Opioid Addiction Epidemic: A Perfect Storm

opioid addiction

The opioid addiction epidemic in the United States is nothing, if not a “perfect storm.” All of us in America are acutely aware of the devastation caused by this insidious family of drugs. We have seen how overprescribing and a lack of emphasis on addiction treatment has morphed into a catastrophic problem. One comprised of millions of addicts caught in a vicious maelstrom of mental illness, unable to access the help they need. At least, in most cases. Practically everyone across the country knows (or has known) someone who has been touched by opioid addiction. It is highly likely that you were acquainted with a person who died from an opioid overdose. Perhaps it was a loved one.

Given the unprecedented nature of this epidemic, finding ways to stem the tide of opioid use has been a challenge. For nearly two decades Americans, some of whom were young adults, often found themselves on the road to addiction by way of a prescription opioid. Those who already had a propensity for developing the disease became caught in the cycle before they knew what hit them. It does not take long for dependence to set in. And once it does, the future holds little good, short of hopefully finding recovery one day. That is if an overdose doesn’t steal one’s life beforehand.

Some of you reading this may be saying to yourselves, ‘But… Isn’t it more difficult to acquire prescription opioids, now?’ Well, in many cases that is an accurate perception. However, it is still relatively easy for people to get ahold of prescription opioids. Either through a doctor, or on the streets. Many Americans have few qualms about giving a friend or family member some of their painkillers. Despite the inherent dangers of doing so.

Opioid Addiction Epidemic: The Perfect Storm

Like all great storms, they are usually made up of several weather fronts coming together. In the case of the opioid addiction epidemic, many addicts struggling to acquire prescription opioids have turned to heroin. A drug that is easier to get, less expensive and often more potent. The drug is even more dangerous (of late) due to the introduction (unbeknownst to the user) of the analgesic fentanyl. A powerful painkiller that causes severe respiratory depression, being 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

In 1991, a nor'easter named the Halloween Gale consumed Hurricane Grace off the eastern seaboard. Thus, creating a new hurricane that morphed into a catastrophic cyclone over the Atlantic. You might be familiar with this weather event, being popularized by author Sebastian Junger in his book The Perfect Storm. It tells the story of the Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing vessel lost at sea during the storm. Perhaps you saw the movie? So, what does this have to do with addiction?

One way to look at it is this, rampant over prescribing of opioids (hurricane). Reduced prescribing leads to greater demand for heroin, “graciously” supplied by Mexican Cartels (nor'easter). A new hurricane is created, which is then accelerated by fentanyl to become a cyclone. A veritable perfect storm of addiction and death.

There is a noticeable difference between the Perfect Storm of 1991 and the perfect storm that began roughly ten years later with prescription opioids. The latter was man made. Surely there are some who could argue that 1991 may have been the product of climate change, but that topic is for another blog. With regard to addiction, Americans created this epidemic—so it is up to us to find our way out of this tempest of mental illness. Addiction treatment is the answer.

Addiction Treatment Via Surrender

Last December, we covered an important topic regarding the opioid addiction epidemic. And, the idea that addiction can’t be arrested away—only treated. We have written about the dismal failure that is the American “war on drugs.” There is little need for debate, draconian drug sentencing laws do little to curb addiction rates. Opioid use disorder treatment, on the other hand, saves lives without the use of handcuffs and cell bars. A mindset shared by the Gloucester, Massachusetts Police Department.

In 2015, the former Chief of Police in Gloucester created the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI). When we first wrote about PAARI, 160 police departments nationwide were using the model to help addicts find treatment. PAARI, otherwise known as “Angel Programs,” encourages addicts to surrender their drugs and treatment will be arranged. No criminal charges, no jail time. Just treatment and continued recovery (hopefully).

Today, there are more than 260 law enforcement departments in 30 states using the model, ABC News reports. To be sure, the Angel Program conceived in the commercial fishing town of Gloucester has not prevented overdoses from happening, outright. But, every person helped into addiction treatment is potentially one fewer overdose.

Opioid overdoses are soaring in much of the country, and the total for Gloucester might well have been higher if not for the ANGEL program," said Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry professor at the Stanford's School of Medicine.

