In past columns I have done book reviews highlighting aspects of substance use and its effect on individuals and families. When Netflix recently began streaming a four-part docuseries on opioids called The Pharmacist, it presented a perfect opportunity for me to review other media works, as well.The story begins in 1999 with the murder of Dan Schneider’s son, Danny, during a crack drug deal in New Orleans, Louisiana. The first episode, Justice for Danny, centers on Dan’s frustration with the New Orleans Police efforts to solve the murder, so he begins his own investigation to track down his son’s murderer.
But solving his son’s murder is only the beginning. In episode two, A Mission from God, Dan returns to work as a pharmacist in a small neighborhood pharmacy. He notices all the Oxycontin prescriptions filled for young, healthy-looking people in the small neighborhood pharmacy where he works. Through conversations with patients and some sleuthing on his own, he locates a pill mill ― a clinic where millions of Oxycontin pain killers are prescribed by a local doctor.
Episode three, Dope Dealers with White Lab Coats, focuses on Schneider’s investigation of the pill mill, the concurrent investigation by the DEA and Louisiana’s Medical Board into Dr. Cleggit’s medical practice, and a spike in overdose deaths in their county.
Episode four, Tunnel of Hope, begins with the story of Dr. Cleggit, the shutting down of her clinic, and unexpected consequences for the community. The series ends with efforts to expose Purdue Pharma’s role in the current opioid crisis.
The docuseries shows a variety of perspectives, including interviews with witnesses of Danny’s murder, the murderer, New Orleans police, DEA officers, Dr. Cleggit, Louisiana Medical examiner, Purdue Pharma sales rep, the Schneider family, and Oxycontin users. These voices paint the picture of how all these pieces came together to cause the perfect storm of the Oxycontin epidemic. It portrays many of the complexities that brought us to the current crisis and puts a face on the devastation of addiction for individuals and families.
Although Purdue Pharma’s involvement in the opioid crisis has been extensively covered in the media today, Dan Schneider’s investigation preceded the current stories by more than a decade. The information he uncovered was a shocking revelation at the time.
For sensitive viewers, there is some foul language (including the F word). Episode One contains disturbing audio recordings of the Schneider family’s intense grief over the loss of their son. The raw emotion can be difficult and uncomfortable to hear.
I found myself engrossed in the complex story and watched all four 50-minute episodes in one afternoon. It was a moving, powerful, and gripping story of how one man took on a crime investigation, pill mills and big pharma to save others from suffering the pain and loss he experienced in losing his son.
If this series inspires you to join local efforts to combat substance abuse, please contact the White County United Way at 574-583-6544 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how you can help!
This is the second set of questions and answers reviewing the information discussed over the course of the year in the This is for you, Chad weekly column. Read the questions, and try to answer before reading. Each of these questions was answered in detail during the past year of This for you Chad articles. Please go to the White County United Way website to access full articles. http://www.whitecountyunitedway.org/lynn
Q9. What is recovery capital? Recovery capital is any resource that supports a person’s recovery. Resources can be physical (basic needs such as food, housing and transportation), human (life and employment skills, and education), social (positive, supportive relationships), and cultural (community attitudes). The more recovery capital available, the more likely an individual will be successful in maintaining recovery.
Q10. What are ACEs and how do they affect substance use? Adverse childhood experiences have long term effects on a person’s ability to cope with life. The more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely they will have negative, long-term consequences affecting physical and mental health and life expectancy. Research shows that three or more ACEs is correlated to increased substance use in later life. Preventing ACEs and providing protective factors for children plays a huge role in prevention efforts.
Q11. How does substance use affect employers? Seventy-five percent of Indiana employers report that substance abuse impacts the workplace in absenteeism, shortage of workers, negative publicity for the company, decreased productivity, increased insurance costs, accidents, and theft. Research shows that 10% of all Indiana workers have substance use disorder, and an additional 15% have family members who struggle with substance use.
Q12. What is stigma and how does it affect those involved in substance abuse? Stigma is judging and discriminating against those with substance use. It is an us-versus-them mentality. According to the US Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, stigma kills more people in substance use than anything else by keeping them isolated, alone, and out of treatment.
Q 13. What is Narcan? Why is it controversial? Narcan is an opioid reversal agent that can save people from overdose. It has been credited with the recent decrease in overdose deaths. Some people object to its use, arguing that those in overdose chose their circumstances and do not deserve our help. Some people find it offensive that Narcan is freely distributed while other life-saving drugs are too expensive for some people to afford. Families of those in substance use say that dead people do not recover and Narcan keeps them alive until they are willing to accept treatment.
