saw that I really did the best I could at the time. I tried my best to be a loving mother to both of my boys. I tried to guide them to their strengths, to pick my battles with them through the hard teen years — I did my best,” French wrote in her letter.

Gay, French and other parents have organized a peer support group for parents that will hold its inaugural meeting Tuesday night at the Gainesville First United Methodist Church.

“As the years have gone, I’ve seen just a growing need for support not just for parents who have lost a child to addiction but also parents who are struggling with a child with addiction and drug use,” Gay said.

French said her goal is to raise awareness and tell parents about the warning signs.

“I think I’ve come a long way. I hope to get much more along that path. I will learn how to carry the pain instead of laying in bed all day, and I’ll be able to help other people,” she said.

Many throughout the state are trying to raise awareness of the growing opioid problem.

A Commission on Children’s Mental Health recommended “multi-pronged early intervention and prevention approaches to combat the opioid crisis,” according to a report prepared for Gov. Nathan Deal and released in December.

The Georgia Senate passed a bill that would create greater protections for consumers and advance research and educational pursuits targeting addiction.

One portion of the opioid bill would create a “director of substance abuse, addiction and related disorders” who would be appointed by the governor to oversee a 15-member commission on substance abuse and recovery.

The commission’s tasks would include coordinating overdose data, consulting with other state agencies, providing recommendations on a potential Medicaid waiver for opioid abuse, creating a block grant program, developing education plans and expanding access to “appropriate prevention, treatment and recovery support services.”

Another section would increase penalties for people offering kickbacks between health care providers and treatment centers, referred to as “patient brokers.”

Deb Bailey, executive director of governmental affairs at Northeast Georgia Health System, said the hospital first made changes in 2012 regarding prescription painkillers in the emergency room.

“In 2012, we were the first in the state to decide that a three-day supply was what we would prescribe, which would be enough to get the patient that truly was in acute pain to the physician but those that were addicted couldn’t shop emergency rooms,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 5 patients given a 10-day opioid prescription will still be using the drug a year later.

French said her son was given opioids for pain relief after wisdom teeth surgery, a broken arm and a knee surgery early in his life. She said he used drugs like Oxycontin to cope when he became an adult.

Through the Partnership for a Drug Free Hall, Bailey said the hospital and others are working to educate parents about pill drop-off boxes and limiting access to the medications. The partnership is a collective of civic, religious and law enforcement groups working together to address the opioid epidemic.

“(People) are so very surprised that when someone comes into their house … they are now looking for those drugs, especially the youth. We hope we’ve had a significant impact on just the availability from that perspective,” Bailey said.

When a teenager is brought in for a procedure that may involve opioid painkillers, doctors will inform families about the risk and how to use them carefully if needed.

“We’ve tried to help people understand that they do have a choice in how much pain medication that they are taking, and how we have been misled by the pharmaceutical companies on the addiction qualities of these drugs,” Bailey said.

Bailey said they will soon host a youth summit for 100 sixth-graders to become a countywide youth leadership group on substance abuse.

“As they move through their middle and high school years, the goal is that they are the voice for the youth in addressing substances and misuse among their peers,” she said.

Cindy Gay’s father-in-law, Dallas Gay, has championed the partnership and has organized two forums at the Brenau Downtown Center in recent months. The forums are part of the “Not My Family” series, providing a space for people in the community to share their experiences and insights on addiction.

Cindy Gay hopes the new peer support group will provide a similar outlet for parents.

She said she hopes the meetings become a “source of strength and comfort and hope.”

“As a parent, you can be in denial. You can lose hope,” she said.

The meetings will be run by the group, and licensed health clinicians will sit in to help if there are topics the group wants to learn more about.

“There won’t be a real strict format. It will be equal time for sharing, and again, led by the parents themselves,” she said. “If there’s a topic of concern that we’re struggling with, we can have that at the meeting.”

Gay said it would have helped “had somebody offered me, not necessarily from a counselor’s or psychiatrist’s point of view, but just parents who have gone through the same thing and resources, things to look for.”

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Lawmakers press health chief to OK cannabis for treatment of opioid addiction

Posted on: February 15th, 2018 by sobrietyresources

By Daniel J. Chacón | The New Mexican, Feb 12, 2018 Updated 12 hrs ago


New Mexico lawmakers injected a dose of political pressure Monday into an unwavering but so far unsuccessful effort to add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in New Mexico.

State Sen. Jeff Steinborn and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, both Democrats from Las Cruces, held a news conference at the Roundhouse to bring attention to companion memorials they are sponsoring, calling on Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to allow people with opioid dependence to obtain medical marijuana to help them break the chains of their addiction.

