#EndOverdose: Advocates Bring Awareness to Dane County’s Ongoing Opioid Overdose Epidemic

End overdose images

This article by Maggie Ginsberg originally appeared in the December 2021 Edition of Madison Magazine. To view the original article, click here.

Even as the crisis worsens in Dane County and overdose deaths across the country approached 100,000 in a 12-month period for the first time ever, some promising harm reduction initiatives are giving rise to something else: Hope.
Opioid overdose deaths have nearly doubled in Wisconsin since 2014, due to skyrocketing fentanyl poisonings and a pandemic season that has aggravated the factors that drive substance use disorder and keep people locked in the cycle of addiction. Even as the crisis worsens in Dane County and overdose deaths across the country approached 100,000 in a 12-month period for the first time ever, some promising harm reduction initiatives are giving rise to something else: Hope.

Row after row of white flags line the sidewalk along Olbrich Park, as far as the eye can see. Surrendered and still on a windless night in late August, heavy with scrawled names and brokenhearted messages, each flag has been placed there by a loved one. This is the fourth annual International Overdose Awareness Day Remembrance event, organized by Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County, and the event’s message is clear from the scattered signs and T-shirts that say, simply, “#EndOverdose.”

Down on the sprawling grass leading toward Lake Monona, a microphone waits for a lineup of speakers while half a dozen tents shade the sponsoring organizers and participants. The Wisconsin Recovery Advocacy Project is here, drawing attention to a policy platform that includes calling on lawmakers to restore the portion of the 911 Good Samaritan Law that reverted last year so that it no longer protects an overdosing person from arrest. The African American Opioid Coalition of Dane County is also here, working to address the fact that, although community sentiment took a more compassionate turn toward treatment versus incarceration after the opioid epidemic ravaged white suburban communities, communities of color are still overincarcerated for drugs of all kinds — and Black individuals in Dane County are dying from opioid poisonings at an alarmingly higher rate.

Two tents down, staff members from ARC Community Services are handing out free boxes of the lifesaving overdose-reversal drug naloxone, better known by its brand name, Narcan. Among the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 10 evidence-based strategies for preventing opioid overdose, targeted naloxone distribution is listed first. They’re also giving out hard-to-come-by fentanyl test strips — even though possessing them is technically illegal because they’re considered “drug paraphernalia” under state law (another thing the Recovery Advocacy Project wants to change) — because they want to empower people to test their substances before using. Measures like this are what’s known as harm reduction — “a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use,” according to the National Harm Reduction Coalition — and it’s steering nearly every organization’s efforts here today.

Lethally potent and profoundly addictive, fentanyl now permeates the local drug supply, showing up in everything from heroin to cocaine and meth to cannabis, and even in counterfeit prescription pain pills. In 2014, 10% of opioid overdose deaths in Dane County involved fentanyl or other synthetic opioids. By 2017, that portion had grown to more than half.

In 2020, it exploded to 86%.

In May 2019, fentanyl-laced marijuana was responsible for the fatal overdose of C.J. Tubbs, son of Charles Tubbs, Dane County’s director of emergency management systems. This was part of the impetus, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi will explain in a later phone call, for the push to create the Behavioral Health Resource Center that opened in November 2020 and the newly announced Crisis Triage Center for which Parisi has set aside $10 million in his 2022 budget. “Because even someone as connected as Charles Tubbs and his family found themselves in situations with their son … late at night … having a behavioral health challenge … not really sure who to call,” Parisi says.

Tubbs speaks at this event, his tone somber as he describes his wife finding their beloved son’s body when she went to wake him for dinner. It marked the end of a long and troubled journey for family members, who struggled with how best to help, as so many do. “In my professional career, I’ve delivered that death notice to families probably hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times,” Tubbs tells the crowd. “I never thought I would experience it myself.”

It’s an all too familiar story for those gathered at Olbrich Park — you never think it will happen to you or your loved one, until it does. They’re here to listen, to collectively mourn, to grapple for answers and look for comfort among people who get it — and to find hope in the efforts on display. As overwhelming as it feels — and as impossible as it would be to provide a comprehensive picture of all of the organizations across Dane County that are working hard on this issue — a few groups are making headway with new approaches to the old, painful, wildly complex issue we now call substance use disorder.

The Rise of Peer Recovery Coaches

“I really started to see it, feel it, in January 2021. I felt like every day I was losing somebody, either personally or professionally, either to COVID, to a drug poisoning or to suicide,” says Tanya Kraege, a crisis clinician at Journey Mental Health and a peer recovery program manager at Safe Communities. In addition to factors like fentanyl and the impact the pandemic had on things like job and housing insecurity, Kraege speculates that when the vaccines arrived and the shutdowns began to lift, people who’d been living with unaddressed trauma came out of survival mode and endured an overwhelming rush of emotions. Kraege saw people with multiple years in recovery return to using — a sort of delayed response to a long year of isolation, a lack of control, and an inability to access in-person support groups and treatment providers.

But at the same time, Kraege had a front-row seat to the rise of the peer recovery coach movement, a relatively new model that represents a bright spot in recovery efforts. Peer support specialists or recovery coaches are trained and often certified community members who share their own experiences with substance use disorders. “The power of peer support is their lived experience,” Kraege says. “They get to speak a little bit more freely when it comes to self-disclosure than I as a clinician could do. To be able to say, ‘I’ve been there. I’ve walked in similar shoes. And I’m here to walk alongside you.’ ”

Safe Communities first piloted peer recovery coaches at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital – Madison in 2016 with a project called Emergency Department to Recovery, or ED2Recovery. If someone landed in the emergency room after a drug poisoning, they could choose to meet someone with shared lived experiences. If they said yes, Safe Communities sent a peer support coach to the hospital to serve as a trusted guide through whatever that person needed next. Nobody knew what to expect. One ER doctor said he would have been happy with a 25% or 30% success rate — but 90% of participants became connected to treatment options after getting out of the hospital.

Since then, not only has ED2Recovery expanded to include every hospital emergency department in Dane County, Safe Communities has also developed even more peer support programs that Dane County now funds (after a proposed $100,000 increase in 2022) at a level of $500,000 per year. Those programs are called Jail2Recovery, a partnership with Dane County Jail and Journey Mental Health Center for those currently or recently incarcerated; Diversion2Recovery, for people going through drug court, OWI court or pre-arrest diversion programs; All2Recovery, which connects peer coaches with existing organizations such as Centro Hispano of Dane County, JustDane or OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center; Pregnancy2Recovery, which includes a coach who is also a doula; and TRC2Recovery, for those in treatment centers who request continuing support (in 2022, the latter three are combining to form Communities2Recovery). Safe Communities now employs 18 peer providers, including one devoted exclusively to working with affected family members. In 2020, Kraege says peers provided 5,649 service hours. By October 2021, service hours had already doubled to 11,888.

“We want to meet people in the community, meet them where they’re at,” says Kraege, listing places like parks, coffee shops, shelters and libraries. From there, it’s whatever they want — maybe accompanying them to a recovery meeting or one of Madison’s four state licensed centers for Medications for Addiction Treatment, or MAT, or helping with things like job applications and housing. Or maybe it’s just to talk — especially with someone they identify with.

Here in Dane County, where Black people are overdosing on opioids at a rate of 73.8 per 100,000 as compared to 21.1 per 100,000 for white people, one group in particular — the African American Opioid Coalition, or AAOC — is hiring peer recovery coaches who look like the people they’re trying to reach.

Culturally Specific Recovery Efforts

“What we need right now is more recovery coaches looking like them, which we’ve been able to do,” says Charlestine “Ms. Charlie” Daniel, Safe Communities Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Falls and Drug Poisoning Prevention Program Coordinator and the founder of AAOC. Since 2017, the AAOC’s primary focus is improving the overall wellness of Black families by educating and raising awareness about opiate addiction — including hiring Black peer recovery coaches. “We are African Americans talking to African Americans,” she says.

