Nearly one year ago an editorial appeared on this page titled “Heroin epidemic isn’t a back alley problem; it’s ours.” The editorial was inspired by the efforts of two Davenport mothers to raise awareness about the crisis. Each had lost an adult son to a heroin overdose.
Two months ago, another Iowa family in the Diocese of Davenport lost an adult son to a heroin overdose. That family agreed to share the story of his struggle (see Page 1) in hopes of helping others to avoid addiction and the suffering it causes families and other loved ones.
The number of people addicted to opioids — heroin and prescription drugs among them — continues to escalate. Opioids “are the main driver of drug overdose deaths,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. “Opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths in 2015 and opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999.” To paraphrase the lyrics from Bob Dylan’s 1962 classic anti-war song, “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “… how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?” We cannot leave the answer blowin’ in the wind.
Jennifer Hildebrand, a nurse who has worked at Genesis Multiple Addictions Recovery Center (MARC) in Davenport, observes that addiction isn’t as visible a disease as cancer or other physical illnesses. But it is a disease that destroys. It impacts marriages, jobs and friendships. You may not know the person sitting next to you at church, work or school has a drug addiction or is the spouse, child or parent of someone struggling with an addiction. Like mental illness, addiction carries a stigma that causes families to bear the burden silently. It can prevent some from seeking help, observes Kirstin Huisenga, executive director of the Clinton Substance Abuse Council. Our parishes can set an example to extinguish the stigma by offering educational programs on drug addiction and providing information in an accessible place.
If you or your family has struggled with drug addiction and you learn about another family’s struggle, reach out by inviting that person or family to an open support group meeting with you. Suggest resources that helped you. Families need a sense of hope. Their faith community can help provide that hope, inspired by God’s love and mercy. Drug abuse is a disease of the brain, not a moral failing.
Families and individuals dealing with drug addiction require professional guidance. Find drug addiction treatment centers in Iowa at this website: www.drug-rehab-headquarters.com/iowa, or call 1-866-720-3784. Good information about drug addiction is available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at: www.cdc.gov/pwud/substance-treatment.html. Another good resource: The National Institute on Drug Abuse: http://tinyurl.com/y766m4nb.
Support groups for individuals with drug addictions include: www.iowa-na.org. Family support groups can be found at www.drugfreeinfo.org.
The Gateway Impact Coalition in Clinton (www.gatewayimpactcoalition.com), which is committed to working toward creation of a substance abuse-free community, offers helpful resources as well.
Because persons with drug addiction may be dual diagnosed with a mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is also a good resource: www.nami.org.
Be proactive at home. Empty the medicine cabinet of any unused prescription drugs and deliver them to prescription drug take-back locations. Many are in local law enforcement offices. Visit this website to find locations: odcp.iowa.gov/drop-offs.
Get rid of the elephant in the room. Talk about the addiction. Examine how family members might be enabling addictive behavior. Don’t ignore the problem, hoping it will go away. Look for warning signs such as drug paraphernalia, missing money, valuables or a shortage of your own prescription medication. Watch for withdrawal from activities, irritability, nervousness, excessive need for privacy or other suspicious behavior. Seek help for individuals who are unable to seek help for themselves.
An observation made in last year’s editorial, by Scott County Probation Officer Johnna Kay, bears repeating: Communities need to recognize the drug abuse crisis and reexamine the procedures for prescribing opiate pills, which are highly addictive and can lead some people to use heroin. At the same time, people need to support individuals who are struggling with drug addiction. “Recovering addicts need to be proud and to tell their stories and to educate people.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor