Who Is My Neighbor?

(Sixteenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

(I am re-posting this blog due to a glitch on some platforms in January)

In 2020, overdose deaths have increased worldwide, and by as much as 25% in the US. Deaths from acute intoxication have also increased dramatically. People are isolated and anxious, their treatment and recovery programs have been disrupted, and the illicit drug supply has become dangerous. Health officials believe that the majority of these deaths have occurred because hospitals are full and emergency services are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, thus removing the urgent, lifesaving care of overdose reversal that has been established in the past few years. Funding for all mental health services has also been diverted to pandemic care, which has complicated access to basic resources. Suicides are rising at an alarming rate.

A conversation that I believe is relevant to the current times came to mind this week. A lawyer asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” as he was trying to wriggle out of the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus told him about a man beaten and robbed while on a journey. As the man lay almost dead on the road, he was passed by several religious leaders who refused to help him. Then a man, who was not the same nationality or religion, came and bandaged and rescued him and paid for his care until he was well. Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these men proved to be a neighbor?” The lawyer replied, “The one who showed compassion.” Jesus responded, “Go and do the same.” *

Continue reading “Who Is My Neighbor?”

Missing Community

(Fifteenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

(This blog was posted on December 27, 2020, but due to technical glitches, it was not shared on some platforms – here it is again for those who missed it.)

For much of the world, Christmas and the holiday season this year has been nothing like our normal times of celebrating with family and friends. Togetherness is dangerous in most countries due to Covid-19. Yet, despite all the health and safety warnings, many have travelled and gathered with their loved ones. Why would people risk the well-being of themselves and their beloveds just to spend a few hours or days together?

Community. We all need it and ultimately cannot live without it. Communities may seem optional when all is well, but they become indispensable during hard times, whether personally or corporately. They can be small or large and most of us have several different sizes and types that we are part of: our family, school, sports, church, work, etc. What communities have in common are shared interests, beliefs, and needs, even while the individuals may have diverse characteristics. They are united and working towards a common goal and understand that they can achieve it because of, and with, the support and encouragement of others.

Continue reading “Missing Community”

First: Do No Harm

(Seventeenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

Perhaps it is impossible for a person who does no good to do no harm.

–Harriet Beecher Stowe

A fitting quote and post for Martin Luther King Jr day 2021. Harriet was an emancipation champion. Another tribute to MLK Jr – Colored People by DCTalk:

I think Harriet was on to something. Raised in a prominent family in Connecticut during the early years of the 19th century, her father was a preacher who spoke vehemently against slavery. The 13 children were taught to fight injustice and to influence their society towards doing what was right. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was the result of Southerner’s new justification for slavery: a societal good ordained by God and Scriptures. Northern Christian abolitionists felt the Bible clearly taught the opposite: slavery was common throughout history but was not God’s plan.

Activists on both sides were in a deadlock and they needed to persuade the majority of citizens to commit to one side or the other. Harriet’s firsthand knowledge of the abusive treatment and plight of many escaped slaves prompted her to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851. It was an overnight success that exposed Northerners to the truths about slavery because her story vividly dramatized the horrible and violent experiences of slaves so people could relate to them personally.It was a turning point for the abolitionist movement that grew into a large social-political force while inciting anger in the South. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is considered one of the primary contributing factors leading to the Civil War.

Clearly, if you don’t do anything, you may not directly hurt someone. But inaction won’t help anyone and it is likely to cause harm. We actually do harm when we withhold good. This is what Harm Reduction and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is about. After decades of unnecessary and premature deaths from drug overdoses, the medical and addiction recovery community realized that addiction is not a one-dimensional moral issue. Telling someone they can simply decide to not use drugs and to not help them in ways that we can is harm-full. The Hippocratic oath for physicians: First, Do No Harm, serves as a moral and ethical guide to practice medicine to the best of one’s ability, and to give sympathy, compassion, and understanding.