Although she hasn’t experienced substance use disorder herself, Daniel founded the AAOC out of love for her community and, she admits, frustration. Although everyone agrees that families coming forward to help humanize the opioid epidemic throughout the 2010s was a good and brave thing that led to policy changes and public awareness, it also made something else painfully clear.

“We have African Americans who are still in prison for crack cocaine, and they were never, never offered treatment,” Daniel says, describing how it felt to watch the public rally around high-profile examples of affluent white people with substance use disorder over the past decade. “Who was doing this work with African Americans?” Daniel says. “There was no voice for us. And so the AAOC became the voice for our community.”

It’s a response echoed by every source interviewed for this story, including Parisi.

“When the opioid epidemic began, it was a predominantly white epidemic,” says Parisi. “And it’s really an unfortunate commentary that it took that for the nation in general to really start to view drug addiction as an illness and people who are addicted to drugs as people for whom we should have compassion. And, you know, it’s really, on every level, inexcusable.”

Further, Parisi says that drug laws and attitudes toward addiction that pre-date the opioid crisis led to longer prison sentences. “There are people sitting in [prison] today because they were addicted to the ‘wrong’ kind of opioid,” he says.

Meeting with elected officials like Parisi and other policymakers and stakeholders is one of the core components of the AAOC, which Daniel says now has about 25 members. “We have a prominent doctor, we have lawyers, recovery coaches, nurses, you name it,” she says. “It is culturally specific. Our main focus is to improve the overall wellness of Black families when it comes to this disease.”

Daniel also partners with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office to organize the Med Drop Sundays program, making her rounds to different Black churches and collecting parishioners’ old or unused medications. She hands out free medical lockboxes and gives presentations to raise awareness — often to grandparents raising grandchildren because of the drug epidemic — about how their prescriptions can be stolen, sold or used recreationally.

“We are always putting families first because it’s not only the person who is in recovery that’s affected, it’s the family, especially if children are involved,” she says. Despite the disproportionate overdose rates for Black individuals in Dane County — and despite the distrust of white systems and the stigma that remains, not only surrounding addiction but around asking for help — Daniel sees the AAOC already making a difference. “I have seen more African Americans in recovery than ever,” she says.

Public Health Madison Dane County supervisor Dr. Jill Denson became a member of the AAOC shortly after she began attending the state’s overdose fatality review sessions in 2020, where she really became aware of the disproportionate impact of overdose in Black communities.

“Although white people use opioids more, it’s really Black people who are dying from it more often,” says Denson. She says the message still isn’t reaching the full community, such as older Black people who’ve never used heroin but are now dying from fentanyl poisoning when they use cocaine. “We need to reimagine our harm reduction outreach and education to communities that probably think they don’t need that,” says Denson, noting that substance use disorder can cycle through and create damage across generations of families. Education, awareness and empathy are key because you know someone who is struggling, whether you realize it or not. “No matter where you live, no matter who you are, substance abuse affects every single community. It’s professionals, people who are working, who have homes, who have families. It’s anybody you can think of: your neighbor, somebody in your house,” says Denson. “People can keep those things very, very private, very secretive, because of the stigma and shame.”

Harm-Reduction Tools and the Role of Trauma

Denson’s duties include overseeing Dane County’s Syringe Services program, which provides clean, sterile needles and syringes, safe disposal of sharps, some wound care supplies and the distribution of naloxone — “harm reduction tools,” according to PHMDC Chronic Disease Specialist Kathy Andrusz and Disease Intervention Specialist Heidi Olson-Streed, who both work with the program. “These are very basic tools and they help people keep themselves safe,” says Andrusz.

Helping people use drugs safely might seem counterintuitive, but the evidence supports it. Syringe services programs are included in the CDC’s top 10 list, which says, “Nearly 30 years of research shows that comprehensive [syringe services programs] are safe, effective and cost-saving, do not increase illegal drug use or crime, and play an important role in reducing the transmission of viral hepatitis, HIV and other infections.”

PHMDC’s syringe services program began with needle exchanges in 1996 to fill gaps and support the pioneering efforts of the needle exchange (and, more recently, naloxone access) program of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin (formerly AIDS Network and now Vivent Health). But skyrocketing overdoses and a broader population of “more inexperienced or casual drug users” due to fentanyl have driven demand, and PHMDC’s program has become more comprehensive. In addition to distributing tools, Andrusz and Olson-Streed regularly help people solve immediate needs, or simply serve as sounding boards.

“Day to day for our participants, it’s terrifying. There is no safety net for people who are suffering, who are traumatized,” says Olson-Streed, adding that although underlying trauma often causes people to turn to substance use as a coping tool, the consequences of drug use can trigger new, compounding traumas such as housing and food insecurity, incarceration, watching friends die and lack of health care. She says in a perfect world, there would be housing first — “How do you get your life together when you don’t even have a place to sleep where you feel safe?” — and treatment on demand, not only when a person needs it but in the way that they need it. “Not everyone can take a month, two months off from life to recover,” she says.

Andrusz says true harm reduction would also make MAT more available and give people a place to go at the moment they’re seeking recovery. “Even with the primo health insurance that public employees receive in Dane County, there’s still a waiting period for medical recovery services,” she says. “Treatment on demand, even for the most ‘privileged,’ doesn’t exist.”

Olson-Streed says the pandemic has made all of this worse. People are more isolated, more desperate, managing more trauma. She says research has proven that the longer a person is engaged in treatment, the more success they will have — but nobody overcomes addiction without help, and the historical reliance on abstinence-based programs is no longer enough. “It’s a very complex issue, it’s a brain issue, and it’s not always a matter of, ‘Well, just go to these meetings for a couple hours every night after work and, when you feel you need to use, just grit your teeth and get through it,’ ” she says.

Still, while addiction is a chronic problem, people’s lowest points are only moments — moments Olson-Streed works to help them get past. “Whenever a person comes in and wants me to close the door of my office, I know I’m going to hear about something that is traumatic,” she says. “And the only thing I can do, other than refer them to resources, is just listen as a human being with another human being.”

Supporting Multiple Pathways to Recovery

Rebecka Crandall agrees that trauma is at the root of nearly all behavioral health challenges, including substance use disorder — and the trauma doesn’t stop with use itself and its consequences, but extends to formal systems, including treatment providers and jails.

“I think it would be helpful if the community and family members and treatment spaces recognized that treatment trauma is real and valid,” says Crandall, who serves as coordinator of the Hope Project, a program that provides comprehensive opioid treatment services for 50 woman-identifying individuals at no cost to them (made possible by a 2018 state grant). Of those 50 participants in 2021, 57% are people of color, 63% have housing insecurity, more than half receive or qualify for disability and 77% are justice-involved. Most, says Crandall, have some sort of negative experience with prior efforts at recovery but, with the tragic exception of two overdose deaths at the start of the pandemic, most Hope Project participants are still engaged in the program to varying degrees. The Hope Project is flexible, culturally sensitive and acknowledges “body, mind and spirit,” which means something different to each participant — and that’s OK.

“We’re not here to force healing on somebody or force abstinence or force change that they’re not ready to commit to, because that doesn’t work,” says Crandall. “If stigma and sanctioning people was an effective approach to substance use, we wouldn’t be where we are now in this mess.”

The Hope Project is housed within ARC Community Services, a nonprofit services agency operating residential, outpatient and intensive day treatment programs for women, transgender and nonbinary individuals, where counselors are certified in both mental health and addiction. Although ARC’s services are primarily abstinence-based, the Hope Project has no such parameters — and that’s key, says Skye Boughman, a licensed professional counselor who used to work at Safe Communities, where she founded the recovery coaching program; now she’s at ARC trying to combine traditional treatment models with the peer support concept. “It’s a way to bring the treatment system to the people as opposed to having the people have to get to the treatment system,” Boughman says.

