Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The pain runs deep

I joined a new group on Facebook recently. There are over 7,000 parents. We are from all over North America, and we all have children battling addiction.

I was overcome with sadness when I first joined the group. So many people sharing their pain and raw emotions; reaching out to other parents who understand this nightmare that they are living, day in and day out.  

Parents like me whose children are in recovery try to provide encouraging words and give hope to those who are still suffering and fighting this battle. If my arms could reach them, I would give them big hugs as well. Sometimes words just don’t feel like enough when the pain runs so deep.

Support also comes from parents who have lost their children (I couldn’t imagine!), but who want to make sure that others do not have to go through it. As one mom said, “...we want to help moms (and dads) who are dealing with this from our own experiences, and we want to see the same changes made in our system to spare those addicted now, so that our loss will not have been in vain.”

Some of the parents in the group have children in ICU barely hanging on. Others are praying that their children get into treatment. Some are visiting their children in prisons. Others do not even know where their children are or if they have a warm, safe place to sleep tonight.

The most heartbreaking news of all is that two of the parents in the group lost their children this week to the dreaded disease of addiction. They are living every parent’s worst nightmare. My heart breaks for them. I have no words that are comforting enough to take away that kind of pain.

Please take a moment to imagine what it would be like to go through any of those scenarios with your child!

In all of this darkness, there was some light as beautiful miracles were born. Healthy babies. Each baby is blessed with loving grandparents who are praying that their grandchildren will be the catalyst for change in their addicted children’s lives. Just another bit of hope that things may change.  As parents with addicted children, we take hope wherever we can get it.

Addiction is a treatable disease. There is no cure, but there is treatment. The sad thing is that many of these young people were not able to access treatment early enough. When they did get treatment, it wasn’t appropriate for their level of addiction. Sometimes it takes many rounds of treatment before it sticks, but they are not given enough rounds. There are three outcomes with addiction: jails, institutions and death.  I see it all in this new parent’s group and right here on our little Island.

If any other disease was ravishing our young people like this, there would be an uproar and governments everywhere would feel the pressure to do something. This is a very serious and deadly disease. We need to put the pressure on. Lives depend on it.

All across North America, governments have not done enough. Now is the time.


Saturday, 25 January 2014

Damned if they do and damned if they don't


"I was so proud of my cousin. We all were. After many years of battling an addiction to opiates, he was in recovery. He was feeling good about life and looking forward to his future. Our family’s prayers had been answered.

One day, I drove him to work, which included a stop at the pharmacy to get his medication. I decided to go in with him. What I witnessed broke my heart.

As he waited in line to get his medication, I stood off to the side. When his turn came around, he was told to “stand over there until I get a chance to get to you.”  I was a bit surprised by that, but he turned around and smiled at me so I didn't say anything.

After about 20 minutes, he was finally waited on (in that time only 2 or 3 people were waited on.....not sure why he was kept waiting). The pharmacist gave him the medication over the counter in plain view of anyone walking by. He was then required to open his mouth and move around his tongue to prove the medication was all gone (again, in full view of anyone walking by). I was horrified.

It seemed so inhumane to me. Why was he not afforded any type of privacy, especially when his disease carries so much stigma and we live in a small community?

I wanted to say something. To stand up for him. My cousin said, “Don’t bother, Laura. It will only make it worse the next day. I am okay. Let’s go now. I have to get to work. I’m running late.”

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was walk out of there without standing up for the rights of someone I love who was just disrespected and, in reality, bullied.

My cousin was trying so hard to rebuild his life. He was now a productive member of society with a job. He was healthy again. Yet, it wasn’t good enough. Instead, at least at that pharmacy, he was treated like a second-class citizen because he is on Methadone, which is a doctor-prescribed medication I might add! There is something very wrong with that.

I honestly don’t know how he does it. It seems to me that people battling addiction are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. They are looked down on when they are in active addiction battling a disease that few understand, and now they are looked down on if they are in a treatment program that few understand.

The stigma attached to his Methadone treatment program is unreal. Yet, he keeps his head up and goes through life doing the very best that he can to rebuild it. That takes guts and courage. I’m not sure that I could handle it so gracefully.

It has been 2 years since I witnessed that at the pharmacy, and I still get sick to my stomach thinking about him, and so many others, being treated this way. These people have decided to try to improve their lives. They are on a doctor-prescribed treatment plan, yet they are treated like second-class citizens. Why is this OK? Shouldn't they be applauded for trying?

I know if I was treated like that on a daily basis I would have no self-esteem, no self-worth and after a while, no will to continue. In my cousin's words, “It's a lot easier to just get high!!" After what I witnessed, I can understand that thinking. The stigma is crippling, but it doesn’t have to be. We can change that. We, the people, can decide to stop judging others and support them instead."

This story from Laura represents the experiences of many people who are in recovery with the help of medications like Methadone. I am grateful that my son goes to a wonderful pharmacy where he is given some privacy and treated with dignity and respect. He’s also gotten to know the staff who all say hi to him each morning and ask how he is doing. They seem to really care. 

The kindness shown to people in recovery (by all of us) can make all the difference on whether or not they succeed.  I hope other pharmacies (if not already doing so) will follow the lead of our son’s pharmacy and become part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Thank you to Laura for sharing her powerful story.