Calming the Storm

So, let’s bring the nautical theme of the opioid addiction epidemic and PAARI full circle. For starters, the Andrea Gail and her crew lost in the Perfect Storm of 1991 was based out of Gloucester. The Angel Program was devised in the very city synonymous with the Perfect Storm. While naloxone couldn’t have helped the crew of the Andrea Gail survive their storm, it is helping other fisherman today, survive the storm of addiction, that is. Gloucester police Chief John McCarthy says that officials have been distributing the overdose reversal drug naloxone to boat operators. Training fishing crews on how to use the life-saving overdose antidote at sea. Heroin is deadlier than hurricanes. Hopefully those who survive an overdose will be referred to treatment and find recovery.

Are you a young adult male struggling with opioid use disorder, or do you have a son who is battling addiction? PACE Recovery Center can help you break the cycle, and teach you how living a life of addiction recovery is possible.

Mental Illness Sick Days

mental illness

If you get the flu, you would probably do what anyone would do, call in sick. After all, you wouldn't want to risk passing a bug on to your coworkers or work at less than 100 percent. Every day, millions of people call in sick to work for various illnesses, it is commonplace. But, there are some illnesses that people shy away from calling in, for fear of professional consequences. Mental illness.

Millions of Americans, and hundreds of millions around the globe are living with what are, at times, debilitating mental health disorders. Yet, waking up amid a depressive episode or an anxiety attack might not prompt someone to contact their workplace asking for a day off. There are a number of reasons for this, some people experiencing such problems may not think it warrants a sick-day. Others may think that they can muscle through the workday without a loss of productivity. Perhaps more common, and even more saddening, is the fact that many employers do not understand mental health disorders. Or employers believe that they are just cause for a day away from the office. They might say something like: “we all struggle with angst at times, we all get a little sad from time to time.”

Just pick your head up, and put your best foot forward, right? Wrong! People who manage their mental illness day-in-day-out can’t always stay ahead of the symptoms. There are going to be days when functioning is just not a reality. In such cases, most people will try to hide it at work rather than let on that they have a condition. And it should go without saying that doing that can be a slippery slope. People living with behavioral health conditions, who do not put their well-being first, are at risk of exacerbating their symptoms.

Mental Illness Is Real

In the 21st Century the verdict on mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, bipolar, et al. is no longer out. Mental illness is real, in every family there is at least one person who has been touched by such disorders. People living with mental health issues should not be discriminated against or stigmatized. But, they are. Even in more enlightened environs, the afflicted feel as though they need to hide what is going on underneath the surface. The result of years of conditioning, perhaps.

With each year that passes, more and more people living with mental health disorders are saying, ‘enough!’ They will no longer be shamed into putting their needs last. It is a brave move, and can be costly to one’s career, because most employers are not so enlightened. However, there are some workplaces who encourage those with mental illness to take time for themselves when it is needed. Perhaps a sign that the ‘times they are a-changin.' Not too long ago, few could’ve imagined calling in sick for mental health reasons, and returning to work on Monday with their job intact.

A recent email exchange between an employee and an employer regarding this subject went ‘viral’ (no pun intended) this month. A truly remarkable story of a CEO who understands the negative impact of mental health stigma. Madalyn Parker—an executive at Olark Live Chat—sent an email to her team at work explaining that she would be away from the office to focus on her mental health, PEOPLE reports. The response received from the company’s CEO was, well it was…up worthy!

Hey team, I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health,” Parker wrote. “Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.”
I just wanted to personally thank you for sending e-mails like this,” Olark CEO Ben Congleton wrote back. “Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work.”

There Is No Place for Stigma

Parker posted the exchange on social media, and the Internet celebrated and commended Congleton and Parker’s exchange. And for good reason. This kind of thing is infinitesimally rare. Which is why we need more of this type of exchange in the workplace. Normalizing mental health disorders is of the utmost importance. It will not only increase productivity, it will save lives.

Even in the safest environment it is still uncommon to be direct with your coworkers about mental health issues,” Congleton wrote on Medium, a few days later. “I wanted to call this out and express gratitude for Madalyn’s bravery in helping us normalize mental health as a normal health issue.”

Parker added:

After repeatedly being told to keep my problems to myself for fear of discrimination, it’s good to know that it actually is possible to be open about mental health (even at work!)…You should never feel like you can’t address your emotional well-being because ‘it’s just not something you talk about at work.’”

