Dr. Britton and Gateway Alum Broadcast Insights on Opioid Crisis

Gateway Foundation President and CEO Dr. Thomas Britton and Gateway alum Spencer spoke to Justin Kaufmann on WGN’s “The Download” about the opioid crisis, how we can combat it, and Spencer’s journey to recovery.

Biggest takeaways:

“A criminal problem rather than a public health problem

Dr. Britton mentions how more government funding is being allocated to law enforcement compared to treatment options. He says of the estimated 30-60 million people who need treatment, only 3 million get it, and those who do often don’t get enough to be successful. He advocates for a multi-pronged policy approach.

“A bridge to recovery”

Dr. Britton speaks to the importance of medication assisted treatment (MAT) and how it saves lives every day. However, he warns MAT is not the cure for addiction, but one of the methods used to help people with substance use disorders. Other measures still need to be taken.

“All my morals out the window”

In an effort to support his habits, Spencer talks about stealing from his parents, relatives, neighbors, and even kids to pay for drugs and alcohol.

“Mentally in love with the drug”

While in treatment for the first time, Spencer counted down the days until he could use again. This happens again while he is in his hospital bed following his heart attack, counting down the days until he could have a drink.

“The flu on steroids”

Spencer describes the withdrawals every time he tried to quit by himself: the muscle aches, nausea, suicidal thoughts.

“Learn my parents’ names again”

Following his heart attack at age 25, Spencer fell into a coma. After waking up a couple months later, he had to relearn the basics, like how to say his parents’ names, how to use a fork, how to use the bathroom.

“Like trying to swim against the current”

Spencer relates his experiences of quitting by himself to a person drowning. He needed a lifeguard, which in this case was Gateway’s support system, to help him to recovery.

“A silent killer”

Due to the stigma surrounding addiction, many people feel ashamed to ask for help and spend their lives hiding their struggle from their loved ones. Addressing this stigma could change the conversation and increase the number of success stories.

“I wouldn’t say [addiction] defines me; I’d say it definitely has taken a lot out of me… It’s like a soldier that has gone to war. You have the stories but you just gotta keep going forward. Now, I love volleyball. I’d say that defines me. I love my sister, my parents. I love life.”

If you or someone you know would like to tell your Gateway recovery story, please contact us. We’d love to interview you and inspire others. 

Biting the Hands that Feed Each Other: Stress and Alcohol

Stressed businesswoman

Your boss wants the project on their desk first thing tomorrow morning. Your rent is due and you’re short, again. You forgot about your anniversary. It’s Monday.

When you finally get home, you have a drink or two to wind down, which isn’t necessarily a problem, not yet. According to Gateway Aurora Executive Director Jim Scarpace, stress-related drinking becomes a problem when someone starts relying on alcohol as a way to self-medicate, when alcohol becomes the only form of stress-relief.

To be clear, stress and anxiety are different from stress and anxiety disorders. We all experience stress and anxiety to a degree. Stress is sometimes even healthy. It tells our body and our brain to react to a threat. It can kick-start our body to fight off an infection or help us perform better under pressure. However, unmanaged and acute or long-term stress can damage our bodies and our minds.

Although alcohol in small doses acts like a stimulant, or a pick-me-up, alcohol is a depressant, meaning it lowers activity of the central nervous system; simply put, it relaxes us. If someone turns to the bottle time and time again under stress, however, they will likely develop an association between the two, a habit, and then a tolerance to its stress-alleviating properties. It will take more alcohol to feel the same level of relief, increasing vulnerability to addiction.

Despite alcohol’s ability to diminish stress, studies have shown it dually extends the negative experience of stressors and decreases alcohol’s positive effects. So the negative emotion associated with that project – still due tomorrow – may be even worse when you present it to your boss the next day.

People in recovery may need to overcome more hurdles to cope with stressors without the help of alcohol. Studies have also indicated people in recovery experience increased rates of relapse in the face of life stressors.

However, finding support and healthy coping mechanisms can reduce alcohol misuse, relapse rates, and stress levels.

Alternative ways to relieve stress:
– Exercise or go for a walk
– Laugh – at a video, TV show, or meme (here’s one to get you started)
– Listen to music
– Journal or craft
– Take a nap
– Spend time with pets or people you love

“If you’re struggling to stop using alcohol and not getting any relief from your coping mechanisms, then you really need to get support through medically assisted treatment or counseling or both,” Scarpace advises, “and that’s where treatment comes in.”

How do you deal with stress? Share your healthy stress relievers with us this month @RecoverGateway on Facebook and Twitter.

The Trump Administration’s Opioid Action Plan

valentino-funghi-276005-unsplashDuring the 2016 presidential election, then Republican nominee Donald Trump took a tough stance on the opioid crisis, declaring he would help solve the crisis if he were elected. President Trump often cited his personal connection to addiction as a major motivator, as his oldest brother passed away after a battle with alcohol use disorder.

The first step the Trump administration took was to declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency last October. In 2017, Trump also donated his third quarter salary to the Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to combat the opioid crisis.

During a speech on Monday in New Hampshire, President Trump released his plan to combat the opioid crisis, which he called “The Crisis Next Door.” The plan is broken into the following three sections: enforcement and interdiction, education and prevention through a federal advertising campaign, and employment assistance for those battling addiction:

Enforcement & Interdiction

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President Trump has mentioned numerous times a desire to implement the death penalty for drug traffickers when the Department of Justice (DOJ) deems it appropriate, which has stirred controversy. During today’s speech, Trump officially called for the use of the death penalty for high-level drug traffickers.

The DOJ is now leading a task force on major litigation against drug companies at the federal level. Trump called for these companies to be held responsible for their actions. The administration plans to cut the nationwide opioid prescriptions by one-third. Trump also stated federal funding will be invested in the development of non-addictive painkillers. In addition, within two years at least half of all federally employed healthcare providers will adopt best practices for opioid prescribing, and within five years all federally employed healthcare providers will do so in order to prevent over prescribing.

Trump also emphasized supplying emergency responders and law enforcement with the overdose-reversing medication Narcan. Some cities, including Chicago, have already put forth this policy.

Education & Prevention

children-403582_1280A major initiative will be a federal advertising campaign targeting young adults and children. The administration plans to spend money on commercials that depict the devastating effects of drugs to scare children away from ever using them.

During his speech, Trump highlighted Adapt Pharma and its work with colleges and high schools. Adapt provided colleges and universities across the country with four boxes and high schools with two boxes of Narcan in an effort to reduce student overdose deaths. Adapt has also provided education on Narcan to school staff.

Employment

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Another focal point is helping inmates with substance use disorders get the treatment they need and, further, helping them secure employment after they are released. Trump referenced the country’s low unemployment rate and strong economy as being beneficial to helping inmates get hired.

Additional Takeaways:

Although no financial plans were discussed during the speech, in his latest budget proposal released in February, Trump called for an allocation of nearly $17 billion in 2019 to fight the opioid epidemic. The money from the budget will mainly go to expanding coverage of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and helping states monitor and track clinics that prescribe a large amount of opioids, which many public health officials deem necessary to resolving the crisis. Trump reiterated in his speech that the administration will dedicate resources to ensure the accessibility and affordability of medication-assisted treatments.

The administration will also waive a Medicaid rule that prevents treatment facilities with more than 16 beds from receiving reimbursements for addiction services. This initiative could prove instrumental for low-income individuals seeking treatment.

Shortly after the president’s speech, Congress released plans to introduce multiple bills to help end the opioid crisis. One of the bills is the Preventing Overdoses While in Emergency Rooms (POWER) act. This bipartisan bill aims to set up protocols for emergency rooms across the United States on best practices for discharging overdose patients, to ensure patients have the resources they need to succeed post-hospitalization. Measures of this act would ensure patients’ access to overdose-reversal medication and other medication-assisted treatments, as well as peer-support specialists and other types of treatment programs.

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