It’s easy to see the correlation between addiction and broken families. It’s a situation that’s been playing out for decades and has only increased as opioids become more and more of a threat to a wider scope of Americans. Amazingly enough, the number of American children in foster care decreased significantly between 2005-2012. Recently, however, we’ve seen this correlation reemerge. New figures from the United States Department of Health and Human Services reveals that there were 427,910 children in the foster care system as of September 30, 2015, up from about 414,429 a year earlier. The peak was 524,000 children in foster care in 2002, and the number had dropped steadily to about 397,000 in 2012 before rising again.
The report also reveals that the foster care population increased in nearly 75 percent of American states in 2015. Officials from Health and Human Services have stated that parental substance abuse was cited as a factor in 32.2 percent of the 2015 cases in which a child was removed from home up from 28.5 percent in 2012. Interviews with states impacted the most by this problem revealed opioid and methamphetamines as a major source of substance abuse-related dysfunction. Of the children in foster care a year ago, 52 percent were boys. Twenty-one percent were Hispanic, 24 percent black and 43 percent white. Just under 103,000 of them were available for adoption.
This report reaffirms the significant devastation that addiction inflicts not only on sufferers themselves but also families that it touches. For practically every one person who suffers from addiction, there is an entire group of people that suffers right alongside them. This is why it’s important that families are an integral part of the treatment and recovery processes and acquaint themselves with their roles in their loved ones’ ongoing sobriety.
Anyone in the recovery community quickly learns that unchecked and untreated anxiety is an express route to a setback in our progress. Relapse comes in many forms and on many vehicles, and anxiety and depression are two of the most common platforms. Right now, there is a great deal of anxiety all across the country and it can be difficult to not internalize that and let it affect our lives. Whether it’s the result of a political event, turmoil within our families, financial concerns or anything else, anxiety is everywhere and we can either let it consume us or we can harness it and use it as an opportunity to learn more about ourselves.
When we feel ourselves starting to be affected by fear, apprehension or anxiety, there are a number of things we can do to self-diagnose, and begin to remedy the situation. Some of these devices include taking the situation to our therapist and getting their perspective or simply relying on an objective friend or loved one. We can also bring the issue up at our recovery meeting and get the perspectives of those who may be also suffering from some level of anxiety. The point is to externalize our issues and make sure we have some place to go to voice our concerns.
The road to relapse is commonly traveled by those who have let anxiety consume their daily lives. Many begin to feel that it’s just easier to escape back into substance rather than deal with their trauma or worry head on. Part of the recovery process is developing the emotional strength to deal with adversity that has nothing to do with our substance abuse so we don’t let it derail our progress. It’s important to remember that we are never alone and that we have options of which we can avail ourselves if we’re feeling vulnerable for any reason.
October 28 the saw the conclusion of 2016’s Recovery Awareness Prevention (RAP) Week in the Northport-East Northport School District. The five-day event was an opportunity for students in Northport to receive further education regarding the dangers of drug addiction and what they can do to avoid it in their communities. Featuring a series of engaging guest speakers, informative assemblies and interactive exercises, RAP Week focused on the physical, emotional and lifestyle dangers associated with drug abuse to highlight the impact it can have on a person’s life. The event provided much-needed information and awareness to a community that is increasingly vulnerable to drug abuse and addiction.
Events were held at all school levels in the district, including an assembly for seventh-grade students called “Beyond the Gateway Drugs” which demonstrated the dangers of the drugs that many middle-school students think are harmless. The event highlighted the dangers of marijuana and recreational prescription drug use. Students were educated regarding the biological effects of illicit and prescription drugs, and the circumstances that can sometimes lead to abuse and addiction. The event was met with appreciation and positive reviews from students, faculty and administrators, alike. Northport High School also a hosted series of assemblies. Guest speakers from various institutions and organizations visited the school and spoke about the impact of drugs and addiction.
The importance of events like RAP Week in schools cannot be understated. In a climate in which drug use is an ageless public health threat, education, awareness and empowerment should be deployed as early as possible to prevent today’s students from becoming tomorrow’s addicts. While enforcement and treatment are undoubtedly important elements in prevention, education is where awareness starts, and it is a critical part of curbing opioid and other types of illicit drug use all around Long Island.
We learn very quickly that recovery is a lifelong journey. There’s no definitive end; just a series of progressive milestones that we meet and celebrate, and from which we gain strength. Like any lifetime endeavor, we can, and often do, find ourselves stumbling a bit along the way throughout the course of our recovery. The reality of this journey is that relapse is possible even after years of progress and sobriety. In an effort to further insulate ourselves from the possibility of these setbacks, we can perform regular self-diagnostics to assess our level of strength and growth. It’s entirely possible that, at some point along the way, we may need some extra help from our therapists at various points of the recovery process.
One of the inevitabilities of life is that things change, and not always for the better. Our loved ones pass, we go through periods of economic hardship, relationships go south and all manner of other obstacles threaten our mental health (and recovery) on a daily basis. Whenever those of us in the recovery community experience these types of issues, we have the extra layer of obligation to make sure that we have other means to cope other than drugs or alcohol. By periodically asking ourselves if we’re OK, and answering ourselves honestly, we’re putting ourselves more in touch with our feelings and any emotional difficulties we may be experiencing.
Relapse rates are unfortunately high among the recovery community, even for those with years of sobriety under their belts. It does not, however, have to be an accepted reality for all of us. The more aware we are of our potential vulnerability, and the more honest we are about our choices in addressing it, the more effective we can be in heading our vulnerability off at the path. It’s critical that we check in with ourselves once in a while to see if we’re OK. If we’re not, we should ask ourselves why, and what we can do about it.
A new study from New York University confirms what many New York Residents and families of drug users have the misfortune of already knowing: public bathrooms are common locations for heroin addicts to inject the drug. This particular study focused on public bathrooms in businesses and office buildings, sampling business managers who have had encounters with overdose at their workplaces. Many businesses in NYC offer public restrooms. Researchers suggest that the findings warrant increased Narcan training for business managers that encounter overdose in their places of business on a regular basis; this training would include helping participants recognize the signs of potentially fatal overdose so they can save lives.
Last year, a survey of 440 drug injectors in NYC conducted by the Injection Drug Users Health Alliance found nearly two-thirds (60%) of active injectors surveyed reported using public locations, such as public bathrooms, in the last three months for injections. As dangerous as active injection-drug use is on its own, exposure to environments like public bathrooms and subway platforms dramatically increases the chance of disease, including HIV, hepatitis C (HCV), and hepatitis B (HBV) and more. More research like this sparks further conversation regarding the peripheral risks of public injection and the possibility of alternatives to mitigate this collateral damage.
One of the more controversial suggestions that is emerging from the study is that of supervised injection facilities in which addicts can take drugs in a sterile environment and have the benefit of expert intervention in the event of overdose. Researchers say these facilities are practical, cost-effective strategies that would more than likely reduce public injecting and overdose mortality in New York City and assist in linking this population to health services and drug treatment just as they have in other cities throughout the world.
The study bas been entitled “Drug Use in Business Bathrooms: An exploratory study of manager encounters in New York City” and was published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.
In a measure that can be safely described as controversial, the New York City Council has set aside $100,000 to examines the benefits and consequences of supervised injection facilities. The money is part of budgetary resources allocated to help fight the spread of heroin and opioid overdose. These facilities would allow heroin users to inject the drug into their veins using sterile equipment under the supervision of a healthcare professional who will be standing by with the drug Narcan in the event of an overdose. Proponents argue that they may cut down on the some of the factors the heighten risk of heroin abuse, including dirty needles and fear of legal repercussions that prevent so many from calling when their friends suffer overdoses.
While these facilities currently exist in several other countries, and their domestic consideration may be born of noble intent, it’s worth considering whether or not it’s the first step toward surrender to an overwhelming problem for we’ve officially run out of solutions. Many argue that allowing these facilities to flourish in the New York community is simply giving up on finding ways to mitigate its use. Granted it’s only $100,000 in a multi-million dollar budget; however, some are fearful that this line of thinking creates a slipper slope. Moreover, it’s also worth asking if this $100,000 would not be better spent on the study of a new type of treatment therapy or more anti-overdose resources enforcement.
As a nation, we have not even come close to putting the full weight of our resources behind finding solutions to heroin and opioid abuse that don’t accept use and addiction as an inevitability, and institutionalizes it. While nothing should be off the table in deciding how to best curb opioid abuse and addiction, perhaps a lengthier and more meaningful conversation should take place before we monetize complacency.
It’s question that each and every one of us asks ourselves at some point during our recovery: “Am I done healing yet?” If we don’t use those exact words, we use some variation of them. The inclination to place deadlines on the recovery process is natural; after all, we like to believe that there is an end to all difficult and challenging situations. Unfortunately it’s not very helpful, and can even be a little dangerous. These deadlines are fundamentally incompatible with the lifelong nature of the recovery process, and if we view our journeys as something with an end, we are setting ourselves up for frequent and potentially profound disappointment.
There’s a very good reason why we’re urged to live “one day at a time” in recovery: each day has its own challenges and obstacles. Over time, we get stronger and more at-home on our recovery paths, but we never really finish. If we stay focused and follow our plans, we will put active substance abuse, and the lives we were living as a result of it, far in our rearview; but it doesn’t help to envision a time in which we can once again “casually” use drugs or alcohol. Recovery means living it every day, and remembering what brought us to this point in our lives.
