No Magic Bullets

Last week here in Tucson, Arizona, some young people were together at a house using heroin. They were unaware it was laced with fentanyl. Friends ran to a nearby restaurant and flagged down police to help one person who was unresponsive from an overdose. He was revived with Narcan (naloxone). The officers were then taken to the house where six others had overdosed. One 19-yr old did not make it. Tucson Police all carry naloxone because they are usually the “first responders” to victims of overdose. Sadly, our Pima County Sheriff officers do not carry it – with the line of reasoning being that it is too costly for the training and they are not usually the first responders.

Naloxone (Narcan, Evzio, injectable or intranasal spray) was patented in 1961, and is an opioid antagonist—meaning that it binds to opioid receptors and can reverse and block the effects of other opioids by displacing them from the opioid receptor sites in the brain. Whereas an agonist causes an action, an antagonist blocks the action of the agonist. It has been used in hospital “code arrest” emergency situations for decades. It is being carried by emergency personnel and families of addicts because it can very quickly restore normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing with heroin or prescription opioid pain medications.

But it is not a magic bullet. Statistically, most opioid overdoses happen when the user is alone. By the time they are found, usually many hours later, it is too late for resuscitation. Another reason is that public safety experts are concerned, and rightly so, because addicts may be less motivated to find a way to quit using opioids since they can be revived. Their family and friends will also feel less anxiety and less concerned about urging their addict to get long term help. A recent news special interviewed several opiate addicts who had been revived multiple times with naloxone. One was an older man who is a “career addict”. He has no real desire to get clean and carries naloxone in case any of his friends need it. The other was a young woman who had overdosed and been revived several times and had finally gone through a recovery program and is clean and sober. She is very thankful for the times she did not die because finally, finally she was able to get to the point where she wanted to leave her miserable life of addiction and be free. But let’s remember: she needed a recovery program option. We cannot just turn those addicted to opioids back onto the streets after reviving them.

She is an example of the recent statistics that it takes on average 10-12 recovery attempts before an opiate addict can stay clean and sober long-term. Ten to twelve. It is a fact that relates to the addictive quality of opioids. For many of those addicted to opiates, those 10-12 attempts will never happen without overdoses and then being revived with naloxone. We, as a society, must be willing to offer this chance to those who are trapped by addiction to substances that have poured onto our streets and into our schools at an unprecedented rate. Our son went through several recovery programs and was at the point of really wanting to be free of his addiction. But without the needed medication, such as Suboxone, his last relapse proved fatal. He died of a heroin overdose at 25 yrs old – alone. There was no magic bullet for him.

Spring: New Life?

Spring is the season of regeneration, new life, hope. The time of year when the whole earth seems excited to be alive after being dormant all winter. For those who celebrate Easter, the season begins with introspection through prayer and repentance. As we reflect on our life and behaviors that are destructive to ourselves and our relationships, we hope to shed them like the husk of a seed when it is buried in the ground. We expectantly wait for the transformation that happens deep inside that will spring up as new life, like the sprout from a seed. Yet, as it pushes up through the crusty ground, the process of transformation is not without struggle.
This is what those who are living with addiction hope for when they go to AA meetings and enter recovery programs: as they surrender control, they’re hoping for a total change from agony and depression into a new life.

People, Places, Things is a play about addiction and wearing masks by British playwright Duncan MacMillan and director Jeremy Harren. It opened to rave reviews. In an interview with NPR the creators share that at the center of the play is the 12-step process. It shows that for those who have trouble with AA and surrendering to God perhaps it is easier to understand it as acknowledging that you can’t have control over life. We are all powerless over People, Places, Things. It is literally one day at a time. They visited a recovery center in London to get insights for the play. And as one of the actors said after witnessing the daily life-and-death struggle that addicts fight:

“One day at a time. And Life has to win every single day.
Death has to only win once.”

In Tracey Mitchell’s blog (http://traceyh415.blogspot.com/2018/03/) she shares about a young person she has been corresponding with since 2013 and the cycles of opioid addiction and attempted recovery he went through repeatedly. He voiced his utter frustration: “It’s so insane how this drug has taken hold over me.” Tracey heard from him a few more times and then nothing: “I don’t know all the details. I just know I could have written this story. This was my story. Except I did not die at 25. I didn’t need to worry about fentanyl (in the late 1990’s). I got off everything at 27. I consider myself lucky…No one should ever have to die alone like this.”

Yes, no one, especially a young person, should have to die having failed to experience a new beginning – after so much effort at turning over control and hoping for a normal life. But, with the purity of heroin in America having risen sharply in the last 15 years, and fentanyl now mixed in unbeknownst to users, the physical addiction is beyond comprehension. For those who are overdosing and dying in record numbers, they had no intention that their next use would be their last. This was what happened to our 25-yr-old son. Whatever he bought and used was more potent than what he was expecting and accustomed to. He died alone, with the needle still in his vein. Death only had to win once.

Prevention is the best way to stop these needless deaths. But once addiction to opioids has taken control, harm reduction with a solid 12-Step program is the best way to help addicts emerge from the darkness and be able to have a truly new life.