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The Opiate Crisis from my front row seat…

The statistics are staggering and the numbers continue to climb. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 64,000 people in the U.S. died from opiate use and abuse in 2016. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control, 1,956 of those deaths occurred in N.C. Last year in Guilford County, 142 lives were lost due to drug use and abuse; I knew 10 of them – and a few of them were close friends.

Reports, documentaries, articles, even photo essays have been done about the crisis, but some have done more harm than good by portraying stereotypes of what an opiate addiction looks like. Unfortunately, these horrifying images only stigmatize those who are suffering even further, bringing about feelings of hopelessness and despair. Our society too often is quick to make judgements with insufficient information. Yes, addiction is ugly – but hope lives because recovery is available.

At Fellowship Hall, I have a front row seat to what substance abuse disorders look like, the impact they have on an individual’s mind, body and soul – and the suffering that families endure before they can get their loved one into treatment.

Like all treatment providers, we have seen an increase in the number of admissions due to an opiate use disorder. Our response to the crisis is to use a steady hand in treating this disease, using proven, evidence-based treatments that have a track record of success. We have added treatment methods accepted as responsible and effective while holding to our values, ethics and philosophy. We have increased our use of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and increased our intensive outpatient capabilities and transitional housing options for men and women. We have extended our detox protocols for opiate use disorders and developed partnerships with the makers of Vivitrol and oral Naltrexone to help with withdrawal symptoms. We’re also filling a niche for those who want to stop drug replacement programs where physicians prescribe medication without providing the necessary ongoing supervision and support.

Rather than depict the plight of someone addicted to opiates as being in a dark and hollow space with no way out, we choose to focus on the facts: Treatment is available and treatment works. History tells us that the current opiate crisis will pass only to be replaced by the next drug. Crystal Meth is running in a strong second place around the country – while alcohol use continues to increase among many populations. The truth is, substance use disorders are not going away.

So, what can we do? We can play a part in reducing the stigma that’s attached to getting treatment. As a society, we need to understand that addiction is a chronic brain disease that can be overcome with treatment, not a behavioral problem that requires incarceration. With the right help and tools, an individual can get their life back on track and become an active, productive member of their family and community.  We see it every day, in the faces and voices of those who embrace recovery by attending their local NA or AA meetings and giving their time and energy to those who are just beginning to recover.

At Fellowship Hall, our only mission is to save the lives of those suffering from substance use disorder. Hope lives – and recovery is available here.


President/CEO of Fellowship Hall