Pan­elists say re­cov­ery from ad­dic­tion is pos­si­ble

Kent County News - - NEWS -

ROCK HALL — Speak­ing from first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence, pro­fes­sion­als and laypeo­ple de­liv­ered mes­sages of hope at last week’s drug aware­ness event in Rock Hall.

About 70 peo­ple at­tended the Oct. 25 get-to­gether that was or­ga­nized by Betty Ann Glenn, who iden­ti­fied her­self as the mother of an ad­dict.

Glenn said her ob­jec­tive was a frank and non-scripted con­ver­sa­tion about the opi­oid cri­sis that has led state and national lead­ers to de­clare a pub­lic health emer­gency.

In Mary­land in 2016, there were a record 2,089 over­dose deaths. That would fill five 747 cargo air­craft, said Tim Dove, the lo­cal ad­dic­tions author­ity for Kent County.

Na­tion­ally, the num­ber of over­dose deaths last year ex­ceeded 64,000, more than the num­ber of Amer­i­can ser­vice­men and women killed dur­ing the Viet­nam War.

Glenn’s home­town of Rock Hall is in the grip of the heroin scourge, with sev­eral re­ported over­dose deaths in 2016 and one death this year.

Per­haps the most com­pelling speaker was Gabby Nord­hoff, 14, who talked about what it is like to be the child of an ad­dict.

“I haven’t lived with my par­ents since I was very young be­cause they could not take care of me. Their main con­cern was drugs,” the Rock Hall teenager said.

She said she has learned that “you don’t chose to be an ad­dict” and that “ad­dicts will lie and steal and hurt any­one” to feed their habit.

Nord­hoff’s fa­ther was only 38 when he died of a heroin over­dose in May. She said her fa­ther had over­dosed at least one other time but was re­vived after be­ing ad­min­is­tered Nar­can, the opi­oid-re­vers­ing medicine.

Nord­hoff said her fa­ther’s death led her mother to en­ter a treat­ment fa­cil­ity, and is now more than 90 days “clean.”

The panel of speak­ers in­cluded Ray­mond Truex, an ac­com­plished neu­ro­sur­geon from Penn­syl­va­nia who re­lated how he pulled him­self out of the abyss of drug ad­dic­tion.

He has been sober for 27 years.

“Drug ad­dicts can re­cover,” Truex said. “Re­mem­ber that an ad­dict is a sick per­son with the po­ten­tial to get well, not a bad per­son hop­ing to be­come good.”

While Truex grew up with ad­van­tages that not ev­ery- one has — a mid­dle class back­ground, ed­u­cated fam­ily, in­volved and sup­port­ive par­ents — he deemed his story as “typ­i­cal,” re­lat­ing how feel­ings of in­ad­e­quacy and un­wor­thi­ness helped to sab­o­tage the suc­cess he had achieved as a highly re­garded doc­tor.

Life took a dis­as­trous turn in 1986 when he was sued for mil­lions of dol­lars in a mal­prac­tice case, his mother died and his wife left him be­cause he was work­ing in­sane hours and was never home.

“I was ill-equipped to deal with this kind of ad­ver­sity,” Truex said mat­ter-of-factly.

One night he ac­cepted a young med­i­cal stu­dent’s in­vi­ta­tion to smoke co­caine at a party. After the first drag, “I was hooked and I couldn’t go back,” he said.

Truex said in the en­su­ing six months he de­stroyed all the good he had done. He was liv­ing in a cheap mo­tel, buy­ing drugs on the street cor­ner while wear­ing his med­i­cal scrubs, hang­ing out with peo­ple who car­ried guns and spend­ing lots of money on drugs.

He was un­kempt and late to work — if he showed up at all. He was fired. This was his rock bot­tom. “Ev­ery­one here prob­a­bly knows a good per­son who has gone down this path,” Truex said to the au­di­ence.

He went to re­hab and when he came out he landed a job help­ing oth­ers who were strug­gling with ad­dic­tion, what he de­scribed as “the one thing I was qual­i­fied to do.”

Truex sub­se­quently re­turned to work as a neu­ro­sur­geon and can­cer spe­cial­ist, re­tir­ing at the end of June after 50 years in the med­i­cal field.

For many years he has sup­ported and ad­vo­cated for physi­cians strug­gling with ad­dic­tion.

“Be­cause of the life­long lessons I learned in re­cov­ery, I can han­dle suc­cess and ad­ver­sity. I can han­dle life on life’s terms,” he said.

Dr. Ben Kohl re­lated how as the di­rec­tor of East­ern Shore Psy­cho­log­i­cal Ser­vices, he has seen the in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful grip that ad­dic­tion has on in­di­vid­u­als and their fam­i­lies and he also has seen what he de­scribed as “sto­ries of hope, that re­cov­ery is pos­si­ble.”