“It is past time that this secretary do this,” Steinborn said. “People are dying every day in the state of New Mexico from opioid abuse, and medical marijuana has proven to be a safer treatment for any underlying conditions and certainly, hopefully, to step people down from opioid addiction into something safer that won’t kill them.”

Twice, the state Medical Cannabis Program’s advisory board has recommended medical marijuana be allowed as a treatment for opioid addiction.

Gallagher, however, has the final say.

Gallagher, who is married to Santa Fe’s former police chief, rejected the board’s initial recommendation last year, saying she could not say “with confidence that the use of cannabis for treatment of opioid dependence and its symptoms would be either safe or effective.”

The advisory board heard another petition in November and once again recommended adding opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions. But Gallagher has yet to make a decision on the board’s most recent recommendation, which was unanimous.

“The Secretary is awaiting their written recommendation from that hearing, at which time she will review the scientific evidence presented and make a decision,” department spokesman Paul Rhien said in an email.

Steinborn and others said Gallagher should take action right away, saying more delays could cost lives.

“The reality is, more people will unnecessarily die that could’ve benefited from this, and whether it’s one New Mexican out there or countless scores of New Mexicans that will benefit from this over time, this is about saving lives,” Steinborn said. “There are patients out there who can benefit from this and need this alternative today.”

The memorials, which have no force of law but are an expression of sentiment, already have cleared a number of committees. But with the 30-day legislative session ending Thursday, time is running out.

“We have limited time left in the session; that’s really the challenge to getting bills [and memorials] passed in these final few days,” Steinborn said. “We’re certainly raising our call to get the [memorials] passed, but more important, to urge the secretary to act today, not to let another day go by without approving this.”

Anita Briscoe, a psychiatric nurse practitioner from Española who has been leading the push to add opioid use disorder to the medical cannabis program, said research shows medical cannabis helps people get past their opioid dependence.

Cannabis helps reduce withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea and insomnia, and people receiving medication for opioid use disorder have better treatment outcomes when they’re also using medical cannabis, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, a national nonprofit group seeking reforms of drug laws.

“In my first petition, I was able to come up with a 21-page bibliography of research that had been done, and for the 2017 version, I was able to come up with an additional five pages of solid, hard-core, science-based research,” Briscoe said.

Briscoe said she saw the results firsthand when she was doing medical cannabis referrals in 2016.

“People were coming back to me a year later to renew their license, and they were saying, ‘Oh, by the way, I was able to kick heroin,” she said. “I started collecting data, and I started asking my colleagues as well, ‘Are you seeing this as well?’ They said, ‘Indeed, we are.’ ”

For Briscoe, the push to add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis is personal.

“I’m from Española, New Mexico. I was born and raised there,” she said. “I know that West Virginia now has the No. 1 problem with opiate use disorder, as well as Ohio. But for literally decades, if not generations, Española has had that problem. We just never have been in the limelight like other states have. I have grown up seeing Española ravaged by heroin.”



Why the Disease Definition of Addiction Does Far More Harm Than Good

Posted on: February 9th, 2018 by sobrietyresources

Among other problems, it has obstructed other channels of investigation, including the social, psychological and societal roots of addiction


By Marc Lewis on February 9, 2018


Over the past year and a half, Scientific American has published a number of fine articles arguing that addiction is not a disease, that drugs are not the cause of addiction, and that social and societal factors are fundamental contributors to opioid addiction in general and the overdose crisis in particular. The dominant view, that addiction is a disease resulting from drug use, is gradually being eroded by these and other incisive critiques. Yet the disease model and its corollaries still prevail in the domains of research, policy setting, knowledge dissemination and treatment delivery, more in the United States than in any other country in the developed world. You might wonder: what are we waiting for?

The disease model remains dominant in the U.S. because of its stakeholders. First, the rehab industry, worth an estimated $35 billion per year, uses the disease nomenclature in a vast majority of its ads and slogans. Despite consistently low success rates, that’s not likely to stop because it pulls in the cash. Second, as long as addiction is labeled a disease, medical insurance providers can be required to pay for it.

Of course they do so as cheaply as possible, to the detriment of service quality, but they at least save governments the true costs of dealing with addiction through education, social support, employment initiatives and anti-poverty mechanisms. Third, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that funds roughly 90 percent of addiction research worldwide, is a medically oriented funder and policy setter, as are the American Society of Addiction Medicine and other similar bodies.

For these organizations to confess that addiction isn’t really a disease would be tantamount to admitting that they’re in no position to tackle it, which would be a form of institutional suicide. And finally, there are the families of addicts, many of whom welcome the idea that addiction is a disease because that implies that their loved ones are not bad people after all. More on that shortly.

