This should have been one of the best days of TINHIH’s existence. Just over 1 year ago, TINHIH announced the possibility of a new offensive tactic to combat the opioid epidemic. With much work, awesome allies, and passion- this particular idea, a Recovery High School, passed a tremendous hurdle- and I should have been overcome with joy.
However, when I found out the news- I was standing on the 3rd floor of Valley Hospital pleading with the charge nurse. You see, a 32-year-old heroin addict had been released 2 hrs previously; a day before he was originally told he would be released, released with no exit plan, released with an improperly written prescription that could not be filled, and released with no remorse or accountability from those in the profession in which we place the most trust when we are this vulnerable.
John (not his real name) has been addicted to heroin for 10 years, had stolen from his family and friends, had occasional tries at recovery, spent a couple of stints in prison, and basically ended up sleeping in an abandoned trailer with fellow heroin users that would occasionally have a friend show up with a car that supplied power for the residents of the mobile home. Heroin users are amazingly adaptable to living quarters, feeling a level of camaraderie with one another, a fellowship- outcasts from society unite! This becomes preferable to the leers, judgements, dirty looks, and oppression they receive on a regular basis from “normal” society. Continuing the saga and the endless cycle of trying to get what they need to survive another day. I question- If John suffered from stage 3 cancer would he have been released with no follow-up plan? If he was diabetic, and blood sugar levels were close to comatose, would there be such a nonchalant- “See ya later”?
Even when someone in John’s position makes the statement they want to get clean, they are still judged and ostracized. I know, I see this, I bear witness to this. In particular, this situation we had set up an aeroplane ticket to Florida, a ride to/from the airport, and a bed in a facility with no help from an agency, hospital, non-profit associated with the disease of substance use disorder- nothing. Not an easy task if you have ever attempted this. Especially when there is a lack of funds and insurance. This would have been achievable, except John was released prior to what we were told. Release with an improperly written prescription that could never be filled- for medication that would afford him time to make the journey across the country without possibly getting sick- dope sick it is called. Which is, to my understanding, an almost unbearable state to be in. Imagine the worst flu you have ever had, aches all over, elimination from every area on the body, shakes, sweats and hot/cold flashes. This would never be allowed in civil society, right? Wrong! It happens every day!
Last year we lost 129 people a day to overdose, this year it is 144 people. Over 52,000 people will lose their battle with addiction this year. These are astounding numbers! More lost in 1 year than the entire Vietnam war, more lost in 1 year than the entire crack epidemic of the 80s. What are we doing? We certainly can do better. Recovery is possible, people can and do get well!
I am going to call John’s mom right now, and I pray that he made it through the night, that his self-medication wasn’t his last. Although the initiative I wrote about earlier had passed a huge hurdle, nights like last night show me that our work is not done. I will continue to advocate for on-demand treatment, advocate to end the stigma- these are not “throw-away” people- they matter. All lives matter.