There are now some very en­cour­ag­ing pro­grams in place in Kent County, Kohl said, in­clud­ing Kent County Be­hav­ioral Health, Re­cov­ery in Mo­tion and East­ern Shore Mo­bile Cri­sis — as well as East­ern Shore Psy­cho­log­i­cal Ser­vices, which has an of­fice in Ch­ester­town, pro­vid­ing men­tal health care and sub­stance abuse treat­ment.

Times have changed for the bet­ter in how sub­stance abuse is treated, the pan­elists agreed.

In the 1980s and 1990s, “we locked peo­ple up for drug prob­lems,” Kohl said.

“We’re be­gin­ning to rec­og­nize that we can­not in­car­cer­ate our way out of this dis­ease. It’s not the same puni­tive sys­tem it used to be,” he said.

Sen­tenc­ing op­tions for in­car­cer­a­tion are be­ing re­duced, Kohl said.

In Kent County, there is the Post Ad­ju­di­ca­tion Su­per­vi­sion and Treat­ment pro­gram, a quasi-drug court that of­fers an al­ter­na­tive to the stan­dard in­car­cer­a­tion and pro­ba­tion model and pro­vides in­creased lev­els of treat­ment and more di­rect su­per­vi­sion.

There also is a move­ment to­ward harm-re­duc­tion pro­grams that call for non­judg­men­tal, non­co­er­cive treat­ments and pro­vi­sion of ser­vices. At the end of this process, the per­son might choose to ac­cept a fuller treat­ment for an ad­dic­tion. In the in­terim, per­haps some of the more se­ri­ous con­se­quences of ad­dic­tion — in­car­cer­a­tion, poverty, home­less­ness and ill­ness — can be avoided.

Kohl said suc­cess­ful sub­stance abuse treat­ment is now more avail­able be­cause harm-re­duc­tion pro­grams are in place.

He said the con­cept of harm re­duc­tion ac­cepts that drug use ex­ists; rec­og­nizes the re­al­i­ties of stress, poverty, racism, so­cial iso­la­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion; and af­firms that pa­tients have a voice in the cre­ation of ser­vices to as­sist in their re­cov­ery.

The norm is that sub­stance abuse is a dis­ease of re­lapse, Kohl said.

“It takes time to get a drug ad­dict bet­ter,” Truex said, list­ing the chances of re­lapse at 70 per­cent if the in­di­vid­ual has been clean for less than a year; 50 per­cent if he has been clean for one or two years; and 15 per­cent if he has been clean for more than five years.

Other fac­tors in re­cov­ery are so­cial pres­sures, fi­nan­cial stress, men­tal health chal­lenges, du­ra­tion of drug use and the age when the in­di­vid­ual started us­ing.

Dr. John Moser, an­other of the pan­elists, said he has pre­scribed Subox­one, which can re­lieve the symp­toms of drug crav­ings and with­drawal.

It’s a con­tro­ver­sial treat­ment, Moser ac­knowl­edged, but the ad­van­tages are that it keeps the ad­dict un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a doc­tor and keeps the ad­dict from com­mit­ting crimes to support his habit.

Moser said he has had some suc­cesses and some dis­ap­point­ments.

In re­sponse to a ques­tion from the au­di­ence, Moser and Truex said the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try — through mar­ket­ing and down­play­ing the drugs’ ad­dic­tive nature — has played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the opi­oid epi­demic.

Both doc­tors also said that in the past, they were called out by hos­pi­tal ad­min­is­tra­tors and pa­tients if they did not pre­scribe nar­cotics for pain.

All the speak­ers agreed that ad­dic­tion is a dis­ease, not a moral fail­ing, and that more money should be al­lo­cated for treat­ment and af­ter­care.

In a fol­lowup in­ter­view to as­sess the meet­ing, which lasted nearly three hours, Glenn said she was pleased.

“The au­di­ence was en­gaged, ask­ing ques­tions. We’ve never had any­thing like that be­fore,” she said.

Glenn also thanked the nu­mer­ous Rock Hall busi­nesses that do­nated food, bev­er­ages and desserts that were avail­able through­out the meet­ing.

District Court Judge John Nunn, Cir­cuit Court Judge Har­ris Mur­phy, Rock Hall Mayor Brian Jones, Vice Mayor Ros­alie Kuech­ler and Coun­cil­woman Beth An­drews at­tended, but did not speak.

Kent County Be­hav­ioral Health pro­vided free train­ing in the use of Nalox­one, which is sold un­der the brand name Nar­can. Seven peo­ple took the train­ing and took home a dose of Nar­can nasal spray.

PHOTO BY TR­ISH MCGEE

Dr. Ray­mond Truex speaks about his re­cov­ery from co­caine ad­dic­tion, a story of hope that was re­lated at an Oct. 25 panel dis­cus­sion in Rock Hall.

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