That system, she says, remains difficult to access. Residential inpatient facilities are expensive and there still aren’t enough of them; people with insurance still face long waitlists because there aren’t enough beds. And although those with BadgerCare now can get treatment services at residential centers through Medicaid coverage for the first time ever, BadgerCare still doesn’t cover room and board — and the waitlists are even worse. “We’ve had people waiting for, like, eight months. People are dying on waitlists all the time,” Boughman says. There are other barriers, too, such as long intake processes or the requirement that participants not use any substances at all, from medical cannabis to treatments like Suboxone (the brand name for a combination medication containing buprenorphine and naloxone) and methadone. Boughman says that abstinence-only pathways are “incredibly valid” options for some people — but when they’re presented as the only option, too many people are excluded. “I think that abstinence-only models [can be] incredibly harmful to a lot of my community and have increased fatal overdoses across the board,” she says.

Fighting Stigma and Shame to End Overdose

Back at the overdose awareness rally at Olbrich Park, where Boughman and Crandall are handing out Hope Project brochures and those boxes of naloxone and fentanyl testing strips, Kraege is pulling her child in a wagon and Daniel is handing out medical lockboxes; the professional and personal feelings have blurred. The gathered crowd is the choir to which they already preach, and it’s a relief not to have to explain for just one night — to already speak a common language, however anguishing it may be.

“I tell my drug court participants that I’m not your judge,” Mitchell says. “I’m your reflection.”

Barrett, who has been milling through the crowd all night, listening to people talk and collecting naloxone to bring back to his deputies, says that the proposed consolidated jail project would include a medical ward that could make MAT possible. Right now, given the current, outdated facilities, the only treatments in use — nonaddictive, opiate-antagonist injections of naltrexone (brand name Vivitrol) administered prior to release — are not considered narcotics, so they are not subject to as rigorous a regulatory process as Suboxone and methadone would be. Additionally, the Vivitrol program is only available due to a federal grant that includes support from a nurse and social worker, but it is set to expire. In the two years since receiving the grant, Dane County Jail has administered 262 injections. This fall, Barrett also testified in support of Wisconsin Assembly Bill 317, which called for “[evaluating] the appropriateness of medication-assisted treatment” when people are convicted of operating while intoxicated.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of the issues that we have in society, like addiction and mental health,” Barrett says in a later phone call. “Our City-County Building was built in the 1950s, was designed at that time to do one thing, and that was to punish and to be harsh. We are no longer in that mindset in the criminal justice system. We are about rehabilitation and providing resources and programming to help reduce recidivism that leads to a reduction in crime rates, which leads to an increase in public safety. So that is the ultimate goal. We are here to help. We want to serve. But we need not only the funding; we need the resources to be able to do that and be successful.”

Former Wisconsin Badgers and NFL running back Montee Ball takes the mic. Ball, who is in long-term recovery from alcoholism and is now a certified peer recovery coach, tells of suddenly losing his lifelong best friend to an opioid overdose. “I had no idea he was even struggling with opioids. This guy, every single day, had a smile on his face,” Ball says, reiterating — as all of the speakers do, and as the faces of this crowd reflect — that addiction and overdose can happen to anyone. Any age, any race, any background, any gender, any socioeconomic status.

Tim Togstad approaches the microphone. “Three years ago yesterday, my stepson, Colin, died of an overdose. His flag is out there with so many others,” he says. There is no worse feeling, but Togstad has found some relief in the local chapter of GRASP — Grief Recovery After Substance Passing. He feels less alone, even though the monthly meetings have moved to virtual spaces like so many of the other support groups, recovery meetings and behavioral health appointments. It’s something that has made all of this so much harder — further isolating people at a time when they need connection most. Still, that connection makes a difference. “Grief must be witnessed to just help you move through it,” Togstad says. “Just to process everything that you’ve been through.”

Finally, it’s time for an observed moment of silence. Afterward, one of the Safe Communities certified peer specialist and recovery coaches, Kay Hauser, closes out the ceremony as organizers hand out candles.

“I can’t tell you why my name isn’t on one of these beautiful memorial flags,” Hauser says. “But I can tell you why I’m standing here at this event today: We do recover.”

One by one, candles in hand, crowd members disperse into the darkening night and begin a slow and final walk through the flags. When each finds the flag that brought them here, they place their candle at its base and release the grief. They take all the time they need.

Tonight is for remembering, for mourning.

Tomorrow, the work continues.

Dane County Experiencing Increase in Medical Emergencies for Alcohol Overconsumption, Substance Abuse

MADISON, Wis. — Dane County is seeing a significant increase in the number of medical emergencies related to alcohol overconsumption and substance abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic, a release said.

Between Feb. 1 and May 10 there was a 37.9% increase in ambulance calls for people with substance abuse emergencies in comparison to a year ago. There were 666 EMS calls in that time frame, which is 483 more from the same time period a year ago.

“These numbers highlight the countless layers of this global pandemic and its many pervasive impacts on families and our communities,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said. “As we focus on the health and financial well-being of our community, we must make sure people also know about resources like the Recovery Coach program run by Safe Communities to get people help and confront addiction.”

The report from Dane County Emergency Management found there were 18 days in the time period where there were 10 or more 911 calls per day for substance abuse.

“Whether its drugs or alcohol, we know these are challenging times for those who struggle with mental illness and addiction,” said Cheryl Wittke, director of the Safe Communities Coalition. “Our team of recovery coaches have lived experience and know what it’s like to feel hopeless and struggling, making them the perfect community resource right now to help get those who want to change their lives take the first steps toward getting help.”

Those looking to contact a Safe Communities recover coach should email referral@safercommunity.net or call (608)-228-1278.

Original Article: https://www.channel3000.com/dane-county-experiencing-increase-in-medical-emergencies-for-alcohol-overconsumption-substance-abuse/
By: Maija Inveiss

Heroin Addicts Talk of Life with Inner Demons

By Kevin Passon

Jewel Adams knows what it’s like to be in the grips of a monster.

“The disease of addiction is the worst illness that anyone can encounter,” said Adams, a certified recovery coach with Safe Communities. “Even though we put it on ourselves sometimes by not making wise choices … it’s like a monster. It only comes to kill, steal and destroy. It robbed me of everything that I ever had.”
Adams used some variety of drug for 35 of her nearly 57 years. The mother of seven, who had all her children taken away from her, has been in recovery the past 14 years.

“I thank God today for giving me a second life,” she said. “Today I know that there’s nothing going on in this world that a drink or drug won’t make worse.”

Adams was one of the recovering addicts and family members of addicts who spoke at a gathering Saturday at the Fireman’s Park shelter in Monona. The Enough is Enough event was organized by Tayler Allen-Pahmeier, who attended Monona Grove High School a decade ago.

Allen-Pahmeier’s older sister, Monique Allen, died Sept. 12, 2017, of a heroin overdose.

“My sister struggled with addiction with heroin for four years,” she said. “It didn’t just affect Monique. It affected me, it affected my mom, it affected my stepdad, my stepmom, and the way that it spirals is just unbelievable. I had every hope that she would beat it, but she didn’t. She left her three kids behind as well. I think that’s the hardest part for my family to deal with, not being able to have that relationship like we did before with those kids.”

Saturday’s event was aimed at raising awareness of the resources available to addicts and their family members who need help. She partnered with Safe Communities for the event.

Allen-Pahmeier’s mother and stepfather lived in Arizona for 16 years and were planning to move back to Wisconsin. The day they sold the house, they received the news of Allen’s death.

“We were doing everything we could to get her into rehab,” Allen-Pahmeier said. “She had been into treatment before, she had been through detox. She had gone to my mom’s house in Arizona to get clean, and that demon was stronger than she was.”

Kelly Pietsch said she struggles with the guilt of not being there for her daughter and for not comprehending what she was going through with her addiction.
“My daughter was a little spitfire. She had a wonderful life. She had three children that she loved more than life, and heroin just took it,” Pietsch said. “The three children have been separated, and unfortunately, we are only allowed to see one of them, so I have two grandchildren that I can’t even see.

