I have worked for over thirty some years in the field of behavioral health as a therapist, university faculty member, and advanced practice nurse. My experience has covered more ground than I could or would want to share in this article. But there is an overwhelming occurrence happening right now to our adult children that drives me to comment. Maybe because I have been listening to loved ones of those struggling with opioid addiction, and reading about an epidemic that is overtaking our country. In the beginning, many of us might have placed it in the: “oh my god, isn’t that terrible” category. Later, some of us became more deeply aware of it and became involved in some of the psychoeducational and supportive programing needed on a very elementary level as our knowledge of and our understanding about how such an epidemic began to evolve.
Well, I think that the opioid “crisis” in our country, in our states, our counties, our towns and our families, can no longer be termed an epidemic. It is robbing us of thousands of our young adults on every given day. (72,000 Americans died from overdoses last year, more than died in car accidents).
Young adults did not wake up one morning and say, “When I grow up, I want to be an addict and maybe even overdose with some heroin laced with fentanyl one day.” These young people are our neighbors, our students, our children, our children’s’ friends. We car pooled them. We taught them in church school. We fed them at our kitchen tables. We hugged them, we loved them. We saw the brightest of futures for them. We are now losing them in droves.
I remember an old term from the bible that used to scare me when I was a young child. It was the word “Plague.” It described a disastrous evil; something that was intended to immediately and with utmost intensity grab an entire community’s attention.
I honestly and truly believe that we have a “plague” happening right now and that it is not getting enough of our attention. Yes, there have been hot lines set up with numbers given out which give out more numbers with even more numbers often directing us to another set of numbers. There are 911’s to call. There are police and EMT’s carrying more Narcan with them on every tour than school nurses carrying EpiPens. There are emergency departments bending over backwards to help and there are more and more insurance companies paying less and less for the long-term care that it takes to get even one person with an addiction to opioids started on a path to recovery. There are lonely, scared, and physically, chemically, emotionally, and socially ill young adults struggling every day with a chronic relapsing chemical brain disease. There are loves ones of those struggling with addiction- parents, partners, siblings, and friends who are devastated, angry, hurt and beyond sad. They feel helpless, depressed, and often alone. They feel that overwhelming aloneness of guilt, shame, failure and a sadness that does not have words to express. And there are many of us who feel that 3 funeral services of young adults in the matter of one month of a friend or a friend’s child from an overdose can be seen in biblical terms as beyond that of an epidemic. I may not be considered to be very religious (a sense of the spiritual, yes), but I had enough exposure to religious education as a child to recognize the signs of a plague… of a disastrous evil descending upon a people and I think that we are in the midst of one as dramatic as that may sound. But as far as I am concerned, it seems to be a pretty dramatic and devastating time right now when so many of us are losing so many of our loved ones to opioids.
A few out of the thousands of families and friends who have loved ones struggling with opioid addiction have found some hope at parent support groups. I know of one that meets in Montclair on Thursday evenings at Hackensack’s Mountainside Hospital at 6pm. It never claims to have all the answers. It does not, nor does it claim to take all the pain away, but it does listen, lets you listen, and “gets it.” It is a confidential place. It is a hopeful place. It is a safe place. It is a place with some suggestions; sometimes even some opinions; but never judgement. It is a place to at least come to and try. I remember an old member saying once: “I only hope you allow yourself to come and to take the chance on feeling even a little better after being here.” From all my years in behavioral health I have learned one certain thing: sometimes just spending a little time with others who have survived some of the same devastating situations as you have, or are still experiencing, can be helpful and even at time comforting. I hope more people in need of such a group will come and give it a chance; will try and find other such groups, will give their loved one who is addicted a chance, and in the meantime give themselves a chance.
At least that is what I think!
Leah Johnston-Rowbotham is a nurse practitioner specializing in behavioral health, a faculty member at Seton Hall University’s College of Nursing and a published poet She is a lecturer and workshop and group facilitator specializing in behavioral health, the effects of opioid addiction on loved ones, and women’s’ issues throughout the tri state area. She has created and implements a weekly “STOOP TIME GROUP” program in Montclair. She resides in Montclair where she is working on creating stoop groups for “new” nurses and mature women still working as she continues to write every day.