Substance abuse, particularly opioid addiction, is a growing problem that permeates society. Fighting it requires a multi-faceted approach, according to Maureen Dee, executive director of the treatment, prevention and recovery services at Catholic Charities.
Dee addressed the First Friday Forum of Lorain County’s lunch meeting on March 2 at Lorain County Community College’s Spitzer Conference Center. She came armed with statistics showing how serious the opioid addiction problem has become in just a few years. Her topic was “The Effects of Opioids on Society and on Lorain County.”
Dan Alonzo, director of the Catholic Commission of Lorain County and a First Friday Forum board member, introduced Dee, who has an extensive background in social work and treatment and recovery work.
“We’ve had epidemics before,” Dee said, referring to a large number of heroin-related deaths in the 1970s. “But nothing as high as we’re experiencing now.”
She said after heroin, crack cocaine became a popular drug. Next was the pain medication crisis with powerful drugs being overprescribed. She said as law enforcement began cracking down on “pill mills,” peopled turned to heroin because it was inexpensive.
But the real problem now is synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Since 2013, Dee said the number of drug overdose deaths has shot up, with more than 64,000 Americans dying from drug overdoses in 2016 – and the number continues to rise.
“It exceeds deaths from car crashes, HIV/AIDS and peak gun deaths,” she said, according to statistics she shared. In Lorain County, there were 60 hospital emergency room visits connected to overdoses in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, that number doubled to 132.
Dee said opioids are dangerous because they bind to opioid receptors in the brain and throughout the body; they are effective for pain relief; they are narcotics and very addicting; and they are derived from opium. She said there are natural, synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids. The biggest problem now is mixing heroin with synthetic or semi-synthetic opioids. She said a tiny amount of a synthetic opioid like fentanyl or carfentanil can be deadly because is much more potent than a natural opioid like codeine or morphine.
“Opioids help people feel better,” she said, and once a person starts using the substance, it is very difficult to stop.
Dee said substance abuse has economic and personal impacts. The greatest cost is lost productivity, she said, followed by health care, criminal justice, then treatment and prevention. More than half of the cost is borne by the individual and private sector, followed by federal, state and local costs. She estimated the cost at $6.6 billion to $6.8 billion in Ohio, or about $568 per person. In Lorain County, it breaks down to about $200 million, or $655 per person.
Chemical dependency is a disease, she said. “It’s not just a weakness,” she added. Dee said if a family member has a chemical dependency that makes other family members more likely to be affected. There also is a high correlation between persons who have substance abuse disorder and persons who have had adverse childhood experiences or childhood trauma, Dee said.
She said the Matt Talbot program, which was founded in 1965 by Father Berard Scarborough, in Cleveland, has had success in treating substance abuse in both men and women. The biggest problem is space. “We get about 50 requests per month,” Dee said, “and we can accommodate about 10.”
Recovery is a long process that requires detoxification, which can be difficult and painful. Once that step is accomplished, the person can work to modify his or her behavior.
Abuse takes a toll on families, she said, since some enable the substance abuser. She said support is important for families as well as the person struggling with substance abuse disorder.
“Spirituality is also very important in the recovery process,” she said.
“Substance abuse indicates life that is out of balance. Spirituality is growing closer to God, becoming more intimate in our relationship with the Lord or a supreme being and it offers a mechanism to re-order one’s priorities and to regain life balance by seeking a more intimate connection with our source,” Dee said. She also noted that research surveys show increased evidence of spirituality as a healing modality for substance abuse.
For anyone struggling with substance abuse or knowing someone who is struggling with the problem, she said there are many resources available. She suggested visiting greaterthanheroin.com and the Catholic Charities’ website, ccdocle.org, for information on substance abuse programs.
Jason Lewis, grief and loss specialist, Catholic Charities’ Marriage and Family Life Office, will speak on “Even Better After 50: Spirituality and Faith Formation of Older Adults” at the next First Friday Forum on April 6. Call 440-244-0643 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or reservations.