However, just as each day presents its own challenges, it also presents its own opportunity to learn, grown and triumph. As we get incrementally stronger and start to embrace more of life’s challenges and rewards, we’ll be able to experience our growth and palpably measure our progress. As enough time passes, we’ll realize that “this” is what successful recovery looks like and we’ll shed the need to envision a “cure” or an “end” because we’re living these concepts on a daily basis. Recovery allows us to reap the same rewards as those who live outside of the community—there’s no need to place added pressures on ourselves with deadlines. We’ll get there.
Fatal Washington Heights Shooting Highlights Link Between Cocaine and Crime
With the widespread proliferation of heroin and prescription opioid abuse dominating the national addiction treatment conversation, cocaine abuse has been able to fly under the radar and continue to comparatively little enforcement of intervention. In the mean time, the drug, in all of its forms, continues to cripple urban communities, driving down property values and significantly impairing residents’ quality of life. The latest example of this toxic correlation made headlines this past week when one man allegedly fatally gunned down another in Highbridge Park. The alleged gunman also shot another in the shoulder, but he survived. Police have said the altercation began when the victims couldn’t give the shooter more cocaine during what they say was an all-night binge.
Though the shooting occurred just last week, the relationship between cocaine and crime is hardly a new story. Between random incidents like the aforementioned shooting and organized crime groups using it as currency to spread their operations and reach, cocaine has been a major driver of violent crime for decades. Although the availability of cocaine has decline significantly in the past ten years, according to the DEA, its ghosts still continue to haunt many of the communities in which was once king. While the disproportionate sentencing guidelines for crack users have been well documented, the lasting impact of both crack and powder cocaine on communities cannot be ignored.
Addiction is not a linear or straightforward concept, nor is the devastation it causes to those directly affected by it. Although experts have reported a “normalization” in cocaine use across the United States, there’s nothing normal about what the drug often compels users to do in pursuit of their next fix once their substance abuse morphs into full-blown addiction. Just a few months ago, Long Island police officers seized more than 200 grams of the drug in an ongoing raid that has put front and center cocaine-related gangland activity in the area. In other words, this problem is far from over.
Timetable: Forecasting Improvements in Addiction Treatment
The fact that Long Island is in the midst of a full-scale drug and alcohol addiction epidemic is not in question, nor is the fact the problem requires widespread institutional intervention at all levels. Each year, hundreds of Long Island residents succumb to heroin or prescription opioid overdose, while many more are taken by synthetic marijuana, or alcohol-related fatality. While law enforcement, prevention advocates and leaders at every level are starting to mobilize to do their part in curbing abuse in their communities, the reality is that progress takes time and there are thousands of vulnerable Long Island residents that simply can’t afford to wait.
Whether it’s organizing an awareness event, authoring new legislation to increase treatment and overdose prevention resources, or simply starting a conversation among your friends and family, we all have our roles to play in curbing substance abuse. In an area that has been so heavily plagued by this pervasive public health epidemic, it’s literally all hands on deck. Governor Cuomo recently signed a potentially impactful legislative package. But these changes are likely to occur incrementally and leave addicts more vulnerable in the meantime. This is why it’s important that communities as well as lawmakers adopt an attitude of proactive change.
If we’re unsure of how to help, we can reach out to local leaders and see what initiatives are being undertaken to spread awareness. We can work with them to organize events of their own or volunteer at previously scheduled rallies or gatherings. The bottom is that we simply can’t afford to wait for change to come at the official when we have such abundant power to affect change around us. Our chances of helping others who vulnerable to substance are greatly improved when we empower and educate themselves regarding the disease of addiction and what we can do to curb it in our communities.
Embracing Role Models in Recovery
Whether we realize it or not, many of us spend our entire lives developing role models. It doesn’t have to be the popular athlete, artist, thinker or even a family member. A role model can be a colleague, a survivor, a friend, a boss or anyone else who we believe are staying true to their ideals and living life the right way. Like many areas of life, the concept of role models can take on a whole new meaning for those of us in recovery. Our individual journeys cause to locate threats, lessons, ups, downs and role models often in the least likely places.
While the concept of role models may seem more the realm of the younger and more idealistic, the fact is they can be a tremendous source of inspiration and comfort as we move through the initial stages of our recovery. It is true that each one of our substance abuse journeys are different. However, when we see someone who has been able to successfully overcome their drug or alcohol dependency and achieve long-term recovery, we can’t help but get an automatic jolt of inspiration and tell ourselves that it can be done. This is an extremely valuable resource when we feel like we’re all alone, as so many of us do.
While our recovery lies squarely in our hands, we can embrace help and inspiration whenever we find it. If this means taking cues from others and seeking their advice to stay on track, we should use this as part of our recovery toolkit. Role models are a continuous part of life, and we never stop learning from others. While we don’t have to, nor should we, emulate anyone else’s life 100 percent, we can certainly benefit from guidance by example. In the end, this may actually help us become role models for others.