Drug addiction in the Bay State

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2016/01/25/drug-addiction-in-the-bay-state/

BOSTON – In Thursday night’s State of the Commonwealth Address, Gov. Charlie Baker called for bold actions to break the back of the beast of addiction.

Baker looks to disrupt a status-quo adherence to treatment plans that haven’t proven successful in combating opioid and heroin use. He directs those he once considered peers in the health care industry to seek new ways to educate, prevent, intervene and treat those who face the dire illness that tragically touches so many.

Across the commonwealth, families are being torn apart by addiction. Losing trust and patience, they’re being haunted by the threat of tragedy which all too frequently can’t be kept at bay.

Maligning prescribers of opioids isn’t the solution. However, Baker said, “evidence exists that the epidemic of opioid and heroin use goes hand and hand with prescription abuse.”

The statistics are terrifying. Four people die each day in Massachusetts from drug overdoses. The governor added that kids are in the dark when asked if they’d like to “try something.” Parents, teachers and coaches don’t know how to protect them. He articulated a pressing need to implement plans to take control of this epidemic.

Jeff and Toby Channen of Salem are two people experiencing firsthand what Baker talked about.

In 2013, their family of four lived a seemingly bucolic life. Jeff worked for a technology power house, Toby stayed at home dedicated to advancing the welfare of the family. With two active high-schoolers the gregarious family was well-known and well-liked by many. Toby was actively involved with student advocacy programs and coached after-school sports. In the fall of that year, the Channens were content knowing their first born was ready to leave for college, eager to study criminal justice.

Unaware their son was smoking dope as he left for his first semester at school, the Channens were devastated by a phone call they recieved at Thanksgiving saying their fun-loving son’s use of drugs was more than experimental. The kid was positively addicted to heroin.

Hanging up the phone, two things struck them immediately. First, it couldn’t be true, secondly, if it was true, how could the family keep it a secret. In shock, Toby drove to the local CVS. Beside the diabetes monitoring devices she found a box labeled “for multi-panel drug testing.” She was hoping to rule out what she most feared. That was the first of many multi-panel drug testing boxes that would prove this nuclear family was unexpectedly in nuclear meltdown.

Lost in a loss of trust, feeling isolated, humiliated and terrified the family turned for guidance to the number listed on the back of their insurance card. With broken hearts and shaking hands they dialed, waiting anxiously for input from the behavioral health services representative on the other end of the line. Like many families in disaster mode they were directed to the nearest emergency room

Once there, they were told to wait until someone could see them. After hours of waiting, the young man who tested positive for opioids was put on a gurney and left in the hall with other addicts to wait longer still for attention. By morning, some addicts had left, some had been released, others were sent to detox. The Channen family’s experience with detoxification is where they learned countless new ways drugs would further take control of their lives.

Empty promises, bold-faced lies, drug-test eluding behaviors foiled the family’s plan for a quick fix. As Toby says, “addicts are so resourceful at finding drugs, if word on the street said Osama bin Laden had great stuff, he would have been found by users in a week.”

The Channens realized that keeping their son at home, monitoring his every move was pointless. He found old stashes around the house and in his room. He had drugs delivered through basement windows. He even found a way to get prescriptions from a doctor for suboxone, an opiate similar to methadone that delivers a seductive high of its own. Their son drained their finances, their energies and their emotions.

As much as the family had hoped they could love him through this, heroin was their son’s only love. The Channens were told in a Learn to Cope support group they were simply “loving their son to death.” Living with mom and dad wasn’t an aid it was an enabler. They had to accept drug addiction was a family illness and nothing but professional care could help them.

Because Massachusetts treatment centers were full at the time, reluctantly, the Channens sent their son to an out-of-state, in-house treatment center in Florida for help. Detox was not the answer. They realized they needed a long-term, supervised facility if there was to be any real hope for their son’s recovery and the family’s survival.

They also realized that they were not alone in this epidemic. Now the Channen family speaks openly on Facebook and YouTube about their sense of bewilderment, frustration, and anxiety. Toby says: “If it could happen to us, it could happen to any family.”

Responding to the needs of many families, Massachusetts General Hospital has dedicated staff and resources to develop programs designed to treat addiction in new, more comprehensive ways.

Experts there say substance abuse and addiction are too often seen as moral failings rather than a brain-based disease which needs to be treated like any other chronic condition. This resonates with families like the Channens, who were forced to advocate for longer in-treatment stays on their son’s behalf. Their insurance covered only two months of care, while cutting edge research on addiction indicates a minimum of three months of comprehensive intensive therapy is required to re-set a mind hijacked by heroin.

Mass General is ramping up mental health and social service departments to facilitate long-term recovery, reducing the powers of addiction by eliminating shame, confusion and isolation. The hospital recognizes many addicts are neglected because the cost of treatment prohibits anything other than emergency room service. Addressing that, MGH centers in Charlestown and Revere are aggressively screening for addicted patients while the Boston hospital has recovery coaches reaching out to the homeless who are so often consumed by addiction.

Today, the Channens celebrate their son’s 20th month of sobriety. He now works in retailing and lives with roommates who are also clean and sober.

The constant worry of finding their son dead of an overdose has taken a quieter spot in the back of their minds, Jeff and Toby say. But they, like countless other parents, grandparents, and siblings agree with Baker: Massachusetts must try to break the back of this beast of addiction. It drains financial resources, threatens our commonwealth, needlessly ends lives and breaks the hearts of loving families.

LEARN TO COPE is a nationally recognized nonprofit model for support groups for the families of the addicted as well as people recovering from that condition. Meetings are held weekly in towns across the commonwealth.

For information call 508-738-5148 or send email to [email protected].