The Kids Are Not Alright
At some time in our lives, most of us have endured our parents’ tales of walking uphill for miles in the snow just to get to school, or another exaggerated illustration of how difficult things were back in their day. Now that I am in my mid 40’s, I must confess, I find myself guilty of the same. My own children know all too well that when I was growing up, the internet did not exist and if I needed to know something, my only option was go to a library and find it in a book. They have heard how I woke up at 6:30 am every Saturday morning just to watch cartoons because that was the only time they were broadcast, and how I only had three television channels to choose from. I think it is basically human nature for each generation to believe that life for the younger generation is somehow easier. For young people today, some things are undeniably more convenient. Social networking, information gathering, and shopping are a breeze, but not addiction. The addiction game has changed and the ante has been upped. This is not your father’s opioid crisis.
For the past year, I have been a substance abuse counselor within a correctional facility, working with a variety of men who are incarcerated due to substance abuse related crimes. Some of my clients are young men in their twenties that will soon be re-entering society following an intense, six month para-military program. Their stories, unlike my father’s walk to school, are all too real and absolutely harrowing. As a former nurse practitioner and opioid addict, I believed that my time spent in active addiction was tough. I thought I had seen and done a lot of things, but today, acutely aware of what opioid addicts are currently facing, I feel more blessed than ever.
When I began working with young men in treatment, I understood the statistics.I was aware that almost four people in my home state die from overdose every day, and those are the known, reported cases. I’ve been to the conferences and viewed all the slide shows, read all the articles but I was somehow, still sublimely unaware of the true gravity of the situation. It was during an initial interview with a client that I finally grasped the magnitude of the problem.
I have lost friends and family to addiction related death over the years, but only three or four. These guys have lost at least that many within the last year; some of them within the last month!
As I sat face to face with a young man barely in his twenties, he shared with me that twelve of his friends died last year due to opioid overdose. This kid could have easily been one of my four sons’ friends, one of the boys that have been coming in and out of my home for countless sleepovers, birthdays, camp outs for the past 15 years. One of the boys that I have grown to love and know they will always be welcome at any time. It would be a tragedy to lose one of them to overdose, but what would it be to lose all of them? It would be unprecedented and almost incomprehensible, and that is what we are dealing with now. For me, the situation was personified and more intimate than before. One evening during a group session with about fifteen young men I asked, “How many of your friends died within the last year due overdose? Raise your hand if ten of your friends died last year.” All but three raised their hand. “How about fifteen?” Eight hands were raised. “More than fifteen?” Three hands hovered above the circle as the group sat in silent reflection, mourning these young lives cut so painfully short.
My next question was how many of you have overdosed? I listen as they recount how many naloxone injections it required for them to wake up.
Sometimes I feel hopelessly out of touch. I tried not to act shocked as they answer the standard questions such as “How old were you when you first used……….?
My generation: I smoked my first joint when I was fifteen.
Today’s generation: The first time I shot meth / heroin I was fourteen. IV drug use prior to age 15 is not uncommon.
“In my high school, everyone did something. No group was clean, the rich kids, the jocks, the nerds, the bad boys, they all did something.”
As addiction professionals, we are in uncharted waters. The depth and scope of the problem today is almost incomprehensible. Of course, everyone wants to help, but what do we do. The status quo is not enough. Our nation’s youth are at stake. There is no time to argue about which path to recovery is best or what constitutes “real recovery”. Medication assisted treatment save lives. Naloxone access saves lives. I will do whatever it takes to help keep these kids alive.
Trevor Brashier is a husband, father, substance abuse counselor and freelance writer.
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