Co-Occurring Recovery

Many of us working programs of addiction recovery are living with a dual diagnosis, as well. A co-occurring mental illness that, like the addiction, must be managed every day of the week. If one’s symptoms of depression or anxiety are ignored, it could lead to a relapse—or something worse. If you are in recovery for a co-occurring disorder, it is vital that you do not put your employment before your personal wellbeing. Fearing the consequences of being upfront about what you are going through is normal. But ignoring your condition for the sake of a day’s work can be deadly.

If you are still in the grips of addiction, battling another form of mental health disorder as well—please contact PACE Recovery Center to begin the lifesaving journey of addiction recovery.

Recovery: A Great Liberation Movement


America has had a tumultuous relationship with alcohol since before we declared independence from Great Britain. In many ways, alcohol helped shape the nation we would become. After all, it was the whiskey drinking frontiersman that helped us achieve, at great moral costs, our manifest destiny. Over the centuries, the substance, and how it affected people, tested our humanity forcing us to take a hard look in the mirror.

The general public's perception of the alcoholic has taken many forms over the course of our history. From the godless and morally weak individual to the person suffering from a debilitating mental illness whom we see today. As with any mental health disorder, society's response to it over the decades has been anything but humane until the last few decades. But the story of alcoholism in America is as much about sobriety as it is about self-destruction. What’s more, every now and again we should pause. Take a moment, and consider the centuries’ long road to get where we are today regarding the disease of addiction in America.

We still have a long way to go, but addiction recovery in America is something to marvel over. The fact that we have recovery programs today rooted in compassion rather than punishment came at great pains. The history of which, is absolutely fascinating. It is worth remembering that Americans have been trying to recover from alcoholism since the 1700’s. We might consider this a nearly impossible task given the stigma that has long been attached to anyone who could not control their drinking. Given the terrible treatments imposed upon such people, right on into the twentieth century. And yet, in the wake of World War I, two people stumbled upon a method to achieve the goal of sobriety. Spawning a movement that would reshape public opinion about addiction.

Recovery in America, A Great Liberation Movement

You are in a 12-Step meeting today, looking around at people working towards the common goal of recovery, it can be hard to fully grasp how this all came to be. If you have spent some time reading the Big Book you know a little bit about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. You learned what worked for people and what didn't. It is a program that works, and everyone working the program should be grateful for the thousands of people who helped make it what it is today. But there is more to the story of recovery in America than meets the eye. A subject matter that one author decided to tackle.

Drunks: An American History, by Christopher M. Finan, was published last week by Beacon Press, VICE News reports. Beginning in the 17th century, the book tells the story of the many movements over the years to encourage sobriety in America. Believe it or not, Finan found the first evidence of prohibition in America dating back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1633. From Native Americans battling the grips of whiskey introduced by settlers right on through Betty Ford’s new treatment center in the 1980’s.

The author himself comes from a long line of alcoholics, according to the article. Finan points out that the modern view of addiction is the byproduct of centuries of advocates and alcoholics putting up the good fight. The book talks about the doctors who had an important role in showing that alcoholism was not a moral failing, but a disease from which it was possible to recover. Finan calls sobriety one of the "great liberation movements."

Drunks: A History of People Trying to Get Free

Naturally, it would be impossible to cover all that is included in the book in this short article. But we would be remiss if we didn’t include a few tidbits from an interview Finan gave to VICE writer Rachel Riederer. One of the more interesting points of the book includes a quote from Abraham Lincoln that the news organization asked about.

I love the Abraham Lincoln quotation that you include about the "heads and hearts of habitual drunkards." It's a warm description—very different from the way that many others talk about drunks.

"It is a constant theme, to push back against the image of them as the town drunks, the degenerates, and to make the point that alcoholism affects all classes of society and it afflicts the best and brightest. It's often a reaction to how terrible the stigma was against alcoholics: the idea that alcoholics deserved to suffer because they were bad people, they were criminals, they were weaklings, they were sinners. The tremendous humanitarianism of Lincoln is well-known, but I hadn't known until I started working on this book that it extended to drunks."

The final interview question touched on treating addiction in America today.

I'm curious about what you think about the current culture around drinking and sobriety.

