MA Health Secretary Details Impact of Relative's Addiction On Her Family

By Victoria Kim 11/02/16

“Addictions are a disease of relapse, so we need to not walk away from the person, but to really lean in and stay with them.”

MA Health Secretary Details Impact of Relative's Addiction On Her Family
Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary MaryLou Sudders Photo: YouTube

Addiction affects everyone—even the Secretary of Health and Human Services of Massachusetts, MaryLou Sudders.

Sudders sat down with Herald Radio on Tuesday and spoke about the devastating impact that addiction had on her family. 

Sudders said it was hard to watch as one of her relatives “deteriorated” over a “40-year on and off history with opioids, prescription pills, [and] doctor shopping.” Even for her, “it was sort of a shock to your system,” she said. 

Sudders recalled watching as her relative—who entered treatment in July—was “Narcaned” in an ambulance and revived from a drug overdose. 

She recalled that the family struggled for years, unable to find relief for the relative. “We did some interventions in the family and helped the individual to get into treatment,” she said. “We believed they were on the road to recovery, but I think we needed to stay more present and more urgent.”

At times, it was hard to tell if they were using or not. “This is an individual who is an adult, who can say ‘I’m fine, I have a sponsor, I am going to treatment.’ It turned out, over time, they had relapsed but they were pretty good about covering it up,” said the health secretary.

Sudders said it’s important to not give up on a loved one struggling with addiction. “Addictions are a disease of relapse, so we need to not walk away from the person, but to really lean in and stay with them,” she told the radio show. “It can be extraordinarily hard because there are times where families have to step back and say ‘You’re on your own right now, when you’re ready for treatment, we are there with you.’”

Sudders used this opportunity to speak about the toll that opiate addiction has had on Massachusetts, and to make a case for harm reduction. 

“It’s a reminder, it affects everyone, and that’s what we are dealing with in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” she said.

“One thing I think we have … done a good job of is being very public that addictions are a disease and they are not a lack of willpower.”

A recent report by WBUR highlighted the lack of treatment beds in the state. According to court data, the annual number of voluntary commitments to substance use treatment has gone up by 40% in the last five years.

According to the report, people have been asking judges to lock them up in treatment under Section 35 of Massachusetts law, desperate for help that is lacking in the outside world.

Sudders says despite all odds there is hope, and that the state is working to expand treatment. But she acknowledged the system’s current limitations. “We have a long ways to go before … in that moment there is treatment available when people say ‘I am ready for it,’” she said, “but it’s a reminder the illness affects not only the person with the addiction, but their entire family, however you define that family.”

The health secretary is also a believer of recovery in all its forms—not only abstinence. “For someone addicted to opioids or heroin, medication-assisted treatment may be the right path for them,” she said. 

“I am someone who believes we need all the treatment tools, have prescribers and treaters have a trusted relationship with people, and to not give up on them.” 

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr