Change in health poli­cies can pre­vent over­doses

The Ambler Gazette - - OPINION -

To the Ed­i­torW

The death of a child is a par­ent’s worst night­mare. Griev­ing this loss is like a wound that never fully heals. The heal­ing that does oc­cur is aided by fam­ily and community sup­port we turn to for com­pas­sion and un­der­stand­ing. Be­reave­ment sup­port groups are avail­able to make a con­nec­tion with oth­ers who share this tragedy.

When a child dies from an ac­ci­den­tal drug over­dose, most community sup­port is buried be­hind the wide, steep wall of stigma that is at­tached to drug use and ad­dic­tion in our cul­ture. pup­port and com­pas­sion of fam­ily and friends is no­tice­ably muted. Un­com­fort­able awk­ward­ness and avoid­ance is com­mon. Judg­men­tal opin­ions about their par­ent­ing and com­ments about the char­ac­ter and moral strength of their child are just as com­mon. Des­per­ately needed sup­port from the community is of­ten re­placed with salt thrown into the wound.

The tragic death of Philadel­phia Ea­gles coach Andy oeid’s son Gar­rett by ac­ci­den­tal over­dose is one of tens of thou­sands that oc- cur each year in the United ptates. In fact, it is the sec­ond lead­ing cause of ac­ci­den­tal death the United ptates be­hind mo­tor ve­hi­cle deaths and the lead­ing cause of death in many states.

padly, the stigma and pub­lic ig­no­rance as­so­ci­ated with drug use and ad­dic­tion con­trib­ute to our coun­try’s shame­ful pub­lic health poli­cies that crim­i­nal­ize and stig­ma­tize drug use and ad­dic­tion — shame­ful be­cause our morally driven law en­force­ment-based poli­cies have cost more than a tril­lion dol­lars since the early 19T0s and haven’t dented the amount of drugs used in our coun­try but have funded a prison-in­dus­trial com­plex that has led to the United ptates hous­ing 25 per­cent of the world’s prison pop­u­la­tion de­spite hav­ing only 5 per­cent of the world’s to­tal pop­u­la­tion.

We have made ad­vances in re­search that have now es­tab­lished ad­dic­tion as a com­plex prob­lem with bi­o­log­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, so­cial and spir­i­tual com­po­nents. I know from my ex­pe­ri­ence as a psy­chol­o­gist work­ing with drug users and from per­sonal ex­peri- ence with ad­dic­tion in my own fam­ily that ef­fec­tive sci­ence and re­search-based treat­ment is avail­able.

How­ever, pub­lic health poli­cies that de­pend on in­car­cer­at­ing away prob­lems like drug use and ad­dic­tion, spend­ing bil­lions of dol­lars to ware­house and process peo­ple rather than of­fer ef­fec­tive treat­ment, al­low many of our loved ones to die need­lessly.

In the past year, I’ve shifted some of my at­ten­tion from my clin­i­cal work with drug users and their fam­i­lies to the im­pact of the larger pub­lic health en­vi­ron­ment on them. Af­ter decades of fed­eral gov­ern­ment stig­main­duc­ing drug poli­cies, I’m be­gin­ning to see some glim­mers of hope.

My path into in­volve­ment in pub­lic health has led me to be­come an ad­vi­sory board mem­ber of GoApP (Grief oe­cov­ery Af­ter a pub­stance Pass­ing, (www.gras­phelp.orgF, which rep­re­sents a na­tion­wide net­work of sup­port groups for par­ents and fam­ily mem­bers of those who have died from ac­ci­den­tal drug over­dose. GoApP and its par­ent group Bro­ken No More ( www. b r o k e n - n o - more. orgF al­low par­ents to con­nect and work on heal­ing their loss with­out the stigma and judg­ment about ad­dic­tion that’s of­ten found in other sup­port groups. In the past two years, GoApP groups na­tion­wide have more than quadru­pled — from 10 to more than 40.

pome states have shifted from poli­cies that stig­ma­tize to those based on com­pas­sion and sci­ence by pass­ing leg­is­la­tion al­low­ing dis­tri­bu­tion of nalox­one, a safe, ef­fec­tive and in­ex­pen­sive drug that pre­vents ac­ci­den­tal over­dose deaths.

Good pa­mar­i­tan 911 laws, which pro­tect from pros­e­cu­tion peo­ple who are wit­ness­ing an ac­ci­den­tal over­dose and want to call 911 for help, is an­other pub­lic health op­tion grounded in health and hu­man rights that seven states have al­ready adopted. Cur­rently, both Penn­syl­va­nia and New Jersey have Good pa­mar­i­tan 911 bills work­ing their way through their leg­is­la­tures.

The oeid fam­ily’s courage and open­ness in pub­licly dis­cussing their strug­gle with Gar­rett’s and their other son Brett’s ad­dic­tion helps to

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