My own role in the controversy has been to keep up a spate of arguments against the disease model of addiction, in books, the press and online, mostly on scientific grounds. As a neuroscientist, I’m able to show why brain change—either in general or specifically in the striatum, the motivational core—does not equal pathology or disease. And as a developmental psychologist (my other hat), I highlight the role of learning in brain change (or neuroplasticity) and reinterpret NIDA’s findings in terms of deeply ingrained habits of thought and action. Both arguments are presented in some detail here.

But why does the definition of addiction matter? Isn’t this just a word game?

Definitions point us to strategies of investigation, including formal research, survey research, case studies and so forth. If addiction is a disease, then we should be looking at cellular mechanisms, MRI scans and other brain-recording techniques, and this is exactly the policy NIDA has followed for years. In fact, it’s the policy the NIH has implemented in its approach to all psychiatric and psychological problems. Roughly 10 years ago, NIH grant applicants were informed that they’d better include neuroscientific methods in their proposals if they wanted any money.

Not that I have anything against neuroscience, which was the main focus of my research career for years. But researchers who aren’t into neuroscience have been ignored, and that’s not a good thing. As recently captured by Eiko Fried, “despite many decades of considerable research efforts into uncovering underlying biological mechanisms, we have not identified specific and reliable markers for many of the most prevalent mental disorders.”

So, the current trend of labeling psychiatric problems brain problems has not panned out, and it has obstructed other channels of investigation that could be hugely valuable. This has been particularly unfortunate for addiction researchers who want to investigate the social, psychological and societal roots of addiction. Despite clear signposts pointing to the importance of these determinants, such research goes unfunded, or grossly underfunded, and we remain that much further from a comprehensive understanding.

Definitions not only direct strategies for knowledge acquisition; they are also rich with implications and connotations. As I mentioned, families of addicts (as well as some proportion of addicts themselves) welcome the disease definition because it seems to absolve addicts of blame. Indeed, NIDA has consistently promoted the disease definition as a boon to addicts who have historically been depicted as morally deficient. If they have a disease, their addictive behaviors are not their fault and they should not be stigmatized. Everyone knows that shame, alienation and punishment aggravate the need for relief, which often amounts to further drug use. So, it’s important to ask whether the disease label has successfully reduced stigmatization.

In fact, the disease definition replaces one kind of stigmatization for another. The antipsychiatry movement has long argued that the language of “mental illness” hurts more than helps those with emotional problems, because it fuels discrimination and alienation. If addiction is a disease, then addicts are, by definition, mentally ill. And indeed, scholars of addiction point out that the disease definition promotes a divide between “us” and “them.” In contrast, a more humanistic way of conceptualizing addiction highlights connection with others as a crucial component of recovery.

So, the “disease” stigma can be lethal. In fact, the moral stigma of addiction can be reversed by abstinence or at least controlled use, which shows you have overcome your problem one way or another. The stigma of having had the disease of addiction implies that you are not to be trusted, now or ever. Unfortunately, this ethos still justifies the way governmental benefits, medical benefits and employment opportunities are often withheld from anyone who has ever been labeled an addict.

Viewing addiction as pathology has other, more direct detriments. If you feel that your addiction results from an underlying pathology, as implied by the brain disease model, and if that pathology is chronic, as highlighted by both NIDA and the 12-step movement, then you are less likely to believe that you will ever be free of it or that recovery can result from your own efforts. This characterization of addiction flies in the face of research indicating that a great majority of those addicted to any substance or behavior do in fact recover, and most of those who recover do so without professional care.

It also counters many addicts’ perception that, once they have outgrown their addiction, they are free of it, and they no longer have to identify themselves as “in recovery” or, in more conventional medical terms, temporarily in remission. As concluded by a recent meta-analysis,“biogenetic explanations for psychological problems induce prognostic pessimism and negative stereotyping regarding dangerousness.” In other words, both addicts’ own faith in their recovery and the confidence of those around them are hampered by the disease definition.

It is important to recognize that drug dependence is a medical matter, as emphasized by Maia Szalavitz in Scientific American and elsewhere. But most addictions do not induce drug dependence, while many prescribed medications do. Thus, withdrawal from (or maintenance on) antidepressants, beta blockers and opiates requires medical attention. Quitting cocaine, meth, porn, gambling, and overeating does not.

If we stop confusing addiction with pathology, then we can focus much more clearly on the specific needs of specific individuals. That seems a huge advantage over dumping everyone in a basket that fits almost no one.




Before recovering from my drug addiction, I first had to accept it

Posted on: February 6th, 2018 by sobrietyresources

Posted February 4 at 12:37 PM: Updated February 5

Accepting the reality of my addiction doesn’t mean I’m resigned to it. It means I let go of what’s outside my control.

