Today, on International Overdose Awareness Day, Public Health Insider is sharing the words of our guest author, Penny LeGate. For local addiction resources and support, click on the links at the bottom of this post.
My name is Penny LeGate. I moved to Seattle in 1986 to co-host a brand new TV show called “Evening Magazine.” Despite my high profile job, my husband and I valued our family above all, creating a close, loving and supportive home for our two daughters, Molly and Marah. Our younger daughter, Marah, was a bright, happy, energetic little sprite. Highly intelligent, gregarious, yet very sensitive, she was also athletically gifted and turned into a standout fast pitch softball player.
Then puberty hit. That’s when depression, anxiety, ADHD, and self-esteem issues darkened her life. Marah turned to self-medicating her emotional pain around age 12 with alcohol and other drugs. This, despite our desperate interventions including psychologists, medical doctors, close supervision, punishment, etc. Her grades, hygiene, attitude, interest in sports, school, and family suffered dramatically. She hung out with friends who were also getting into trouble all the time. We watched her like a hawk, but those who struggle with addiction can be very secretive and very good at hiding their use. Marah’s drug choices and use escalated. We were afraid she was going to die.
When she was 16, family members and friends staged an intervention which was contentious and ugly. But in the end, we prevailed and sent her to an inpatient treatment center in Arizona for adolescent girls. Three months later, she came home determined not to use. It wasn’t long, however, before she drifted into using the prescription opioid OxyContin. That in turn, led to heroin, which is cheaper and more plentiful.
Marah went to treatment again—this time willingly—and came out more determined than ever to stay in recovery. She finished high school, attended AA meetings, and got a job as a barista. Unfortunately, opioid addiction is often a disease of relapse.
On June 12, 2012, Marah injected heroin one last time. I found her dead of an overdose that morning.
The disease of addiction knows no boundaries. It affects all of us regardless of age, gender, economic status, ethnicity, and city vs. country dwellers. I have talked to literally hundreds of parents who have lost children to overdoses. They often remark how much their teen was like Marah—sensitive, intelligent, compassionate, the type who carried the weight of the world’s pain on their small shoulders. How many beautiful young people and adults do we have to lose before we do something significant about this epidemic? How long will it take for the public to accept scientific opinion—that addiction is a disease and drop the stigma and shame around it?
So…I am asked…again and again…what can we do? Here are some ideas:
*We can start by creating educational programs in schools and begin talking to kids about drugs in elementary school.
* We need to screen children for signs of behavioral health issues which often go hand in hand with addiction.
* Instead of popping a pill or taking a drink, let’s teach kids alternatives to ease depression such as meditation, yoga, exercise, community service, etc.
* We need to make treatment on demand available. Now. Can you imagine being diagnosed with diabetes and waiting for a year or more to get help?
* Our government needs to continue ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion which allowed many heroin users to access treatment for the first time.
* We need to publicize all the successes around Medication Assisted Treatment (methadone, suboxone, buprenorphine, vivitrol). MAT’s are considered the gold standard for opioid treatment at this time. Studies show that being on one of these “support” medications can cut overdose deaths in half. Yet, many communities pass laws preventing methadone clinics from being established in their towns!
* Moms and Dads need to shake off their fear of being judged as bad parents for having a child who suffers from substance abuse. Step forward. Share your story. There is no shame. You will find many others around you dealing with the same terrible situation. Hiding in the shadows only allows more people to die.
Last but not least, never give up on your loved one. You cannot control their choices or live their life, but you can continue to love them, encourage them, and believe that they can heal.
Recovery is possible.
Need a place to start for support? These three organizations can help.
Read more from Community voices on overdose prevention:
We started with an audio story from Maya, an 18 year-old and in recovery. Her road to addiction started at her parents’ medicine cabinet.
We talked with Captain Bryan Howard – King County Sheriff’s Office, to learn about the Good Samaritan Law, naloxone and why it matters for saving lives.
Originally posted on August 31, 2017.