Opiates: Our great public health crisis

If you’ve ever seen Philip Seymour Hoffman in any of his acting roles, you can’t help but mourn the loss of his life. Last night, an infotainment individual (aka: a reporter) stated heroin is the new public health crisis, and you may even know someone who is using heroin.

Where have you been? Sitting on the County Health Alliances of three counties, with all three counties placing substance abuse in the top three priorities to be addressed, is a good indication that – America, we have a problem!

In this job, board directors often hear of or see families devastated by substance use disorders. However, we don’t often see a family that is willing to publicly state someone in that family has an addiction – even though they may have lost their vehicle, their house or custody of their kids. It’s heart wrenching to hear from a grandparent whose grandchildren are thrust into a foster care home overnight until the courts sort through getting the kids into grandpa and grandma’s home.

Hollywood makes light of substance use, and too many “famous” people make rehab their excuse to avoid the criminal justice system. Is anyone listening when they hear that Hoffman had been in recovery for 23 years? His relapse began in a physician’s office when he was prescribed an opiate for pain. Did you know that the day he overdosed, about 100 other people also overdosed. Did we hear about them?

Hoffman and the physician should have looked at this prescription closer, and they may have chosen a different, safer medication. Hoffman should have asked, Is this good for me as a recovering addict? And the physician should have asked whether Hoffman had ever been treated for an addiction.

Addiction isn’t a condition that’s like recovering from a cold – now you have it and now you don’t. Addiction is a chronic disease; extremely difficult to control without treatment and supports.

Heroin affects your brain’s chemistry; it makes your brain’s “reward center” crave heroin all the time. It’s a daily battle, and it’s not easy to overcome – but it can be done!

For every Hoffman there are hundreds of everyday people struggling with their initial decision to use heroin. Today’s heroin is significantly stronger than the heroin of the ’60s. Batches of heroin are being screwed up with fentanyl to boost its potency. Problem is, you’ve overdosed while the needle is still in your arm. Ask Hoffman – oh wait, you can’t, because he’s dead.

As boards offer care for substance abuse using a chronic disease model, and as boards continue writing applications seeking sufficient funding to pay for the capacity to deliver such care, it will take families willing to speak out and push for their loved one’s treatment and supports. Opiate use has become an unintentional consequence of trying to manage pain; it need not be surrounded by stigma and fear. Bring it out into the open and let’s deal with it.

The Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties is committed to sharing information and resources for better mental health and the prevention of substance abuse. It has a website, www.mhrsbssw.org, and a link to its Facebook page. If you would like more information, please call the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board at (419) 448-0640 between the hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

Nancy Cochran,

executive director