Change in health policies can prevent overdoses
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