A few years before finally finding real sobriety and recovery, I made several attempts to stop using drugs and alcohol. During one struggle, mostly trying to save my failing marriage, I made a pledge to stay completely abstinent from all drugs and alcohol.

Even to my closest friends, I couldn’t be honest about why I suddenly decided to avoid alcohol. I would dodge their questions or pass it off as an attempt to get into peak physical shape: “You know—for Crossfit and stuff.” That wasn’t a complete lie, as I had recently taken a genuine interest in Crossfit and even started training for a local competition.

My abstinence from alcohol lasted far longer than my almost non-existent abstinence from other drugs. I did somehow manage to enter—and win—that local Crossfit competition. I showed up the morning of the event wearing my wrist wraps, not because I needed them for support, but because I was hiding the track marks left behind from injecting heroin. Unbeknownst to my workout partner, I wouldn’t have even been able to get out of bed had I not used heroin earlier that morning.


I was maintaining a strict diet and exercise routine while simultaneously hiding in bathroom stalls to inject myself with poison. This shows the insanity of my disease—wholly irrational and hard to understand unless you’ve experienced it.

After nearly a decade of substance use, I had managed to normalize this daily chaos. It was like being afraid of the dark as a kid, cowering under your blankets in a pitch-black room. You know where the light switch is, but you’re terrified to step off your bed, exposing yourself while you walk towards it.

I was stuck, desperately wanting to stop using drugs. The idea of accepting that I was addicted to drugs, and even more so asking for help, was terrifying. Instead, I risked my own life on a daily basis and consistently burned down everything around me. I wanted to live on my own terms–fiercely grasping for control of my circumstances and the things that happened to me.

Accepting everything exactly as it comes

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously said: “My formula for greatness in a human being is Amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.”

This philosophy challenges us not to wish for things to have happened differently, but wish for them to arrive precisely as they have. Your circumstances don’t care how you feel about them, so you might as well learn to accept and love them exactly as they are. Only then can you find true serenity and happiness in your life.

For years, I exhausted my energy on wishing specific events never happened, or that they had happened differently. I wished that I could prevent my wife from leaving me, or that I could have somehow convinced my father not to drink himself death. I didn’t want to be addicted to heroin or to identify as a person in recovery, and I fought it viciously, nearly choosing death over stigma.

My life was completely unmanageable, but I refused to accept having a substance use disorder. I fought the fact that I was suffering from a disease that needed not only abstinence from drugs and alcohol but consistent and life-long treatment.

Controlling what you can and leaving the rest

There is a common saying found in several twelve-step programs of recovery: “Let go, let God.” To me, this idea is less about recognizing that there is a God-like power who controls the movement of the universe, and more about merely acknowledging that I am not that power myself. I was not only addicted to drugs and alcohol, I was also addicted to control. I wanted to control everything and everyone around me and allowed the actions of others to affect my well-being.

Ancient Stoic philosophers had a metaphor that I think helps explain this idea of complete acceptance. They said that we are like a dog tied to a moving cart. We have two choices. We can dig our heels into the ground, foolishly fighting against the direction of the cart and being forcibly dragged along. Or we can go with the cart, enjoying the walk.

Both dogs are in the same situation, but only one of them is enjoying the journey by recognizing which things he can’t control. Unless I wanted to get continually dragged along, I needed to focus on only the things that were actually in my control, and most importantly, know what those things were.

The fact is, I can’t control any of the things that have happened to me, or prevent more obstacles from being placed in my way. The only thing I have complete control over is my reaction to these things, and how I choose to act in each present moment. Like that dog tied to a cart, I can either accept certain things and take my freedoms where they come or fight against things out of my control and get dragged through the dirt.

sobriety resources banner

Accepting is not the same as giving up

It’s essential for me to remember that accepting my circumstances does not mean that I’m giving up.  Acceptance is not resignation. Although I may not be able to control everything about my current conditions, my actions today will shape my future.

Although I never wanted to be addicted to drugs, that’s where I ended up. Accepting and even loving my fate of being in that situation, doesn’t mean that I wanted it or like it, just that I can recognize that it’s in my interest to accept it and make the best of it.

Without accepting and embracing my substance use disorder, I wouldn’t be able to share my recovery journey with you today. I’m grateful to not only be abstinent from drugs and alcohol, but also for the ability to live honestly and free of shame while I treat my disease.

It may seem unnatural for me to be grateful for my addiction to drugs and alcohol, to love something that I never wanted in the first place. Throughout my life, I’ve learned that many of the worst things to happen to me have later revealed themselves as being the most significant gifts—but only if I accept them and allow myself to learn from them.




Copyright 2017. All Rights Reserved.