"I think that a lot of the progress we've made is permanent. As long as people are staying sober and can remember what it was like for them, whether in AA or some other sobriety group, this is one of the defining experiences of their lives and they aren't about to let anybody deny or diminish the truth of what they've experienced. [But] alcoholism is still a tremendous problem, and the amount of treatment is completely inadequate…"

Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment

Anyone who has been touched by the disease of addiction, or has a loved one struggling with it may want to pick up a copy of the book. It is a history that led to the effective methods of treatment that are utilized today across the country. Methods that are still being enhanced and improved upon. If you or family members are in need of help for an alcohol use disorder, please contact PACE Recovery Center today. Our highly trained staff employs scientific, evidence-based techniques to help break the cycle of addiction. In conjunction with the 12-Steps, clients have the best chance of achieving continued, long-term sobriety from alcohol. Going on to live fulfilling and productive lives.

Addiction Recovery After Relapse


July 4th has come and gone, once again. For many of you working a program of addiction recovery, it is probably a relief. Especially for those of you who kept your recovery intact over the long holiday weekend. On the other hand, there are a number of recovery community members who relapsed at some point between Friday and yesterday. It happens every year. In many ways, our Independence Day is inextricably linked to pervasive heavy alcohol consumption. The temptation is especially great around this time of year.

If you relapsed this weekend, you are probably laden with feelings of guilt and shame. It is, in many ways, a natural response to picking up a drink or drug after acquiring some sober and clean time. Anyone who acquires some length of time in the program knows that it resulted from hard work and dedication. After a relapse, it can be easy to feel like it was all for naught. However, that is not necessarily the case, assuming one doesn’t go from a relapse to full-blown active addiction.

You are right to feel upset after relapsing. That is, to feel like you let yourself and others down due to a decision that was hardly worth it. Any one of our readers whose recovery story includes a relapse, knows that taking that first drink or drug is never accompanied by relief. It is hard to enjoy a belly full of beer with a head full of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). They will also agree that while it was humbling to have to identify as a newcomer again, it was worth it. The alternative to getting back up onto the recovery horse after a fall is never beneficial. But, and sadly, a large percentage of people who relapse, continue down the perilous path driven by shame and guilt.

Committing Yourself to Addiction Recovery, Again

It may seem like your relapse came out of nowhere. Just an unexpected event that jeopardized your program. Please keep in mind, nobody working a program just accidentally trips and falls into a pool of alcohol. A relapse usually begins long before taking that first drink or drug. Happening gradually and incrementally. Taking the form of isolating behavior, not calling your sponsor as much or going to fewer meetings. Then, often when it is least expected, one finds themselves in a position of vulnerability.

One begins to think that they have their disease under control; that their addiction recovery is strong, even while going to events typified by alcohol use, or hanging out with people who are using. For a time, resistance may be possible, but more times than not a relapse is fast approaching. One only need a holiday, which is already fairly stressful, to be pushed over the edge.

While the road to relapse may zig and zig in different ways, from one person to the next, the road back to recovery should be fairly consistent in nature. If you relapsed and have not called your sponsor, please do so immediately. And do so knowing that your sponsor will not judge or look down on you. Addiction recovery is rooted in compassion, not shaming or guilting people about a decision that comes naturally. Make no mistake, drinking and drugging is the alcoholic and addict’s natural state. News of relapse, while unfortunate, is not cause for making a person smaller than they already feel.

So call your sponsor and get to a meeting. Identify as a newcomer and grab a chip. Doing so will let your “homegroup” know that you are recommitting yourself to the program. You may be inclined to think that your peers will look at your differently. Conversely, what is likelier is that they will reach out to offer their support and commend you for taking the courageous step of re-identifying as a newcomer.

Listen to what they have to say, following direction in early recovery is crucial for not repeating the same errors again. Be open and honest with your sponsor about what is going on with you, so you two can determine what kind of adjustments should be made to avoid another relapse. Remember, you are not the first person working a program of addiction recovery to relapse. What’s more, it is not uncommon for people to go on from relapse to acquire significant time in the program—decades even. There isn’t any reason why your return to the program from a relapse can’t have a fruitful outcome.

Addiction Treatment Might Be Needed

In some cases, a weekend relapse may morph into continued use for weeks and even months. Just going back into the recovery rooms in such cases may not be enough. Detox and residential treatment might be needed to ensure positive results. If you are a young adult male who feels like you need extra support, please contact PACE Recovery Center. We can help you address what led to your relapse and to better ensure that it does not happen again.

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