Q14. What can one person do? Each of us can properly dispose of unused medications to prevent illicit use, talk to our health care providers about possible alternatives to opioid pain killers, support families of those involved with substance use disorder and extend compassion to those struggling with the disease. Share the number for peer recovery coaching. No one should die because they did not know where to turn for help: 765-490-0381.
Q15. Who is Chad from “This is for you, Chad”? During my first year of AmeriCorps service, I was given the opportunity to interview inmates at the White County Jail. Many were discouraged by the negative effects of substance misuse on the entire community. One saw the only ray of hope was for people to become more aware of the realities of addiction and drug use. He believed that with more information, people could see the dangers and avoid becoming ensnared. He planted a seed of an idea, and the articles grew to explain the epidemic to the public. This is for you, Chad is a series of articles written in hopes that he is right!
February 23rd is the first-year anniversary of this column. Thank you to the faithful readers who have read and commented on it. As we mark this occasion, it is a good opportunity to look back and review information discussed so far. I encourage you to test yourself and see how much you have learned about the opioid epidemic. I will be using a question/answer format for the next two columns. Read the questions, and try to answer before reading on. Each of these questions was answered in detail during the past year of This for you, Chad articles.
Q1. What are opioids and why are they so dangerous?
Opioids are drugs derived from the poppy plant. They include prescription medications such as hydrocodone, oxycontin, morphine, and fentanyl, as well as illegal drugs such as heroin. Opioids are dangerous because they can quickly lead to physical dependence. Over time they change the structure of the brain, leading to constant drug cravings and addiction.
Q2. What is the danger of fentanyl? Fentanyl is a highly potent opioid. It only takes a few grains (think grains of salt) to cause overdose and death. Fentanyl is cheap and easy to illicitly obtain. Many drug dealers mix fentanyl with other substances to increase the high and likelihood of addiction, creating repeat customers.
Q3. What are signs someone has a problem with drugs? The most common signs are changes in behavior such as change in friends, mood swings, increased financial need, and secrecy. Those around the person often sense that something is wrong, but are unsure what the problem is. At the beginning of the problem, the signs may be easily hidden or confused with stress and life change.
Q4. Who can become addicted? ANYONE! Some people can become hooked on opioids in a single dose. Seniors and youth are vulnerable, as is anyone with an opioid prescription.
Q5. Can people who are involved in addiction recover? Absolutely! There are 23 million people in active recovery in the United States today. Treatment works. Recovery is possible. There is hope. Call for peer recovery support, 24 hours a day: 765-490-0381.
Q6. What is M.A.T.?
M.A.T. is medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorder which includes opioid replacement medication and counseling to deal with underlying issues that contributed to substance use. It is considered the gold standard of treatment by addiction specialists, but some others consider it replacing one opioid with another.
Q7. What are factors that contributed to the opioid epidemic? Many influences sparked the epidemic: Pain as 5th patient vital sign and financial incentives for positive patient satisfaction surveys, aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies, the war on drugs, drug cartels, societal demands for quick fixes, breakdown of the family and community, and lack of insurance coverage for holistic pain treatment are often cited as sources of the problem.
Q8. How does addiction affect families? Addiction not only affects the person using substances, but their loved ones are also ensnared in the crisis. Family members may struggle to support their loved ones without enabling substance use, often experience emotional trauma of their loved ones’ struggles, suffer blame and judgement from others, second-guess every decision made in their relationship, and wait endlessly for the phone to ring with the next crisis. The more vulnerable a family member of a person using substances, the more likely they are to become victims of theft, fraud, abuse, and/or neglect.
How did you do? To reread the full articles, please go to the White County United Way website. http://www.whitecountyunitedway.org/lynn
One of the questions I am frequently asked is What is AmeriCorps? (Pronounced Uh-mare-i-core) Many people are familiar with the Peace Corps, and AmeriCorps is often referred to as the “domestic Peace Corps.”
Both AmeriCorps and Peace Corps members are not employees, but are paid a small living stipend to offset their expenses for their time of service. Both offer individuals challenging and rewarding opportunities to serve in various capacities to strengthen communities.
Over 420,000 Americans have served full-time in the Peace Corps in more than 142 countries across the world since 1961. Currently, there are 7,334 members and trainees serving in sixty-one countries. The average age of members is 26 and 99% are unmarried. Peace Corps members receive three months of training and serve for two years in their service country. They focus on developing sustainable solutions for the world’s most pressing challenges such as education, youth development, health, agriculture and community economic development.
More than 800,000 AmeriCorps members have served in 15,000 service sites in the United States since 1994, completing over one billion hours of service. AmeriCorps consists of three main programs: AmeriCorps State and National, whose members serve with national and local nonprofit and community groups; AmeriCorps VISTA, through which members serve full-time fighting poverty; and AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps), a team-based residential program for young adults 18-24 who carry out projects in public safety, the environment, youth development, and disaster relief and preparedness.
There are seven hundred AmeriCorps service sites in Indiana, engaging more than seven thousand members ranging in age from high school students to retirees. Their projects include assisting with housing, tutoring, mentoring, and after-school programs, educational programs that help students develop life skills, critical thinking and self management, and programs addressing targeted community needs such as the United Against Opioid Abuse initiative.
Many AmeriCorps members are recent college graduates looking to expand their leadership skills and experiences before entering the workforce or grad school. Benefits for AmeriCorps members include student loan deferment during their service and the Segal Educational award that can be used to pay educational loans or additional education.
While conducting service site assignments, members are to be absolutely neutral in politics and religious activities. They are prohibited from influencing legislation or elections, organizing protests or boycotts, or providing direct benefits to unions, businesses or partisan political organizations.
The AmeriCorps pledge states the goals and philosophy of service:
I will get things done for America - to make our people safer, smarter, and healthier.
I will bring Americans together to strengthen our communities.
Faced with apathy, I will take action.
Faced with conflict, I will seek common ground.
Faced with adversity, I will persevere.
I will carry this commitment with me this year and beyond.
I am an AmeriCorps member, and I will get things done.
Both the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps provide people of all ages opportunities to make their community and the world a better place.
The United Council on Opioids serving White County just celebrated its first anniversary. Since January 25, 2019 more than 70 community members have participated in creating solutions to the local substance abuse crisis. The UCO has developed partnerships with agencies across the region. As we celebrate the UCO first anniversary, let’s reflect on all the accomplishments of its first year.
White County United Way brought leaders from the area together in the spring of 2018 to ascertain whether there was interest in developing a coalition to address the substance use epidemic. Under the United Way leadership, the AmeriCorps United Against Opioid Abuse initiative began and led to the formation of the United Council on Opioids.
In one year, the UCO task-force groups have sponsored three rounds of billboard advertising promoting awareness of substance abuse in partnership with the City of Monticello.
They gathered information on treatment and recovery services in multiple locations around White County, developing resource directories/brochures of services that support mental and substance use disorder.
In a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, an opioid awareness play was written and performed by Boys and Girls Club members to 5th graders at Meadowlawn and the members of the Lynn Treece Boys and Girls club in Lafayette.
The UCO has partnered closely with the North Central Quick Response Team in connecting peers to local agencies and services. The UCO has spread the word about QRT to service organizations, government agencies, and business to help reach out to those in need in our community.
They are partnering with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) to bring a grief support group to White County as well as providing facilitator training for people desiring to lead mental health support groups locally.
The UCO partnered with IU Health, the White County Health Department and the Coroner, ministerial association, community corrections, and White County United Way for an ISDH INCARES ECHO grant to further awareness and treatment options in White County.
Healthy Communities of Clinton County has become a valuable ally, connecting White County to services and grants to meet the needs of our community in child safety, healthy lifestyles, mental health, and substance abuse prevention and awareness.
The UCO has worked closely with local law enforcement, the coroner, probation, prosecutor and health departments to gather statistics to show the needs and improvements made in combating substance abuse.
They invited nationally-recognized speakers like Justin Beattey from the Indiana Association of Peer Recovery Support Services, Justin Phillips from Overdose Lifeline, and Mike Thibideau from Indiana Work Force Recovery to the county to share information about solutions to substance abuse and how those services can impact our community. Their expertise and knowledge have inspired and guided UCO work and goals.
The UCO is grateful for every individual and organization that has joined the vision of eliminating overdose deaths and increasing treatment and recovery awareness and services in White County. Together we can accomplish so much. There is synergy in our collective efforts and the momentum is increasing and moving us forward.
The task is large and can be overwhelming. But together as we pool resources and knowledge, we are making a difference. Everyone has gifts that can work towards meeting the needs of our community. If you would like to join this important work, please contact Lynn Saylor or Nikie Jenkinson at 574-583-6544. Our next UCO quarterly celebration will be March 6th from noon to 1:30 at IU White Memorial Hospital. This is a wonderful opportunity to experience the successes of the UCO first hand. We would love for you to join us!
Happy Birthday, United Council on Opioids! May you have many more years of service to the community.
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.