Rebecca Thayer was a heroin and cocaine user whose addiction was so bad she found herself homeless, living on the streets.
“I stayed in abandoned houses, I’ve eaten out of dumpsters. I’ve caught many charges from stealing from stores to support my addiction,” Rebecca told WYSO, Greater Dayton area’s National Public Radio (NPR) News station, for their Recovery Stories series.
Rebecca, now in recovery for the past two years, has a new job and a new baby girl. “I just want to be the mother that she deserves. I want to go back to school, have a degree. I want her to be proud of me,” she said.
Few states have been harder hit by the opioid epidemic than Ohio. But during September, which is National Recovery Month, it’s important to remember that help is available, and that things can get better. Ohio’s collective actions against the opioid epidemic have started to show promising results. Across the state, overdose deaths are falling, more resources are being spent to curb addiction, and pill-pushing companies are being held accountable.
Promising Developments in Ohio’s Opioid Epidemic
About 5,000 Ohioans die from opioid overdoses each year. In 2017, Ohio had the second highest rate of opioid-related overdose deaths in the U.S. The epidemic costs the state nearly $9 billion annually, according to an Ohio State University study.
But Ohio’s efforts to combat the opioid epidemic have started to show signs of success. Last year, Ohio opiate overdoses fell by 22 percent—four times the national average.
Ohio was one of the first states to target opioid manufacturers such as Purdue Pharma and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals that saturated the state and the country with billions of oxycodone and hydrocodone pain pills. Purdue recently entered a tentative deal worth billions of dollars that would send money to some of the communities hard-hit by the overdose crisis. Earlier this month, Mallinckrodt also reached an agreement in principle with the Ohio counties of Cuyahoga and Summit. Those same counties received a $10 million settlement from Endo Pharmaceuticals in August. In addition, Ohio is targeting opioid distributors for their alleged role in flooding the state with powerful painkillers.
Money recovered from opioid litigation is expected to go toward treating and preventing addiction, and covering some of the taxpayer costs associated with addiction, including mental health services, police calls, foster care for children of addicts, and making Naloxone (Narcan) more readily available to treat narcotic overdose in emergency situations.
Tracking Drug Distribution
Ohio’s prescription drug reporting and monitoring system—OARRS—helps to promote responsible use of prescription opioids. New rules have helped to shut down “pill mills” and keep opioids out of the hands of drug-seeking patients. Former Ohio Governor John Kasich wrote in an op-ed for USA Today that these efforts kept 225 million doses of opioids out of the hands of potential abusers from 2012 to 2017.
More Money for Treatment
Ohio has taken a number of steps to not only increase treatment, but also to change the way treatment is administered. Mr. Kasich estimates that expanding Medicaid in Ohio allowed 500,000 adults to receive mental health and addiction services. Ohio is also set to receive $63.4 million from the federal government through two different grant programs designed to combat the opioid crisis.
Hamilton County, Ohio, and Dayton, Ohio, have modified treatment programs in ways that have shown vast improvements in patient outcomes. Hamilton County has streamlined the intake process to offer immediate treatment, rather than making people wait days or even weeks for treatment. Hamilton has seen a 50 percent increase in patients in treatment and a 34 percent decrease in overdose deaths.
Dayton is focusing on a compassionate and data-driven approach to curbing addiction. The community rejects criminalizing addiction in favor of treating it like a disease that requires outreach, prevention, and support. By reducing the stigma of addiction, Dayton hopes to get more people into recovery, and help them stay there. So far, their efforts have led to a 65 percent reduction in overdose-related fatalities.
Where to Get Help
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you aren’t alone. One in fourteen Americans is in recovery from addiction, according to Google’s Recover Together project.
There are over 1,000 recovery-related resources in Ohio, according to the project’s Resource Map. In the Zanesville area, addiction services are available from Zanesville Treatment Services, Genesis Recovery Center, Muskingum Behavioral Health, and local Narcotics Anonymous meetings. The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services also recommends a number of places to get help.
Rebecca Thayer got clean when an Ohio drug court sentenced her to six months of treatment for a felony charge, instead of prison time. Rebecca went from thinking addiction would kill her to having a future she looks forward to. She—and many others—are living proof that help is available for those who seek it. While Ohio is still struggling with the opioid epidemic, there are many reasons to be optimistic.
How Everyone Can Help
Our family at Graham & Graham cares deeply for Ohioans trapped by opioid addiction—a disease that can lead to death—and remains hopeful that together we can help those in need.
One small thing we can all do for people struggling with addiction is to be thoughtful with our words. Some common terms, even those used by people in recovery, can reinforce stigma and discourage people from seeking treatment.
Suggestions from experts in the healthcare profession suggest that instead of referring to a person as an addict, alcoholic, or junkie, refer to them as a person with, or suffering from, addiction or substance use disorder. Replace negative words such as lapse, relapse, or slip with neutral terms such as “resumed,” or experienced a “recurrence” of symptoms. Though addicts themselves use words such as “clean” or “dirty,” you can be a source of encouragement by substituting more positive words like “in remission or recovery” instead of clean, or refer to a person as having positive test results or exhibiting symptoms of substance use disorder instead of dirty.
Remember, if we see people suffering from substance abuse, they are someone’s son or daughter, friend, spouse, neighbor, or former co-worker, not a junkie or addict. Let’s commit to recovering together.