From my front row seat

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Complimentary Relapse is Over

Do you ever get so angry it makes you cry?  We are fighting a powerful, destructive gang and it's so big, the members of the gang don't even know each other or travel in the same circles.  Nevertheless, they belong to a deadly group that is responsible for death, heartache, and sadness that is destroying families everywhere.  We have been personally touched by this devastation, have felt its pain firsthand, and it makes me furious.

Let me introduce you to the members of this gang.  They include pharmaceutical companies, medical professionals, and drug dealers.  Together they have created the perfect storm, a deadly combination of greed, apathy, and pain.

We have been in operation for almost fifteen years now.  When we first got started, meth was the drug of choice, by far.  About the third year, however, painkillers rose to the top and they have stayed there ever since.  Through the years I have occasionally had a woman curl up in the floor of my office and literally cry because she craved painkillers so much.  Never have I seen this kind of behavior over any other drug.

We have served hundreds of women since 2003.  Thankfully, we had never lost even one due to drug overdose, until this year.  And now, despite the fact our program is stronger and more successful than ever, we have lost two former residents within only seven short months.

There are some significant things these two women have in common.  They both had plans for the future.  They both left behind hurting children who will miss them the rest of their lives.  And they both died from drugs laced with Fentanyl, a synthetic Opioid.   Something else they have in common?  Both their lives mattered - a lot.  

So why is there such a rash of people dying from this dreadful drug?  According to the first government account of nationwide drug deaths in 2016, it shows that Fentanyl deaths are up 540% in three years.  This is outrageous.

I feel like I've been walking around for months desperately trying to understand this national epidemic.  From a businessperson's perspective, it makes no sense to kill off your customers.  So why would a drug dealer sell something that could potentially hurt his sales?  I've spent a lot of time talking with our residents, whom I consider to be the experts on this topic, and this is what I've learned.  (I will share their solution later.)

Fentanyl is cheap.  So it's an easy way to deceitfully bulk up another drug to create a higher profit margin.  Truth is, compared to heroin, it only takes a few grains the size of salt to cause someone to die from an overdose of Fentanyl.  So why aren't the dealers being more careful?  Simple fact.  They don't care enough to be careful.  And it's about the money.

Isn't it interesting that a deadly drug like this is dirt cheap, but something like an Epipen for an allergic reaction is outrageously expensive?  Something is terribly out of balance here.  There are all kinds of stories of how some pharmaceutical companies are making harmful decisions based on profits alone, fully aware they are hurting families in the process.  But again, it's about the money.

Then, why are Opioids so prevalent and available?  You don't have to research very long to see that many medical professionals (certainly not all, of course) are eager to over prescribe painkillers.  Therefore, they are in medicine cabinets, purses, and pockets everywhere.   Perhaps the pharmaceutical industry has provided some kind of incentive - that's one theory.  Or maybe it's just easier than taking the time to explore other options.  Is it possible it's about the money or they just don't care?

We have had women show up at Blue Monarch with over thirty legal prescriptions.  How does this happen?  We get so frustrated because our residents will ask doctors to please not prescribe narcotics for them since they struggle with addiction, and yet they will leave with a prescription for narcotics anyway.  We have one woman who was prescribed medications by a doctor for seven years before she actually saw him face to face.  One of our mothers became addicted to Opioids following a surgery and even though her doctor insisted her painkillers would not harm her unborn child, he was tragically born addicted to painkillers, too. 

Truth is, I think relapse has often been considered a natural part of the recovery process.  We have occasionally had women leave our program and then contact us later to report they relapsed.  However, they are also proud to describe how they used the tools they gained at Blue Monarch to pick themselves back up this time, instead of spiraling out of control.

Let's face it - the days of the complimentary relapse are over.  What's out there now is so much more potent, so much more deadly, the same amount that used to feel good will now kill you.  Relapse is no longer an option.

The challenging journey of recovery often takes me back to a time when I was a child, struggling with my own challenge.  I hated the water, and in fact, after a week of swimming lessons, the instructors gave my parents their money back.  The last day was humiliating for them, I'm sure, because while all the other kids were diving off the board and swimming under water to the other side, all I could do was dip my head in the water without holding my nose, and barely dog paddle to keep myself alive.

Nevertheless, every time we went to the Olympic sized pool at a nearby state park, I was determined to jump off the high diving board.  I really don't know why I put myself through this self-inflicted torture, but I felt some kind of overwhelming obligation to conquer my fears and overcome the challenge.

Many times I got to the top of the ladder and then chickened out.  Even though the ladder was completely packed with people, I carefully backed down the ladder past every angry, grumbling swimmer, until I landed safely back on the ground.

This is so much like the struggle I see our women experience here.  They desperately want to conquer their addiction.  They want it so badly!  So they fearfully climb the ladder - and even back down a few times before they eventually make it to the edge of the high diving board.

The day I finally got the nerve to jump off the high diving board, I held my nose, shut my eyes, and then leapt into thin air.  It seemed like I fell forever, and since my eyes were shut, landing in the water came as a sudden shock.  I quickly struggled to rise to the surface for air and was horrified to discover someone had put a lid on the pool!  I couldn't get out!  I struck the lid over and over with my fist and went into a complete panic.  I knew for sure I would drown.  

Then it occurred to me to open my eyes.  When I did, I discovered the world was upside down. What I thought was the surface of the water was actually the floor of the pool.  In fact, there were my father's feet in front of me.

He reached down, grabbed my hand, and pulled me out of the water.  "What in the world were you doing down there?"

I believe this is exactly what happens sometimes with people who relapse.  They conquer their fear of sobriety (because there really is a fear of success and the unknown), they painfully climb that enormous ladder of recovery, finally make it to the edge of the diving board, then jump off into their new lives of hope and uncertainty.  But when their world gets turned upside down because of sadness, regret, discouragement, or simply feeling overwhelmed, they head downward for help and not up. 

The deadly gang we battle is so large and out of control, I'm not sure what we do to reel that monster back.  What we can do, though, is follow the advice of the amazing women we serve.  We can tell the ones we love, who are struggling with possible relapse, "Please open your eyes, look up, and grab the hand of your Heavenly Father who is reaching for you."  He does care.  And this is the crazy part - it's free.  

Thank you, Lord, for Blue Monarch - a place where women can learn the true solution to addiction and relapse.  Please protect every single woman who has ever crossed our threshold, that she will look to you before her child ever has to live without her.  Amen 

*When I polled the women at Blue Monarch, each one of them said the only solution was having a personal relationship with God and relying on Him for strength.  They saw no other way to overcome addiction and relapse.