By Brian Sullivan
BRENTWOOD, Tenn. –
It feels like a lifetime ago that I left the news business to join the nation’s fight against drug addiction, but I just checked my calendar and it’s only been a week. Coming from a fast-paced news environment where seconds count, I’ve realized it’s not that big of a leap. With hundreds of people dying every day of substance abuse overdoses, every second still counts – only now it’s a matter of life and death. My job in this fight is to reach a hand out to the community and spark a dialogue about new advances in addiction recovery. I had no idea it would lead to a conversation with my friends about their own personal struggles.
When I first made the announcement I was coming to Vertava Health, I was surprised when a number of my friends contacted me that were either struggling with or in recovery from a prescription pain medicine addiction. This new information about my friends made me examine myself in their life. Had I not been there for them? Was there something I could have done to save them from going down this road?
I have learned so much in just one week. From morning to night I have been seeded with knowledge about substance abuse and our various forms of treatment. I’ve met with a number of anti-drug organizations, and gotten a lot of local press on everything from city drug problems to a huge marijuana bust. There is so much to learn – and I think if I didn’t know – surely other people don’t.
As I wrapped my head around all things recovery, it was astounding to know how much information is NOT being talked about. For starters, 36,500 a year die from drug overdoses. An estimated 26.4 million Americans are illicit drug users. That’s about 9.4% of the population. 2.5 % abuse prescription medication. 681,000 are heroin users and it’s safe to say if the problem continues to grow, the number of people who die from it could catch up with or even surpass alcohol-related deaths.
I just want to take a walk with you guys. Stroll with me, if you will, through your home, apartment, flat, or workplace. Chances are, wherever you are, you are hearing or have heard a siren nearby in your time there. If you are like me, the first thing you think of is where they are headed. You may wonder who is in the ambulance and why they are there. That person may have absolutely nothing to do with you and their illness may not be drug-related. I can tell you, however, that having listened to police and fire department scanners for the past 10 years, the number of overdoses is way too many. Most of the calls that I’ve heard go out to police are from someone high, or their relative. For example: “I came home and my daughter is unconscious and won’t wake up,” or “My uncle is being violent.”
I have seen the face of addiction. I’ve seen it in people that I love. I remember my first experience with addiction. I was waiting tables in college, and I went to hug one of my relatives and when I wrapped my arms around her, she screamed in pain. I was unaware of the sore marks up and down her arms from shooting up. I remember one of my closest friends looking like a skeleton, and looking me in the eyes yet talking to me as if they were somewhere else.
But those were mere shards of the glass ceiling that currently domes our nation. I had no idea, until joining Vertava Health, of the number of calls that come in every day. People desperate for hope. And while you may think there are enough quality resources out there, I can tell you there are not. There are corporations that seek to capitalize on this epidemic by misleading ads used to “bait and click” just to get you to visit a sight. There are numbers that call to nowhere. It is the worst kind of evil. A perpetuation of a dangerous problem brought on by greed.
I was able to sit down with some of our directors and learn more about why people turn to substance abuse in the first place. We’ve heard, “Just Say No,” a thousand times. We’ve seen Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Bynes and Charlie Sheen get sicker and sicker. How can we avoid it?
What I’ve learned about the addiction fight is that most people have a reason for turning to drugs or alcohol. Most of the time, it’s because one of their basic human needs was either not met or forever set off balance by someone they love. Everyone needs to feel loved. Everyone needs to feel accepted. Everyone needs to feel safe. When one of these needs aren’t met, they will search to fill that bottomless pit with anything and everything that they believe will help them hold themselves together.
That brings me to the point of this blog. What I thought was a “drug problem” is a horrific epidemic, and like AIDS or cancer, or even diabetes, it is vastly underestimated and misunderstood. Until we STOP looking at addicts as dirty, or untrustworthy, or a “lost cause”, our eyes will be closed to the fact that they are a person, with a disease that’s killing them.
Remember those friends that contacted me? The majority of them were moms. Mothers that for whatever reason spun out of control. Not dirty moms, not neglectful moms, not lost causes. Moms that cared about their children. So much so, that the daily task of keeping them safe and making sure their needs were met broke them.
My mother passed away years ago, but if there’s one thing I learned from her, it’s that when your full time job is caring for another human being who is your EVERYTHING, you don’t have a lot of time to take care of yourself. Maybe that’s why my mom friends are struggling with addiction, I don’t know. But what I DO know is that there IS treatment available. There is a company that cares about you and what’s best for your family, and I’ve met them here at Vertava Health. Here’s one more indisputable statistic for you: The leading cause of unhappiness in children is the death of their mother. I am committed to making sure your child, or any child for that matter, never has to survive that.