“I still have so much guilt, because I wasn’t here for her. I didn’t understand heroin and everything like I do now, and I wish she could come back just for a minute so I could apologize and just tell her how sorry I am that I didn’t understand. I said some things to her, that if she loved her kids, she would just stop. In my mind, it was that easy.”

Several others shared their stories of becoming beholden to heroin and their recovery efforts. None of them said it was easy.
Lindsay Mohrbacher, a one-time registered nurse, started on her road to heroin addiction after being prescribed pain medication. She was happily married, lived in a nice house and had a good job. But it wasn’t enough.

“Long story short, I ended up stealing drugs from the hospital,” she said.

Facing criminal charges, her life started to spin out of control.
“When I no longer had access (to the pills), I turned to heroin,” Mohrbacher said. “Just like we have to breathe, I had to have those drugs. It’s a disease, and you’re sick.”

Alcohol was next, and it, too, ruined her life. It was easier to get, and it was legal.
Sober for more than year, Mohrbacher still battles her demons every day, but like the light shining through a stained glass window, she keeps focused one day at a time.
“If you’re in a cathedral or church, and you see just a few glimpses of light coming through, it’s still dark and dreary but that few glimpses of light, you can focus on that, because more light will come through if you keep going,” she said.

Adams understands what Mohrbacher was going through during her darkest times.
“When we use drugs, it affects everyone around us, our kids, our mom, our dad, our significant others, our neighbors. I was that addict that did everything,” Adams said. “When they took my kids, I was like, ‘Everything is mine.’”

She said recovery is possible if you give yourself a chance. She was in treatment seven times before she made it to where she is today. If you fall seven times, you have to get up eight times, she said.

“Never stop trying,” Adams said. “Recovery is possible, and it’s real. It’s the best life that you can live after using drugs and alcohol.”

Moving the Needle on Addiction

MADISON, Wis. — This past weekend, Safe Communities held a Recovery and Hope Town Hall Meeting.

Despite being after the fact, we want to take this opportunity to reflect on the extraordinary accomplishments Safe Communities has achieved in raising public awareness and effecting policy changes and health outcomes in opioid addiction. Communities around the country are struggling mightily with this issue and you’d be hard pressed to find a program as successful as this one.

Over 18 tons of unused medicines have been collected in six years. All Dane County EMS agencies and most police departments are equipped to administer life-saving naloxone. The Parent Addiction Network was founded to support families facing addiction.

The Comprehensive Community Services program was launched, as was the Madison Addiction Recovery Initiative. Ninety percent of people treated for overdose and connected with ED to Recovery are enrolling in treatment. There’s an online directory of landlords and employers welcoming people to recovery – and so much more.

Safe Communities is terrific and it works.

Original Article: https://www.channel3000.com/editorial-safe-communities-moving-the-needle-on-addiction/
By: Neil Heinen

Surgeon General recommends Expanding Naloxone Access

MADISON, Wis. — The surgeon general announced Thursday that he encourages people to carry a drug that revives victims of overdoses.

Dr. Jerome Adams made a statement today saying family members of those at risk of overdose should carry naloxone, a drug that combats the effects of opioid.
The drug, also called Narcan or Evzio, is already carried by emergency responders. Efforts are underway to make the drug more available.

Cheryl Wittke, of Safe Communities Madison-Dane County, said she agrees with the surgeon general’s statement.

“You know family members. If you got any concern about a family member who is dealing with an opioid addiction, really, we encourage everybody to have it. We have trainings through the Parent Addiction Network where family members, anybody can come to a quarterly training that we offer with AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin to get naloxone and be trained on how to use it. So really, yes, everybody should have it,” Wittke said.

According to Wittke, overdose deaths often occur when a family member who could have administered naloxone, is in the next room.
The number of opioid overdose deaths has doubled since 2010. The announcement from the surgeon general shows the extent of the opioid crisis.
The advisory considers those at risk for overdose as individuals who take opioid prescriptions for pain and those abusing opioid drugs, including heroin.

Original Article: https://www.channel3000.com/surgeon-general-recommends-expanding-naloxone-access/

How the Opioid Epidemic is Impacting the Workplace

The opioid epidemic has become a serious problem in the United States, impacting every demographic segment of the population. Employers are on the front line of this problem, both because of the impact employees with opioid addiction can have on workplace safety and because these addictions can begin with prescriptions for work-related injuries. The Milwaukee Business Journal recently assembled a panel of experts to explore what companies – large and small – need to know about the opioid epidemic and the role they can play in mitigating its impact.


LAURIE GREENLEES (Moderator): How serious of a challenge for society is opioid addiction, and how does it compare to other addiction challenges the nation has faced or currently faces?

MICHAEL MILLER: Addiction has been affecting workers and workplaces for a very long time. Alcohol has been a perennial problem. There were methamphetamines in the 1970s and the cocaine epidemic of the late 1980s and 1990s. The opioid epidemic is grabbing everyone’s attention today because of the overdose deaths. Alcohol kills, too, but it’s not as sudden – it can take decades.

KEVIN HILDEBRANDT: That is a very good point. Opioids are definitely a concern, but alcohol and other types of addictions are very prevalent.

JIM MUELLER: Drug addiction is costing us $80 billion annually in medical care, addiction treatment and lost productivity. There were 63,632 drug overdose deaths in 2016, with two thirds of those deaths opioid-related. To put that in context, the Foxconn deal was $3 billion and that was considered a really big deal and the 9/11 terrorist attacks killed about 3,000 people. We’re losing 63,000 Americans to drug overdoses every year. If those were war casualties, it would be front-page news and on all of the networks daily. It’s a very serious problem.


GREENLEES: How is it impacting employers?

HILDEBRANDT: It directly affects employers in terms of safety issues, productivity and lost work time. It can also have an indirect impact if the addiction is in the employee’s family. They’re distracted because their mind is on their loved one. I don’t know how big an issue it is nationally, but I know what I see and it’s frightening. There’s a young guy at work whose sister is addicted and there’s an older person whose son is addicted. It is hard for me to believe, but it’s true.

MILLER: Another problem is presenteeism, which is when an employee shows up to work, but is not productive. They may be hung over, in withdrawal or under the influence. They may be distracted because of a family member’s addiction. That impacts productivity, and can lead to workplace errors and injuries.

HILDEBRANDT: It can be very difficult for an employer to help when it is an employee’s family member who is addicted. You can tell something is wrong because the employee is distracted, but it is very difficult to understand how you can help.

MILLER: That’s why employee assistance programs (EAPs) are so important. They let people get help confidentially.

MUELLER: Drug problems are an especially big problem for employees right now because there is such a supply and demand issue for workers. Employers’ priorities change over time. Ten years ago it was health care. Right now it is hiring and retention. I also think opioid addiction is a big workplace safety issue. Not only for the worker, but for the people around them. I think the impact of drug problems on workplace safety is going to be fertile ground for legal liability in the future, especially for employers who are not proactive in this space.


GREENLEES: From an employment perspective, is opioid addiction more or less of a problem than other addictions?

HILDEBRANDT: I would go back to some of the comments Dr. Miller made. The addiction problem is probably more pronounced when you look at alcohol or tobacco, but opioid addiction is more impactful from a perception standpoint.

MILLER: One of the challenges with opioid addiction is that there is such a significant overlap with the chronic pain population. It is very difficult to get those suffering from chronic pain back to work at a functional level after an injury. It really requires two different approaches. One is effective pain management and the other is addiction treatment, if necessary.

HILDEBRANDT: When someone who has an addiction problem is injured, the time it takes to get them back to work is extended. It’s even more challenging if it is an opioid addiction. It definitely extends the recovery time.

