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The Opiod Addiction Epidemic in Our Communities

Part 2 of 2

(page 1 of 2)

Editor's note: Part 1 of this two-part series on how opioid use is growing in our local communities talks about who's using, how easy it is to become addicted and how law enforcement has increasingly come to understand and handle addiction as a public-health crisis. Part 2 focuses on solutions — where and how to get help for yourself or a loved one, as well as how to help kids steer clear of addiction in the first place.

Christopher Marshall was a “normal kid with a decent family” growing up in Northeast Philly. He loved computers, science and taking things apart to see how they worked. At 23, Marshall hurt his back while working as a mechanic, and his well-meaning grandmother gave him some of her leftover Percocet, an opioid pain medication.

“I took one of these pills, and the pain cleared right up,” he recalls. A short time later he hurt his back worse, so he took two pills. “I felt a buzz and thought, ‘I like this.’ At that moment something clicked in my brain, and I thought this was how I was supposed to feel my whole life.”

Despite brief stints of success at methadone clinics, Marshall continued a downward spiral, shoplifting to get money to support his drug habit. He was finally jailed for identity theft for a year in 2012, the push he needed to get clean.

He discovered The Last Stop, a recovery house in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia that offered him a place to stay and provided the support he needed to stay sober. He’s still there, though now Marshall serves as The Last Stop’s director. “I’m doing whatever I can to help another addict,” he says.

Get help to get clean

Getting and staying clean is hard. “The first step is being motivated to make a change,” says Kate Cronan, pediatric emergency medicine physician at Nemours/Alfred I. Dupont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE. “That means telling your friends or family that you’re addicted and asking for help.”

Treatment for an opioid addiction generally starts with a program to teach behavioral changes and offer counseling. In some cases, clients receive medications such as methadone to help relieve common opiate withdrawal symptoms, which may include irritability, shakiness, anxiety and even seizures.

Block the path to addiction

“Kids as young as 14 are experimenting with prescription drugs, believing they're safe to take,” says Rita Landgraf, cabinet secretary for Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services. Landgraf believes education is vital. 

Programs such as Right in My Backyard, a collaboration between Gregg Wolfe, a Cherry Hill, NJ father whose son Justin died from a heroine overdose, and Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Southern New Jersey hope to stem the tide of addiction through instruction. In partnership with Camden County’s Task Force, experts visit community groups to educate both teens and their parents on the opiate-use epidemic.

“We have breakout groups where someone in recovery and I meet with the teenagers so they can talk a bit more freely, while the police meet with parents, telling them signs to look for,” says Elana Dobrowolski, program director at Meridian Counseling Services in Cherry Hill, NJ.

Parents must keep the lines of communication open — discussing anxiety, peer issues and other stresses — and talk about their children’s friends who may be experimenting with drugs.

“Help kids figure out ways to handle those situations, including direct boundary setting or distraction,” says Dobrowolski. “Parents can encourage their children to be involved in positive activities, discuss rules, expectations and consequences around drug and alcohol use and consistently enforce consequences. It's also important to avoid contradictions between their own words and behaviors when it comes to drug and alcohol use.”

See page 2 for local programs that work to treat or prevent addiction.

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