Sadly, I relate personally to the antiquated approach to addiction when it comes to our son and his decade-long battle with opioid addiction as reflected in this journal entry from Chapter 14:

October 27, 2014

JL,

Mom here. My heart breaks as I think again of you at our appointment with Dr. Cai last January saying, “I never want to use opiates again.” It is a sadness I will always remember and feel strongly about because we didn’t “get” that you needed more than 12-Steps or Alcoholics Anonymous to support that desire. You needed physical help (i.e. medicine), too. And I tell people this every time I tell your story, and someone says they know someone or a relative who is an opiate addict. Maybe it will give someone else a second chance for their loved one before it is too late.

To this day, over 6 years since JL’s death, it is hard for me to look back to the last year of his life. To be fair, before our son died in 2014 we hadn’t heard of Harm Reduction or MAT, although we knew medication was an option. Our regrets lie in not taking the advice of his doctor. By doing so, our inaction inadvertently caused harm, leading to our son’s death.

What I can do now is to work to influence as many parents and loved ones as I can to actively do good for those who struggle with addiction and not just watch them self-destruct without throwing them any and every lifeline available.

Some of the best options available for opioid addiction treatment:

  • Suboxone Sublingual Film® – A combination of buprenorphine and naloxone (also known as Narcan®). This is the most widely used form.
  • Subutex Sublingual Tablets® – Contains only buprenorphine.
  • Buvidal® is a modified release formulation of buprenorphine for administration by subcutaneous injection once a week (Buvidal® Weekly) or once a month (Buvidal® Monthly).
  • Sublocade® is an extended-release formulation of BPN, administered monthly by SC injection.

Who Is My Neighbor?

(Sixteenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

In 2020, overdose deaths have increased worldwide, and by as much as 25% in the US. Deaths from acute intoxication have also increased dramatically. People are isolated and anxious, their treatment and recovery programs have been disrupted, and the illicit drug supply has become dangerous. Health officials believe that the majority of these deaths have occurred because hospitals are full and emergency services are overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, thus removing the urgent, lifesaving care of overdose reversal that has been established in the past few years. Funding for all mental health services has also been diverted to pandemic care, which has complicated access to basic resources. Suicides are rising at an alarming rate.

A conversation that I believe is relevant to the current times came to mind this week. A lawyer asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” as he was trying to wriggle out of the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus told him about a man beaten and robbed while on a journey. As the man lay almost dead on the road, he was passed by several religious leaders who refused to help him. Then a man, who was not the same nationality or religion, came and bandaged and rescued him and paid for his care until he was well. Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these men proved to be a neighbor?” The lawyer replied, “The one who showed compassion.” Jesus responded, “Go and do the same.” *

Continue reading “Who Is My Neighbor?”

Missing Community

(Fifteenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

For much of the world, Christmas and the holiday season this year has been nothing like our normal times of celebrating with family and friends. Togetherness is dangerous in most countries due to Covid-19. Yet, despite all the health and safety warnings, many have travelled and gathered with their loved ones. Why would people risk the well-being of themselves and their beloveds just to spend a few hours or days together?

Community. We all need it and ultimately cannot live without it. Communities may seem optional when all is well, but they become indispensable during hard times, whether personally or corporately. They can be small or large and most of us have several different sizes and types that we are part of: our family, school, sports, church, work, etc. What communities have in common are shared interests, beliefs, and needs, even while the individuals may have diverse characteristics. They are united and working towards a common goal and understand that they can achieve it because of, and with, the support and encouragement of others.

Continue reading “Missing Community”

The Cost of Secrets

 (Fourteenth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

When Breaking Bad was released in 2008, our son, and most of his generation of young people, watched it. He told us about it and encouraged us to watch it while also warning us that there would be some parts we wouldn’t like – but to keep watching. We did and he was right. But JL knew that we wanted to be connected to his life through the media he viewed and so we became fully engaged and finished the series.

When I think back about it now I realize that we didn’t fully ‘get’ why JL wanted us to watch this series. I believe now that he wanted us to understand the complications and conflicts that drug use brings into a life, perhaps knowing it would reveal secrets that he just couldn’t talk about with us directly. His life was complicated and so he lived with many inner conflicts. It is the inescapable nature of any addiction.

Continue reading “The Cost of Secrets”

Illusions in the Maze

(Twelfth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

Mazes are fascinating. I remember the ones on paper placemats that our kids would get in restaurants that had maze drawings in various shapes: circular spirals, squares, etc. They would try to get from the center to the outside without ending up at too many dead ends and then be forced to trace back over their steps and try another path.

There is a “Sensory Maze” in New Zealand that also includes optical illusions. So not only are you trying to figure a way through the maze, but you are met with an immense variety of optical and sensory illusions that add to the fun – and confusion.

Continue reading “Illusions in the Maze”

Singing The Blues

(Eleventh in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

Honesty is one of the main themes that ripple under the surface of “The Blues.” Expressions of honest feelings, whatever they may be at the moment – themes of lost love, painful relationships, dashed hopes, and heartache. The majority of us have or will experience heartache in our lives. Although it seems counterintuitive, most of us feel consoled by songs that express what we are feeling deep inside but may have a hard time putting into words. In order for me to be honest, I have to acknowledge that I am singing The Blues.

Continue reading “Singing The Blues”

The Politics of Drugs: Purdue & the DOJ

(Seventh in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

When public health is at risk, one can only wonder about the motives behind politicians’ decisions – our “public servants” as they used to be referred to – regardless of what they may say. But we don’t have to guess their motives because actions speak louder than words and the actions of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) this week regarding Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family are unconscionable. This deal is not justice for the victims and their families for this pervasive and criminal corporate greed.

Continue reading “The Politics of Drugs: Purdue & the DOJ”

Separation Anxiety

(Fifth in a series of topical blogs based on chapter by chapter excerpts from Opiate Nation. Translation into most languages is available to the right.)

After many years of not having a dog, we decided to adopt one from our local shelter. We found a beautiful German-shepherd/wolf mix who was 18 months old. Bella was docile, sweet and quiet. The next day, as I headed out to the grocery store, I gave her a hug and saw her watch me through the window as I got into the car.

            When I returned an hour later, I was met with a shock. I found her, panting rapidly and pacing nervously in our bedroom where our wooden shutters were open and had bite marks. She had tried to escape while I was gone. I had no idea why. I immediately called the shelter. “She is having separation anxiety: she needed to escape being left alone.” We found out that she had been with two families previously when she was dumped at the shelter because she continued to try to escape when she was left alone for hours on end. They gave us the name of a dog behaviorist and we started down the long road of helping Bella manage her fear when we had to leave her at home.

            Children and adults can experience separation anxiety when someone they are attached to leaves them. They can have recurrent and excessive distress just anticipating being separated from loved ones and the anxiety can be so intense that it is hard to function in everyday life. Panic attacks and physical symptoms such as nausea and headaches can occur. For me and my husband, on the morning of our son’s death from overdose, standing over our son in that body bag we experienced the ultimate separation anxiety. The overriding emotion we felt was fear: fear of the unknown future we were facing. We couldn’t visualize how we would survive without our son as part of our lives and the future we thought we all had together. He had not only been an integral part of our lives for 25 years but he was literally a part of us–the combination of our DNA that formed him as a particular and unique human being. To say that it was like having part of you taken away doesn’t describe it. This was having our hearts torn out.

            We would never embrace or kiss or stroke the cheek of our son again. We were facing an existential crisis, shaken to the core, questioning our reason for living. Regardless of our strong faith that had seen us through many other deaths in our families, this separation seemed incomprehensible and cruel. It was only by falling down on our faces and waiting for Mercy to gradually pick us up that we were able to survive this traumatic separation from our son and move forward again in life.