MUELLER: I would make two points here. The first point is that when it comes to addictions involving alcohol or tobacco, the solution is to eliminate the person’s need for those substances. When it comes to opioids, however, there is often an underlying issue related to pain. The cure needs to focus on returning the person to functionality, not eliminating the pain, and that requires a different type of treatment. The second point is that, unlike other addictions, opioid addiction often starts in the medicine cabinet. One study found that 54 percent of the time, the drug comes from a friend or relative. I have pain, you have medication. And, 82 percent of the time, that friend or relative obtained it from a physician.

MILLER: The pills may be given to them by a friend or relative or they may be stolen from the medicine cabinet. People with a 30-day supply of opioids for acute pain typically use three to five days’ worth, which means they have up to 27 days’ worth of supply sitting in the medicine cabinet. That’s why there’s been a major public health strategy to focus on safe medication storage and disposal. You shouldn’t keep extra prescription pills around. You need to take them to a designated medication drop location.

MUELLER: I agree. There are a lot of people who don’t realize that there are drug drops in Walgreens and most other pharmacies where you can dispose of your unused prescriptions.


GREENLEES: Many employers think they are inoculated from the opioid problem because they have drug screening programs in place. Is that an accurate assessment?

HILDEBRANDT: There are ways to beat drug tests so it is a question of what type of drug testing program you have, how effective it is and how representative it is of what is going on in your workplace. And the goal should not be to “catch” people, but to identify and help people so that you can have a safe and healthy workforce.

MILLER: There’s a tremendous misunderstanding when it comes to drug testing, which is that employment-based drug testing will detect people who are taking pain pills. Often, it won’t. The test looks for opiates – codeine, morphine, heroin and other substances that come from opium itself. Pain pills like OxyContin, hydrocodone and methadone are synthetic drugs. They are opioids, not opiates, and they are not detected by the common, commercially available drug-screening tests.


GREENLEES: What are the most effective treatment options for opioid addiction?

MILLER: The treatment for opioid addiction is unique in that medications play a key role. The medications are extremely important for improving outcomes because they block the opioid receptors, making it difficult for the drug to work. That creates a new issue, however, because the counselors who are on the front line of therapy cannot prescribe medications. You need to have licensed prescribers, which is why we are working to get primary care physicians more involved in treating opioid addiction.

MUELLER: An important issue is early identification, which can be a problem in our current, production-based health system where primary care physicians need to see 38 or so patients per day. You need to spend time with patients to identify this issue.

MILLER: Early identification is critical, and the best places are often in the workplace or schools. You want to get the problem identified – whether it is alcohol, cocaine, opioids or methamphetamines – before physical health and functionality are impaired.



GREENLEES: What role can employers play in reducing the opioid challenge? What programs and/or policies do you think we should have in place?

HILDEBRANDT: There are three or four different things. First, they have to be open to the concept that the addiction problem exists and that it is counterproductive to their organization. That starts the conversation. Reasonable suspicion training, which helps supervisors detect signs and symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse, can have a significant impact on early identification. The next component is having a robust drug testing program. Without that, you are not doing anything. The final component is being committed to helping employees by pointing them in the right direction and being accommodating to that EAP process. You do those things and you will have an impact. The worst thing an employer can do is nothing, because they will just be letting their problems compound.

MUELLER: The best practice I know of is QuadGraphics. They have an education program that involves all of their members – all of their employees, their families and their other dependents. You have to reach out to everyone.


GREENLEES: What would you say to employers who forego drug testing due to their concerns about finding a sufficient number of drug-free workers in a highly competitive job market?

MILLER: I can’t imagine a more misguided decision than to forego pre-employment drug testing. All you are doing is hiring people you don’t know anything about.

HILDEBRANDT: Drug testing can play a critical role in both weeding out job applicants and in helping employees. If you have a good employee who has an addiction problem, imagine how great they could be if they had a clear mind. Unions also play an important role. They can have just as much impact as employers on educating and influencing employees. Unfortunately, some people in union leadership do not want to address the issue.

MUELLER: A lot depends on the size of the employer. Small employers are at a significant disadvantage due to the time and financial commitment of a drug program. They do not have the ability to hire someone like Kevin with his expertise and focus. Drug testing alone can be a burden. For larger employers, it is a matter of priority and culture. When it comes to drug programs, about 20 percent of large employers are proactive, 20 percent are reactive and 60 percent are passive. Action is recommended, obviously. You have to know who you are hiring and you want to be able to identify and help your existing employees with robust EAP programs that provide counseling and treatment. Those programs that can really make a difference. Unfortunately, too many employers look at their EAP programs as a checkbox, something they have as part of their long-term disability coverage. It offers three consultations, period.

MILLER: I agree. EAPs can be a major part of solution, but they have to be high quality. They cannot be window dressing.


GREENLEES: What steps can employers take to increase awareness of EAP benefits?

HILDEBRANDT: You can treat it the same way you treat your retirement planning. Make them aware of it. You can also encourage employees to guide employees to an EAP instead of turning a blind eye.

GREENLEES: The Legislature is reportedly looking at the opioid challenge as part of a broader look at workers compensation issues in the state. What role can employers have in minimizing opioid prescriptions as a form of pain management for workers compensation claims?

HILDEBRANDT: One thing that I think can be done is for the employer to work with health care providers, workers and insurers. The communication has to be very effective and open. Employers can also do a better job of early detection using reasonable suspicion training programs and by working with insurers and providers to identify individuals who may be going from emergency room to emergency room in search of prescription drugs.

MUELLER: You have to look at the problem holistically and comprehensively. You need to have drug testing for opioids, which is beyond the regular five panel tests. You need to have education at the supervisor level, the employee level and the dependent level. You need to have good communication with your workers comp carrier. You also need to have access to treatment and to EAPs that have some depth to them.

MILLER: A lot of this work falls on the health care system. Educating and training doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe differently is really key. Benefit structures are also important. Current benefit designs incentivize the use of injections, nerve blocks and other types of interventional pain management. Unfortunately many insurers won’t pay for comprehensive pain treatment that uses counselors, physical therapists, massage therapists and alternative medicine. The same is true for pharmacy benefits, which incentivize the 30-day supplies that can be problematic when it comes to opioids. What if you had a plan design that had no copay for a five-day supply and the usual copay for a 30-day supply? That change would incentivize a safer prescribing process for opioids.

MUELLER: I agree. Acupuncture and alternative pain treatments are becoming more popular, but are still not frequently prescribed. We need to be trying different methods of treatments beyond prescriptions.

HILDEBRANDT: You need an aggressive post-injury, return-to-work policy where the person is not allowed to fall out of the work cycle. You need to get them back to work as soon as you can. When people stay away from work, they go backward. The sooner they get back to work, the better they are for themselves and society.



Laurie Greenlees, MBA, PHR, SHRM-CP

  • Human Resource Business Advisor Manager and HR Hotline, MRA
  • Laurie is a certified Professional Human Resources manager with expertise in talent management, employee relations and engagement, compliance and best practices in FMLA and ADA administration and leadership development. As manager of MRA’s 24/7 HR Hotline, Laurie and her team of professional HR Advisors answer questions regarding the opioid crisis and its impact on area workplaces.

Kevin Hildebrandt

  • Director of Risk Management, Miron Construction Co., Inc.
  • Kevin provides support for Miron’s field operations, enhancing production while controlling risk for employees as well as customers, their facilities and equipment, and the public. He supervises the safe operation of all Miron equipment, and serves as the lead instructor for Miron’s professional crane operator development program.

Michael Miller, MD, DFASAM, DLFAPA

  • Medical Director, Herrington Recovery Center at Rogers Behavioral Health
  • Dr. Miller is a board-certified general psychiatrist and addiction psychiatrist. He has practiced for more than 30 years, and is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the APA and ASAM, as well as at-large director of the ABAM. He serves as a faculty member for the Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship and the Addiction Medicine Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Jim Mueller

  • Owner, Mueller QAAS
  • Jim has more than 30 years of employee benefit experience serving as president of Frank F. Haack & Associates and Zywave, one of the largest technology companies in the metro Milwaukee area. Jim helped Frank F. Haack & Associates grow into the largest benefit broker/consultant in Wisconsin and a top 70 brokerage firm nationally. He is now committed to providing employers objective advice on their employee benefit programs through Mueller QAAS.



