Overcoming with Community


I spent some time last weekend going through some of my older blogposts and read "It's Personal" that I published on June 30, 2015. In it I relate a conversation with a lady on a shuttle bus who lost her 29 year old son to a prescription drug overdose. And someone whose brother became addicted to opioids after a Work Comp knee replacement, fortunately now clean and sober. And a vendor whose brother-in-law is addicted to the point where his family doesn't trust him with their kids.

I have embedded other stories in other blogposts since then. Like "Real Stories" (published August 19, 2016) with a variety of stories shared directly with me about appropriate and inappropriate uses of opioids. And "The ATL's Heroin Triangle" (published March 2, 2017) that included not only stories about heroin abuse in Atlanta but also a very personal story shared directly with me by a father of his son's death from an accidental "oxy" overdose.

I was chatting with some friends about my latest efforts as The RxProfessor at church this past Sunday and I encountered two more personal stories:

  • A teenager had a catastrophic injury a few years ago. He was given fentanyl for the first five days after his injury and unfortunately that seemed to trigger / activate an addiction. He is doing better now, physically and with his substance abuse. But it has been an ordeal, one that his family never saw coming and was a direct result of the treatment of his injuries.
  • A surgeon injured his neck while working out. Through the surgeries and rehab he became addicted to fentanyl, to the point where he would implant a "port" near his ankle, hidden by his socks, to use fentanyl (which he stole from his own supply) throughout the day. While he was seeing patients.

So many stories. If you listen to those around you, you will find they're everywhere.

During another conversation with a psychologist who helps those that are addicted, he pointed out that being isolated gives the "lower" brain (which humans share with all other animals, focused on defense and survival) dominance over the "higher" brain (unique to humans, where thinking and more rational decisions happen). Unfortunately, isolation is often a key component to the death (sometimes literally) spiral that happens in addiction. Either from embarrassment, or lack of self esteem, or recognition of the cognitive impairment, or they are overwhelmingly depressed, or even when they've done things that have pushed people away. They are often alone.

Which prompted yet another discussion, this time a story, that connected all of the dots for me (and the storyteller):

On a recent flight there was someone obviously very anxious about flying, almost to the point of being nauseous. The storyteller tried to allay her fears but sensed that it was getting worse, not better, as they boarded. So he arranged with the flight attendants to switch his seat to be next to her. He calmed her nerves by saying she was surrounded by frequent flyers (including himself) who weren't worried (and so she shouldn't be either) and that he would be there to help with overcoming her fears.

He came alongside her.

What is the opposite of isolation? Community. Merriam-Webster defines it as "a group of people with a common characteristic / interests." As I wrote on September 26, 2016 in "The Twelfth Step" ...

Which leads us to the Twelfth Step - pay it forward. Don't let the end of September mean the end of your focus on recovery. As a country. As a community. As individuals. We are on the road to recovery. If you have been successful in your recovery (granted, it's a daily battle) or have not (yet) needed recovery, help others. If you're still in the midst of recovery, be with others. If you need recovery, seek others. Don't assume someone else is going to fix this problem. It's OUR problem and will only be resolved by US.

If you have succumbed to substance abuse, don't do it alone. If you know somebody who has, don't let them do it alone. Who can you be a "community" to?


About the Author

Mark Pew, Senior Vice President of PRIUM, has been focused since 2003 on the intersection of chronic pain and appropriate treatment. That ranges from the clinical and financial costs of opioids and benzos, to the corresponding epidemic of heroin use, to the evolution in medical cannabis. Educating is his job and passion. Contact Mark at mpew@prium.net, on LinkedIn at markpew, or on Twitter @RxProfessor.


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