Dorchester, it’s time to meet your neighbor: opioid use


Bobbing about

We are in the midst of a quiet epidemic. A disease runs through the Dorchester community. It is afflicting, and in some cases killing, your family, friends and neighbors.

We are not alone. The disease is opioid substance use, and it’s ravaging the U.S. If we truly think in terms of community, none of us are immune. It’s time we acknowledge this sickness together and fight it together.

Founded in 1954, the American Society of Addiction Medicine represents more than 4,000 physicians, clinicians and associated professionals.

According to ASAM’s online publication, Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures, addiction is, “a primary, chronic and relapsing brain disease characterized by an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.”

Also according to the facts and figures, “opioids are a class of drugs that include the illicit drug heroin as well as the licit prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others ...

“Of the 21.5 million Americans 12 or older that had a substance use disorder in 2014, 1.9 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers and 586,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin. ... Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.”

According to a Sept. 22 news release from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, there were 920 deaths related to overdoses in our state from January to June. That’s more than 150 deaths per month. There were 1,259 overdose deaths in 2015 in Maryland.

There are some among us trying to raise awareness, but their talk often falls upon deaf ears. The unhappy subject is pretty plain. This is a disease and it is an epidemic. If it were a deadly flu, we would be hypervigilant. We would fight the disease together.

Instead, with opioid use, the afflicted are often shamed, cast aside, neglected or left behind. However, the symptoms and behavior that often come with this disease are not deserving of reward. In this way, we are not immune.

I have four good, close friends and a family member who are addicts, either in the throes of heroin use or recovering. For their sake and mine, I must respect their privacy.

I will say I love these people, and I am so glad they’re still here. They are the lucky ones, the fighters. One of these friends is addicted and not in recovery. Unfortunately, to protect myself and my family, I had to cut this person out of my life. This is a painful, awful thing.

I am not immune and neither are you.

While we all must protect ourselves, we also must accept that the worst qualities we see in addicts are a reflection of the worst qualities in ourselves. At the most basic level, what we see is suffering, for those diseased and those close to them. We all suffer. Such is life. We must do our best not to judge nor to stigmatize.

This is not a problem reserved for white, black, rich nor poor. Like any other disease, it knows nor respects no color, wealth nor social status.

We must face this disease like we would face any other infectious killer. It is no different than the Zika Virus, AIDS nor the flu. With any widespread sickness, sharing information is an important way to fight the good fight. I, and others at the Banner, intend to do just that. Before we can fight it, we must know it.

This past Friday, Paul Clipper, Banner special projects editor, and I met with Dorchester County State’s Attorney William Jones; Anna Sierra, county director of Emergency Services; Andy Robertson, county EMS chief; Sheriff James Phillips; Cambridge Police Maj. Mark K. Lewis, deputy chief; Donald Hall and Charlie Roe of the Dorchester County Addictions Program.

At the meeting, Mr. Hall said, “these are our neighbors, our siblings, our spouses, our children. ... I see some of the real negative and cruel comments that come across Facebook. ... To some extent, we’ve got to take a step back and realize that we’re not talking about some strange group of people way over there. We’re talking about the person next door or the person upstairs in the bathroom.

“We’ve got to be willing to support treatment and encourage people to go to treatment. Stop frowning on people when they say they have a problem. For me it’s the stigma. If there was less stigma, more people would be willing to say, ‘Yeah, I do have a problem.’”

I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Hall. This is our issue as a community, and we all need to address it together. Just like those using opioids, we all must accept that we have a problem before we can seriously consider addressing it. This is the first, most necessary step.

We from the Banner listened and learned about this epidemic from county leaders on the frontlines. This was an important first step toward writing a series of pieces on opioids, this disease, and the effects on our community.

I am in the midst of meeting our neighbor, opioid use. I look forward to introducing our neighbor to you.

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