Original Article: https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/feature/table-of-experts/the-pain-pill-problem-how-the-opioid-epidemic-is.html

My Daughter is an Opiate Addict

Hi my name is Nancy and my daughter is an opiate addict.

When I was 19 years old I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. She was a wonderful child, a straight-A student, and very sweet. She blossomed into a beautiful young lady, finished school, went to college for a little while then got a really good job and her own place.

Things were going great and then she got a cyst on her ovary that was very painful, I took her to the ER one day because the pain was unbearable for her, the doctor in the ER wrote her a script for Vicodin. She was 18, little did I know that our lives were about to change.

In the mean time she had been dating a nice young boy (so I thought), and they decided to move in together. They went and put a deposit down on an apartment. Well the day before they were supposed to move in together she found out that he had been cheating on her for about six months. She was devastated. This was her first love. He begged for her forgiveness but she just couldn’t trust him so she broke it off. I was there for her and was her shoulder to cry on.

A couple months went by and I thought she was okay, but then she lost her job, then her apartment, and had to move back home. That’s when I really started noticing a big change in her. She slept most of the day and was not motivated at all, she wasn’t taking care of herself, she lost weight, her physical appearance changed, she didn’t care about fixing her hair or wearing make up like she always did before, and she would even go for days wearing the same clothes.

So I started looking through her stuff and found the bottle of pills, it wasn’t vicodin, it was oxycodone. She had found another doctor to prescribe them. I called the doctor and told them that she didn’t need them anymore because she no longer had the cyst on her ovary. Well that didn’t stop her she found a way to get more and at one point she was taking morphine and oxycontin. We put her in rehab and it didn’t work. So then she came home one day with this book that had the word Methadone on it, I had never heard of it and I asked her what it was. She said its something to help me get off of the pills and I am going to start going to the methadone clinic. To me it sounded great and also to her. But little did I know how awful it would become.

The methadone wasn’t a good thing, apparently they put her on a really high dose to begin with, she would come back from the clinic and almost immediately start nodding off, she could hardly function, it was awful — she would nod off in the middle of eating a meal at the kitchen table and she burned several hole in the chair she sat in downstairs where she smoked cigarettes. I had two young children in the house also and I became concerned that she would start a fire. My husband and I told her to get off of the methadone but she wouldn’t, she said she had to wean off of it but she never did. We could no longer take her behavior and asked her to find another place to live. She was about 20 at that time.

She tried moving in with her real dad but he slowly caught on and could also not handle her behavior. She then moved in with someone she met at the methadone clinic and she became very distant from the family, and would not even try to visit or even come to family get-togethers. She even missed holidays sometimes and when she did come for holidays she would be passed out most of the time.

We were all very sad and didn’t know what to do for her. She did not have a job for 3 years because she couldn’t even function normally. So then she met someone, a guy that became her boyfriend of three years, he was somehow able to talk her into getting off the methadone.

There is Hope for Anyone

I guess my story starts in a shack down on the river over 50 years ago.

My father bought this house with land for $500. I remember if you dropped something you had to hurry and catch it otherwise it would fall through the cracks in the floors. I remember many mornings waking up with the sun hitting me in the eyes where it was shining through the cracks in the walls. I remember several times snakes getting in the house or trying to get in the house. I remember mother fighting a huge rattlesnake one night with a shovel that was coming in.

Until I was in my late teens, almost nightly, I had nightmares snakes were all over my bed. I would lay in the bed and stare at the ceiling afraid to move my head because I was convinced that they were on the bed. Sometimes mother would come in and reassure me. I had sleeping issues because of this for years. We had no water and we had no plumbing and we had no bathroom. We had an old wood heater in the living room that was used to heat the house and boil water on.

My parents were orphans. We were very poor. It wasn’t like it is now days when you had some family member you could get money from if you needed something. Back then if we didn’t have it we didn’t get it. And it was often we didn’t have it. I remember every year before school started I would get 3 new pair of pants and one new pair of shoes. If I tore them up I wore them anyway. One time the first time I wore a pair to school I tore the knee out. My mother cried and cried. Then she ironed some patches on and I wore them rest of the year. By the time school was out everything I had was covered in those iron on patches. I remember many times wearing the bottoms out of my shoes and put socks in the bottom and tape patched around it. Mother did the best she could to keep as fed and clothed and she sewed a lot of my clothes but we still went out dressed in torn and ripped up clothes and shoes.

All the way up to the age of 14 I really have no memories of my childhood at all except for negative times.  We had a wood burning stove in the living room that we boiled water on to put in a bath tub that we had in the kitchen and we pour that water in the bathtub and that’s where we would take our bath. I remember I was a few years old four maybe five mother was boiling water for a bath She was getting ready to remove the water from the heater and she turned around and my brother had walked up to her and she spilled the tub of boiling water on my brother. I was too young to know what was going on. But I knew it was bad. I knew he stayed gone from home a long time. I knew they had a big celebration the day they brought him home on a pillow from the hospital sitting on a pillow. I know now he almost died. We to this day have never talked of this again. Our family stuffed things and never talked about them. We did not tell each other we loved them.

The next memory I have I guess is I had an aunt Mary that I love dearly. She would spend so much time with me. She would be so good to me and always had a smile on her face. I would go to her house and stay. I remember the day me and mother was in the living room when I got the call that at 26 years old Mary had died. I was devastated. It was such a sad time.

I guess the next thing I remember is the day we got the call or saw on TV that John F Kennedy had been shot. My mother cried and cried and cried. I didn’t understand but I knew it was bad. Remember it like it was yesterday.

I remember the night it was getting dark and it was snowing really, really hard outside. Thundering and lightning.  My dad hadn’t came home from work yet. Lightning struck the transformer out in the front and it caught on fire. And the power went out. I remember mother praying for Daddy to come home. And crying and crying. And he didn’t come. I was actually a little while later before he came home. 3 or 4 days.

Daddy had a drinking problem. Lots of times he didn’t make it home from work. Him and mother fought often. I remember the fights. The yelling and hollering . Mother throwing thing at him. He would always leave.  Mother most always wound up crying.

Daddy was always disciplining us. He would go out to the big bush out front and look for a limb that would be the size of his thumb. He would make us watch him strip it down with his pocket knife. Sometimes I would bleed. Sometimes mother would come out begging him to quit. All the teachers at school knew Daddy. They would go by his place of employment on their way home from school. I was constantly getting threatened that they were going to stop and tell my Daddy whatever they didn’t like.  A few times they did. I would get a beating.  If somebody told daddy I did something I got a beating whether I did it or not. Mother did this too. She would threaten us the same way. Me being the oldest I always got it worse. I never thought anybody knew. Thinking back now I think they all knew. This is why my aunts always getting me to stay with them.

The only positive thing I remember of my childhood was my playing sports. I was a good baseball player. I made All-Stars every year I ever played. I remember the most important thing to my Daddy every year was making sure I got registered to play ball. And the most devastating thing I remember is that he did not come to the games. My mother always had to find a way for me to get there.

This is pretty much the story of my childhood. It was not that great. I remember no happy times. I was always alone. I would play from daylight to dark by myself. l would walk miles and miles back in the woods. I would leave out in the morning and come home near dark. I loved those woods. We had a field by us that was always covered in sage grass. On cold sunny days I would make me a place to lay down and just lay there for hours and daydream. I could always entertain myself.

I got a job pumping gas after school and on weekends at 12.  When I was about 14 or 15 years old I had managed to work at the store after school long enough to get me money to buy me a motorcycle. I rode that motorcycle everywhere. Then shortly thereafter my parents decided to move. I was going to be uprooted and have to go to a new school. For some reason I was terrified of this. I think it was my super shyness. Up until my late teens I could hardly look at people face to face because of my shyness. It played a huge roll in my education.  I would take an F before I spoke out in class.  My mother and Daddy somehow another figured it out that I could ride my motorcycle to the old school and work after school and come home. This was probably one of the worst mistakes of my life. I had absolutely no structure. I could do whatever I wanted to. And had nobody to answer to. None of the other kids had this.

