In Washington State, a staggering 63% of drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 20181; in our state alone, 700 individuals die each year from overdoses2.
Clearly, opioid misuse has become an epidemic. Due to this, Youth Advocates for Health (YA4-H!) want to raise awareness and educate the public. We were able to interview multiple individuals who were personally impacted by the opioid crisis. By sharing their stories, we hope to raise more awareness on the topic. These are their stories:
Some think that if a person is not addicted to opioids, then the problem won’t affect them – that it only affects the addicted individual. This is not true: the issue of opioid addiction changes the lives of all those who come in contact with those who have suffered the impact of addiction. While there can be no doubt about the damage that the addicted individual suffers, it also impacts everyone around them, especially their family. Seeing a close friend or family member go through something like an opioid addiction also affects every aspect of their life. This is Sarah’s story, and how she is battling to support her sister and herself.
This story begins when Sarah and her fiancé received a knock at their door. To their surprise, it was a police officer informing them that her sister had just overdosed on opioids. Sarah’s sister hadn’t told anyone about her struggle. At that moment Sarah was confused, she couldn’t understand why or how that could happen. To her, everything about the moment felt surreal, she knew she couldn’t just stand by and do nothing. Since that night five years ago, her sister has relapsed, however, she has never given up in fighting her addiction. Sarah and her family are very close; they’ve always tried to help her sister in any way that they could. They helped her find counselors and supported her financially. Recently, Sarah’s parents even paid for her sister to go to an in-patient treatment center a few hours from Yakima. Since her completion of the program, Sarah’s sister has been sober for over a month. Sarah is optimistic that her sister will continue to stay sober, however, she understands that addiction is a lifelong struggle.
Since the day she found out about her sister’s addiction, her life completely changed. Sarah needed to care for the impacts on her own mental health so she began to go to therapy. She also wanted to learn more about her sister’s bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder and why it prompted her to turn to opioids, so she started to research and educate herself on these matters. Some advice that she specifically gave was “to never blame yourself or to put blame on anyone because that’s not helpful” and “if you are needing more help there is no shame in asking for it and there’s no shame in talking about the things that are really, really hard for you to talk about.”
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Sarah.
Sarah and her family are not alone; hundreds of thousands of people in the United States go through the same thing every year. In her book Drug Dealer, MD, Anna Lembke explains how drug overdoses have quadrupled in little more than a decade. In 1999, 4,000 opioid-related deaths were recorded in the US; in 2013, this number had risen to 16,2353; and by 2019, it was 49,860.4 For some perspective, as of 2017, the number of people dying from opioid-related overdoses is equivalent to 9/11 happening every 3 weeks.5 Even more shocking is the amount of people who are able to get help for their addiction; as Beth Macy explains in her book Dopesick, “only about 10% of the addicted population manages to get access to care and treatment for a disease that has roughly the same incidence rate as diabetes.6”
Dani Jo’s Story:
Dani Jo has also seen a close family member go through an opioid addiction. As Dani Jo saw what her uncle went through, it caused her to also go through a variety of struggles, including depression, and it changed how she looked at life. Thankfully, with the help of her family and friends, she got help and support. She even started advocating for those who suffer from addiction. Even with the help she received, she still struggled to come to terms with the event. She explained that there was a stigma around addiction where she is from; this stopped him from getting help from resources in his community. People sometimes acted as there was no problem. Some advice that Dani Jo shared was that if you are wanting to help someone with an addiction, never judge them and criticize what they can’t control. She also made a point to say that if you yourself are struggling with an addiction, never stop trying to help yourself because there will be ups and downs but you can get through it.
Going through an opioid addiction is difficult, however, with the right resources and people, everyone can keep moving forward. As long as you take care of yourself as Jen and Dani Jo did you will be able to help yourself and those around you. Even when you feel as though you can’t, the important thing to remember is to never give up.
Thank you for sharing your story with us, Dani Jo. Learn more about Dani Jo’s story and how she’s used it to inspire change by watching this quick video: 4-H Inspires Kids to Do: Dani Jo
If you or anyone you know is currently going through an opioid addiction please click on the links below:
All interviews, writing, and resources compiled by the YA4-H! Take-PART Teen interns and mentor: March 2021.
(* Names featuring an asterisk are pseudonyms.)
Return to main 4-H Youth Advocates for Health (YA4-H!) page
1 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, May 02). Washington: Opioid-involved deaths and related harms. Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-summaries-by-state/washington-opioid-involved-deaths-related-harms
2 Data and statistical reports. (n.d.). Retrieved March 08, 2021, from https://www.doh.wa.gov/DataandStatisticalReports/HealthDataVisualization/OpioidDashboards
3 Hampton, R., & Foster, C. R. (2018). American fix: Inside the opioid addiction crisis – and how to end it. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
4Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. (2019). Multiple Causes of Death 1999-2019 on CDC Wonder Online Database, released 12/2020.
5 Lembke, A. (2016). Drug dealer, MD: How doctors were duped, patients got hooked, and why it’s so hard to stop. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
6 Macy, B. (2019). DOPESICK: Dealers, doctors, and the drug company that addicted America. London: Head of Zeus.