In 2015 the tallied deaths from drug overdoses in the United States rose to over 50,000. The amount of deaths in 2016 is imagined to be even higher. These are disturbing figures and they represent much more than just arbitrary numbers. They are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and all too often our sons and daughters. It may seem impossible, as a parent, to support your child in recovery when addiction wins.
The people who are perishing from drug overdoses are typically in their early-to-mid twenties. Untimely deaths like these have tragic impacts on families. Those who suffer from addiction are not the over-generalized, stereotypical junkies under a bridge. They are our friends, our family members, our neighbors and loved ones. When addiction wins, grieving families are in need of support. What these families don’t need is silence. They should be supported and invited to come forward and share their stories without fear of shame or stigma and not let addiction win.
Since 1999, the total deaths involving prescription opioids and street opiates like heroin have quadrupled. The crisis is being referred to as an epidemic. The vast majority of deaths from drug overdoses involve opioids. According to the CDC 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The numbers are still on the rise.
The resurgence in the popularity of heroin is linked closely to the trend over the past few decades of over-prescribing prescription opioids. The narrative is one of an ethically questionable pharmaceutical industry, corporate greed and crooked doctors. As regulations have, thankfully, tightened in this area, unfortunately, many of those who became addicted to their pain pills switched to street heroin when the prescription opioids became less available. Further progressing the problem, the illegal heroin of today is either more pure in potency than it has been in the past, or it can be mixed with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is far more powerful. These factors have created a scenario in which addicts are gambling with their lives every day, and often it may only be a matter of time before a fatal overdose happens. And this is when addiction wins.
It is useless to consider how this situation could have been avoided in hindsight. The country desperately needs solutions now. Readily accessible treatment for addicts is imperative. An emphasis on how to find recovery from the disease of addiction is the topic that needs to be discussed on a national level.
After a devastating loss of a loved one to addiction, many family members of the deceased are becoming personally active and involved in the movement to raise awareness and education about addiction. They are helping to create solutions for the crisis. The voices of these families need to be heard. They will be able to illuminate first hand where approaches have failed and where adjustments can be made. Through coordinating with public officials and organizations, family members of those who have succumbed to addiction can enact necessary changes and make a real difference. The loss of their loved ones need not be in vain.
What can community members do to provide support for grieving families? Lend them an ear of empathy, hear their stories and help them to ensure that their stories are told.