But it was at this same time I got introduced to drugs. Back then you went so far up in the woods to do drugs that you’d be lucky if you could get out. You clean your car out after. Everybody would get out of the car and clean and wipe and wash it down. Not like it is now a days. I enjoyed doing drugs. A lot. It gave me a sense of security. I would come out of my shell I had always been in. No more shyness. I was bulletproof.  But I couldn’t figure out how to get as much as I wanted. Then as I worked at the store I finally realize pumping gas that I could pay for some of the gas and I could put some of the gas money in my pocket. And oddly enough nobody ever caught on. I kept getting more and more and more gas money. It wasn’t long I could afford all the drugs I want it. I had friends from everywhere. At my age (16) to be able to get all these drugs I was a super friend. People wanted to be around me. The older kids looked for me. I loved it. I was a big dog.

During these early years I kept my drug use in check. I just enjoyed the party. It wasn’t the drugs, it was the party atmosphere. I did this for the next 19 years. I would go to school and I would have drugs and alcohol with me in class. Numerous times I passed out in class. And nobody ever once mentioned I had a problem or try to help me. They let me do whatever I wanted to do. That has been the story of my life. I still managed to graduate with an advanced academic diploma and putting absolutely zero effort in. I never dated in school. Scared to death of thinking I wasn’t good enough for the girls.  I was poor and none of them were poor. I had a teacher tell me she had a girl that wanted to go to the prom with me and if I would go she would give me an A. When she told me who I remember trembling. No way she would go with me. She chased me for a long time but I wasn’t about to get caught.

After I got out of school I ran away from home. Got an apartment with my cousin. Didn’t see my family for 6 months. I ran wild during this time. Met a girl and got involved. We broke up after a few months. Got a call at work one day from her Daddy telling me she was pregnant. He lived in Arkansas. I said no way that is mine. I was scared to death. Disrespected her. She was on the other line. I remember her breaking down crying and they hung up. I came to know I had a son I have never met. But my heart longs so much to know. I have searched for info on them for years and years. It was like they disappeared. I have recently became aware they were right here all the time. I even found a picture. Very emotional situation that I just have to stay out of.

Shortly after this I met my first wife  and we got married and had a beautiful daughter. But I was never at home to see my daughter grow up. I had to party every night. The more I did it the more and more serious it got. After 10 years my wife and I finally had enough and she left me. I was devastated. I was crushed. It took me 2 years to get over this. I never really had anybody to turn to for help. Always knew I needed help. Numerous times i would cry out for help. I hated myself. I was miserable. I didn’t have anybody to help me. All I ever got was you just got to quit. I would sometimes be high and sit by myself and cry for hours.

I only ever had three friends in my life. We were all a team. My first friend I met when we moved to Adamsville. I was big and he was little. I don’t think he was even 5′ tall. We were a team. We did everything together. But was a serious diabetic. His doctors kept telling him he had to quit the partying or he would die. He would try but I wouldn’t let him. I would come by partying all the time. He would tell me no and I would be there the next day. He always caved in to me. I don’t know how much what I did had to do with his death or not. It wasn’t long he was in a diabetic coma and died. I did not even go to the funeral. Off being high.

I had another friend on the team that I was super close to. We did everything together too. But for some reason he idolized me. He went in the service and had to go to Korea. On his trips home he could only bring a few things with him. He always brought things for me. And we would party til he left. He would have done anything in the world for me. He would give his life for me. I had a girlfriend at this time and I wasn’t treating her very good. We would drink together and party together. That’s about it. One night him and her had a conversation about something and I was drunk and acted up and got stupid and threatened him. We had never had a disagreement in our life. We didn’t speak for a little while by the end of the week he had committed suicide. To this day I still think it’s my fault. And again I was too sorry to go to the funeral.

The other friend was just as close. We had a disagreement over drugs. It lasted a while. He began telling people he wanted to fight me. I loved him. I didn’t want to fight him. One night a group of us were hanging out in a parking lot by the service station. He pulled up to get gas. He walked in the store and back out to his car starring at me the whole way. After he left my buddies started ribbing me. I was high. So I was like ok. I called and told him if he wanted to fight come back. He came sliding in the parking lot sideways. Jumped out and we went to fighting. I beat him so bad he stayed in the hospital for a long time. To this day I will have spells of extreme guilt over this. I can’t let it go.

And to make matters worse I was getting help for drugs. I would go to meetings. I had heard he had gotten on crack real bad. One night at a meeting he came walking in. He saw me and left. I never saw him at a meeting again. I might have caused him the chance he needed to get clean.

These were my friends and we were a team and they were gone. I have never made friends with a man since. After this my partying got out of control. It got really bad. You might be able to find me at a bar in any state in the southeast. With anybody. And by myself. I remember one night in Pratt City several of us were partying and one for the guys just dropped to the floor. We dragged him over to the corner and forgot about him. People came and went. Later somebody came in and said they thought he was dead. Sure enough he was. We flew out of there.

I remember one night in desperation stopping at an abandoned service station and getting some old rusty water to use to shoot up. I mean this water was nasty. I remember the night me and my friend got ripped off on some coke at a crack house. We were high and got angry. We went and got his truck and a shotgun. We were going back. He pulled up. Put it in reverse. Went flying up the driveway backwards. Hit the porch so hard it about knocked the house off its base. I jumped out with the shotgun on the porch. A guy stepped out wondering what happened and I busted him in the face with the shotgun. We we’re in a rage. We took over the shot house with about 15 people in it. 2 white boys took over a shot house and lived. We were going to load up their jukebox. The guy begged us not to take it. Said he would get killed. We told him to make it right or we were taking it. He did. About a year later I ran into him and a few of his buddies in a hamburger joint. I thought I was in deep trouble. He laughed at me and shook my hand. Told his buddies here’s that crazy white MF I told you all about. We ended up doing drugs outside in the parking lot.

I have been shot at on 3 occasions. I have shot at on 2 occasions. I was in a house in Airport Hills one night and a guy came in with a machine gun. He didn’t say anything. A few people spoke to him but he just turned and walked off. Pacing the floor. A little later he stepped outside and I asked one of the guys what was wrong with him. He said he don’t like it because you are here. He wants to kill you. Don’t say anything to him. I said ok.

I was probably one of the only few people to ever pull a drug heist at the county sheriff’s office property room. I had bought some high dollar stereo equipment that was stolen. I got turned in and they came out and confiscated it. They also took my personal speakers too. I decided after a while to see if I could get mine back. They said sure. Later on I stopped by to get them. Nobody was there. I went back later and still nobody was there. Finally I got somebody {these were all detectives}. He said you will have to come back and show them to me. They probably aren’t marked. So we went back and I was in awe looking at all the drugs and guns and stuff. I picked out my speakers and left. But I had made notes. Several trips, nobody there, and it wasn’t locked. Me and my little buddy started talking. We would be high and ride by there. Sit and stake it out. I said this will be easy. Still couldn’t find the nerve. Finally one day night I did. We watched it for hours. Nobody was there. Finally a guy came in. Stayed about 5 minutes and left. I said ok, here goes. I snuck up through the bushes. Adrenaline through the roof. Paused for a while. Finally I went to t he door. It opened and I was in. Walked to the room and turned the knob. It opened. I grabbed a bag and hit the door. Turned out it had over 5 pounds of pot in it. Never heard a word from it. Considered  it again many times but never got the nerve again.

I had people many times when I was high tell me I looked like the devil. Probably over 10 times. Strangers. I didn’t look like the devil, I was possessed by the devil. I remember my mother telling of how I would be back there asleep and she could feel the demons outside my window trying to get in to me. She wanted so bad to protect me.

