50,000 die from opioids in one year

By DAVE MYERS

Southwest Kansas Catholic

If you think the opioid epidemic is bad now, it’s nothing compared to what is lurking around the corner.

“We have a flood coming our way,” substance abuse counselor Larry Black told teachers and principals gathered for the annual Diocesan Teachers Conference Aug. 16. “It’s not quite here yet, but it’s coming.”

Today, an estimated two million Americans are addicted to opioid painkillers, with an estimated 50,000 dying from opioids in one year alone.

“We see people on 60 to 80 pills a day,” Black said. “They build up a tolerance. Most start very innocently—normal people who maybe had a knee replacement. Most doctors really have the best interest of their patient at heart, but they’re busy. This doctor doesn’t want the patient to have to drive 60 or 70 miles to get their prescription filled, so they give them a month’s worth of pills.”

The problem is, the pills don’t only give relief to pain, but also to stress—stress from the workplace, the government, the typical anxieties of life. And when that month of pills is gone in a week, that’s when you see problems begin to arise. You see people turning to the black market. You see the criminal element giving supply to the demand.

“My son was the most grateful kid,” Black said. “There was a joy about him.”

Then, at 15, his behavior and attitude underwent a marked change.

“His grades went down. We would stay up with him to do his homework, but he wouldn’t turn it in. We took him to school to make sure he went in, and he’d go right out the back door.

“I think we were good parents,” Black explained. “We didn’t drink or smoke. We went to church.”

The teenager who had been so joyful brought people over “who were just plain mean. One boy later killed his father.”

Amid the trauma of everyday life, miracles do abound. Their son agreed to enter a treatment facility.

“The hardest thing to do is to get help,” Black said. “We were almost out of hope. Not only did our son learn how to live life without drugs, I learned to be a better dad. A counselor told us that you can’t focus your life on being right. I had to give up being right and focus on my relationship with my son.”

In other words, when his son got kicked out of his first facility for having been caught with a girl in his room, Black didn’t get angry. Empowered by his newfound advice, he instead joked with his son as they drove home at 3 a.m.: “She was good looking! I would have gotten kicked out for her, too!”

The most important result? “He smiled,” Black said of his troubled son.

It didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it took two stints in the treatment center before Black’s son came to terms with his drug use.

“A lot of what happens in recovery is that people feel like they deserve to be punished more for what they’ve done. I ask them, ‘The person who loves you most, how much longer do they need you to suffer?’ I didn’t want my son to suffer one more day.

“Today, my son and I text each other every day to say I love you.”

So, who is the bad guy in all this?

“The biggest bad guys? The pharmaceutical industries,” Black explained. According to addictions.com, “An estimated 254 million opioid prescriptions were filled in 2010 alone, enough to medicate every adult in the U.S. for a month on a round-the-clock basis. In that same year, pharmaceutical companies generated revenues of $11 billion from opioid sales alone.”

The result has been that opioid addiction rates have skyrocketed.

As long as there is demand, there will be supply. The best thing we can do is to communicate loudly and with resolve the dangers of opioids, to call pharmaceutical companies on the carpet. Also, he urged the medical industry to train more physicians to prescribe opioid withdrawal programs, and to increase the availability of the narcotic blocker, Naxalone, for withdrawal.

“In-patient treatment is only the beginning,” Black said. “Each person should be given a recovery coach.

“No one seeks help until the consequence of using outweigh the benefits of not using. We need to endeavor to increase the beneffits of not using.”

For more information or to seek help, visit https://ckfaddictiontreatment.org/, or call (785) 825-6224.