I was recently at a meeting in Washington, D.C., meeting with 25 of the brightest minds on substance use issues and strategies to engage the new administration on the subject. I happened to sit near a gentleman who has worked on drug issues for his entire life, but, at 70 years old, he has had to take a step back from the work that needs to be done because of personal circumstances.
He and his wife, at 70, have had to take custody and the responsibility of raising their twin 8-year old granddaughters because his daughter and the mother of these twin girls died of a heroin overdose. To add to his struggles, his wife died unexpectedly from a heart condition. Now, this 70-year old man is raising two small children all alone. Sadly, these stories are becoming more frequent as we have seen many scenarios where grandparents are caring for grandchildren because of a parental overdose death.
Naloxone has been key to saving lives and a crucial tool for first responders when being called to an overdose situation and we are grateful for each life that has been saved by this medication. This should not be our only focus. We also need to have a multi-faceted approach in order to turn the corner on this epidemic. Other strategies, including prevention, easier and more consistent access to treatment and a strong understanding of recovery should all be considered.
As I spoke to this gentleman, he told me how difficult it was to rely on his daughter, even when she was alive and about how absent she was from her daughters’ lives. This disease of addiction impacts the entire family. Better access to treatment and a strategy that focused on treatment in addition to any Naloxone she might have received should have been the real goal. It might have provided the opportunity to heal in addition to the opportunity to live.
And, of course, we must never take our eye off of prevention, and we have to keep reminding people that many community, family and individual issues can be avoided if prevention is a focus of any substance use strategy. Continue to beat that drum for public health and embrace forms of healing that not only include life-saving tactics but also life-giving approaches that include the entire continuum of care.
Drug Free Action Alliance Legislative Update January 20, 2017