I was excellent in total darkness. Late at night. Alone.  Operated like a ghost in the night. I needed the rush. The adrenaline.  The action. The high.

Drug use starts out fun and exciting.  It does not end that way. It ends lonely . Very lonely. The friends are gone. Nobody wants to party with you anymore.  They see you coming and turn away.

I have been in hundreds of bad situations. Hundreds and hundreds really. Bars, dope houses. Usually always by myself. I have never received a scratch.  Never received a punch or a threat. God had a plan.

I was like the song I was on the highway to hell. I know I was on the highway to hell. More than once I wound up In different states Not knowing how I got there and who I got there with. Sometime I even missed days at a time that I was blacked out and don’t know where and what I was doing. I stayed in trouble all the time. I counted one time and it best I can remember got arrested 14x. I can’t tell all of the things I have done for respect for some and  might be dangerous to me to reveal. If you say I wonder if he ever did this. I will claim it. The last time I got arrested they threatened to put me in prison for 15 years because of my accumulated arrests. I chose to go to drug treatment. At the time I didn’t recognize it but it would be a turning point in my life.

I was very very angry when I first went again. I hated the world and I want out. But after a couple weeks Something changed. I actually found out what food tasted like again. Gained some weight. I sat in meetings or therapy and never spoke. One day after several weeks I got called out. He said I want you to talk for 5 minutes. You don’t say anything.  Just give me 5 minutes. I talked for 45 minutes.  I said you know what I don’t want do this no more. I started listening and paying attention. I made a decision to clean my life out. I walked off my job. I got rid of every friend I had. I went home to my family and sat right there with my family until I was safe. My first real rock bottom. But the pain was enough that I had all I could take.

Just before I went in treatment I went out with a girl a few times. Realized I did not like her. Told her no more. As I was getting out of treatment I was informed she was pregnant. I was alone in the world and so lost. No clue where to go or what to do. No plan. No purpose. I said ok I will try this. She had had a miscarriage. Did not tell me.  I still thought she was pregnant. So she was pregnant again before I found out about the miscarriage.  I was furious. I walked out. Didn’t see her again until the day of birth. I showed up at the hospital.  I had a beautiful daughter.  I made a commitment right then to do what I could for her.  I tried to make it work for my daughter but it wasn’t happening. I did not like her mom. I always gave child support and never missed my visitations but her mother was determined to keep me away. I had to carry her to court 5 times over not giving me visitation. I never missed a penny of my support though. I went one time over a year and a half and  two Christmas holidays before I could get her in court. Finally after the 5th time the judge told us to sit down and for me to decide if she was going home or 30 days in jail. It was my decision. She would have sent me to the electric chair for 90 days, but I could not have her locked up. I sent her home. And she never interfered with my visitation again. But by now damage was already done.

So this was how my life after drugs started. I was still lonely and lost. I had to learn how to live. I knew nothing about how to live. I made a vow to God if he would just deliver me from these drugs there was a list of things i would never do again. And I held true to my vow. And he delivered me.

All my adult life I always thought how miserable it must be living clean. But it was better than the pain. So I hung in. Started noticing things like the smell of fresh air and the beauty of flowers. I started going to NA meetings. I found a home here that was crucial to my recovery. About my 3rd meeting I was out back smoking and my treatment counselor came by. She asked me if I wanted to go get coffee. I said sure. It started a sick relationship for about 3 months. It was a mess. Finally I walked off. About 3 or 4 months later I saw a nurse from the treatment center. She said you’re the one who was in the controversy wasn’t you? I said not that I know of. Seems it was a big to do for a counselor to take a patient.  She had got fired and a mess stirred up.

Seems I was always in something no matter how hard I tried. I finally met another counselor at a meeting and we had an 8 year relationship. It was sick as could be but it kept me clean. And for the most part happy. And most important uneventful.

We got along fine but we had serious issues. I did not know how to be in a relationship.  I had never knew of a healthy relationship.  I did not know anything. I had to learn how to love unconditionally . Feelings were there and I did not like it. I did not know what to do. Issues attract issues. She suffered from anorexia and slashing. We went for a while at the end without being intimate.

I walked by the bathroom one day and the door was opened. She had cut herself from head to waist.  Probably a hundred cuts. Might have weighed 80 pounds. I was shocked. I had never saw that and did not understand it. A few days later her dad came in. Hugged my neck and said she wanted a divorce and he was loading up her stuff. Said she had to get help. We never spoke again. I do know this relationship taught me much and set the stage for me to be much better in what I hope is my final relationship.

After this I started drinking again. Not heavy but drinking. I was always a quality pool shooter and won many tournaments. So I started hanging out in bars and shooting pool. It actually wasn’t out of control and was kind of fun. I was getting ready to shoot a tournament one night and the bartender had invited her friend in. I was mesmerized. The most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I knew she was the one.

We were married about 6 months later. She changed my life. We soon quit the drinking. Started church. My goals were to please her and make her happy. She was all I wanted. I wanted to buy her things. Give her things. That grin on her face made me warm fuzzy all over. Life was wonderful for 10 years.

But I hadn’t totally dealt with my issues. And they started showing their ugly head. I was a whole lot better but not right. I had never totally let her in. My walls were still up. We had some great times. This year after 15 years of being together I hurt her heart. Badly. I guess this is where my story stops. The last chapter is yet to be written.  But we have committed to working on it and not running like we have done in the past.

I have work to do. I have to deal with the issues that never got dealt with.  I have some good people to help me. A better understanding of what I have to do. And most of all a desire to finish the job. For the first time in my life my loved ones did not totally abandon me.

We are in counseling and doing work. And I guess most important is that I have given my life to the Lord. I am on a new path. I am learning emotions of my wife. I am learning how to remove the walls. I am dedicated to get this right and become a man of God. Lead a Godly household. And finally maybe be an example to somebody. I know God has a plan for me. I don’t yet know what it is. But I don’t have to. In God’s time. I never understood all the people that were not nearly as bad as I was not making it. I suffered guilt over this. I never felt like I was worthy of anything. It took me almost 59 years to get here. I guess the last words are God knew the timeline. God had a plan. In God’s time.

Renewed Life of an Addict

When I was a baby I was put up for adoption, I was the only child of three put up, therefore it caused me to have abandonment issues.
I started drinking at a very young age, I was going to parties a lot. I ended up getting raped 14 days before my 15th birthday. Shortly after I started using oxycodone 30 mg. I started out snorting one a week then I started using more and more. About two years after snorting them I started shooting them up. I got up to shooting between 16 and 24 a day. I was also doing other drugs, crack and cocaine, meth, heroin, and smoking weed.

After 6 long years I got tired of doing the same thing everyday. I lived to use and used to live. I got tired of it. So on February 1st of 2012 I went to my parents and told them I needed help. They got me into a rehab in Jacksonville, Florida, that night. The name of it is “lake view health systems”. I recommend it to anyone. Anyway when I got there I was already withdrawing they gave me some meds and that was the beginning of my new life. While I was in rehab I found out that I got Hepatitis C from my drug use. I was there for 45 days and they saved my life.

When I got out I went to AA meetings in my hometown where I went back to. Everything was going good until I hung out with the wrong person at the meeting and ended up relapsing. Shortly after I cut her and everyone else out of my life. And I’ve been clean since July 4th 2012. I’m currently on an opiate blocker shot called Vivitrol. That’s a life saver and I recommended that to every addict. It helps with the cravings and say I wanted to do a pill I wouldn’t be able to get high off of it. I’m a totally different person than I was almost a year ago. And I’m about to start treatment for the Hep C.

I’m 21 almost 22 and I’ve lived a tough life but I’m now on the right path. Since I’ve gotten clean I’ve got my own place and I’m currently in College. I hope my story helps. If anything I wanna say I’m living proof that no matter where you’ve been or are or how bad you are, you can change as long as you want it. It starts with you. Wish you the best of luck.