John M. Blog

True Story: Skilled Union Worker with Drug Addiction

Sometimes it helps to read someone else's true story of addiction, and think about how things could be handled, or should be handled. Here is a recent story I received, that highlights some important aspects of detox, rehab, and recovery:

My grandson turned 21 last week. He needs help, but he refuses to go to any place where he will have to stay until better. He was a good boy. He is in the trades and good at it. He attempts to work, and does well, but then stops getting up on time and misses work. Now on the drugs he has ruined his pickup truck, and lost many of his friends. His girlfriend left him and is now with his best friend.

I know he must hit rock bottom, but I have saved him once already. If I didn't walk in his room, he would be dead, because I found him with his lips turning blue & his mouth black from loss of oxygen. I've been pleading with my grandson to go to a detox center, but he refuses to go. Instead, he visited a local doctor who claims to treat drug addiction with drugs. He says he visited the receptionist and just needs $500 up front the drug addiction therapy. There are no therapy sessions or group sessions, just drug treatment.

I don't know how to get the financial assistance to help him. I have a mortgage, but I will put the house up for collateral to get him help. I don't know how much longer he will go on with this addiction.  I and am afraid he won't make it. I don't want the good boy that is hidden behind the drugs to die.

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The most important first step when trying to help someone with a substance abuse addiction, is to get them to come into detox.

Wow. This is a common story, similar to ones we hear every day. Obviously this “boy” (who is likely an adult with a job) needs professional help. Addiction kills. This grandmother knows that. So far, she's been lucky, but she seems aware of how serious addiction is. She is correct that she may have found her grandson dead when she revived him in his room.

I would suggest that they call a crisis help line immediately, and also engage into support communities such as the church, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon. The grandmother can attend and get advice, even if the grandson won't.

But he will have to commit to coming in and getting started, if he is to get past his addiction. Whatever she can do to get him to start, is the best thing she can do.

Local Drug Addiction Treatment Options

What about the inexpensive, local doctor treatment? I don't know the individual nor the family in this instance, but it is very common for that $500 solution to be nothing but another story told by her grandson to get a little cash for more drugs, or a little more security. He may take that cash directly  to his dealer for more drugs, or use it to try and get started buying drugs for resale (many addicts try to become drug dealers themselves, in order to fund their own addictions). Or he may use it to make a partial payment on a debt he has to drug dealer, for example. It's unfortunate, but addicts are liars, and will say almost anything to secure the supply they need to avoid the pain and discomfort of withdrawal.

Does Buprenorphine Treatment Work?

On the other hand, he may have found a legitimate buprenorphine therapy doctor, who intends to start him on controlled supply of buprenorphin. Buprenorphine is a drug similar to heroin, which satisfies the physical drug addiction but doesn't deliver the “high”. Buprenorphine therapy works for some, but for many it simply replaces one addiction with another. Buprenorphine treatment deals with the physical side of addiction, but there is a strong emotional component that must be addressed to prevent relapse and support recovery.

Detox, Rehab, or Recovery? Detox First

Recovery is a process, not a cure. Recovery begins in detox, but success requires intensive treatment whether residential or intensive outpatient. This can last years.

After treating tens of thousands of individuals for drug and alcohol addiction, we've learned that the most important step is getting help into a treatment facility right now. As soon as treatment begins (medical detox first, in a detox center like Sunrise Detox), everyone involved can have hope for recovery.

As soon as the individual in in the care of a detox center, the energy every one puts into recovery is positive. Until then, the addiction consumes more energy every day. Each day is very likely to be worse, not better, than the previous day, for everyone involved.

detox center common area

This is a living room area at the Sunrise Detox center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. A safe, comfortable environment is essential for a successful start of recovery.

Calling for Help with Drug Addiction

If this grandmother had called Sunrise Detox, our intake advisers would have discussed the situation, and most likely encouraged her to connect us directly with her grandson for some straight-talk about his situation. Our intake experts are street savvy, have been there themselves either through personal experience or experience with friends and family, or extensive real-world training. They understand what goes on with addiction and mis-use, and can quickly find out details that are withheld from family members, clergy, police and authorities.

We would probably have tried to get him to commit to a 5-7 day detox under our care, or otherwise given the grandmother a few ideas for persuading him to come in. Despite how it seems to everyone experiencing the pain and agony of advanced addiction, there is always hope if we can just find it and hold on to it, and get help.

The Most Important First Step: Medical Detox

With a plan of  medical detox first,  the influence of the drugs can be removed before addressing the larger issues of rehab and the root causes of the drug using, including emotional aspects that are so important for treatment.

The most important step, is simply to get started by making that call for help right away.

NJ Drug Problems Reach Epidemic Status

As I have mentioned in previous posts this has now reached “Epidemic” status in New Jersey. The NJ Authorities now say “no community, however affluent or remote, is immune to the circumstances and impact of this trend. ” According to the 2010 report there were 843 drug related deaths , of which 402 were solely attributed to prescription drugs. The total number in 2011 jumped to 1008!  The results of a 2 year investigation are being released today, with a press conference this morning.

I have previously highlighted how we  need to enforce the prescription monitoring bill already passed here in the state. We have already committed resources to add substance (drug, alcohol) detox facilities in the state, with full facilities under construction Sunrise Detox Toms River and Sunrise Detox Cherry Hill.
How is this epidemic affecting the States Economy ?  According to the old report “Beyond the devastation of lost lives, law enforcement authorities at multiple levels told the Commission that the drug trade and the resulting imperative of addiction have produced spikes in burglaries and other crimes of theft all across New Jersey”
We will find out shortly what they've learned since 2010, but the inside chatter suggests it won't be good. All of the bad numbers are way up, in some cases to unbelievable levels, and while some of the “good numbers” are also up (such as the number of treatment beds planned by Sunrise Detox), most are not up nearly enough.In many areas of drug abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment, the old way of doing things is no longer adequate. “More” of the same will not achieve the desired results. The 2010 report ended with that idea for moving forward:
The record of this investigation demonstrates that the challenges posed by drug abuse have taken on disturbing new dimensions that call into question the conventional wisdom regarding gateway drugs and addiction, and the adequacy of current medical oversight and law enforcement strategies. We now live in a State where the abuse of legitimate prescription pills serves increasingly as a route to the unlawful world of heroin, which is cheap, widely available and so pure it can be used without the junkie stigma or mess of needles while producing a high matching or exceeding that of any legitimate pharmaceutical painkiller. This tangled intersection of legal and illicit narcotics constitutes a crisis whose multiple consequences are plain for all to see: the countless deaths and damaged lives, the spiking crime, the subverted recesses of the medical and pharmaceutical professions, the exploitation by gangs and other criminal elements.”

Ocean County Heroin Deaths

Donna Weaver wrote an article for The Press of Atlantic City entitled “Ocean County surge in heroin deaths spurs action to prevent tragedies“. She noted that Ocean County, NJ is on track to double the number of drug-related deaths on record for 2012. Already this year there are 54 deaths on record (53 at the time of that article). In just one 8 day span during April, 9 people died of heroin overdoses in Ocean County.

I've been actively involved in some of the prevention and awareness efforts in Ocean and Monmouth counties. There are many rumors of “bad” heroin coming out of Philadelphia, being sold in Atlantic City area. There are stories of “good” and “bad” heroin, with some people wishing it were simply a problem of identifying the bad stuff from the good stuff. But this issue is much more complicated than that. All heroin is “bad stuff”. No matter who you are, your heroin dealer is not the most trustworthy source of safe, reliable medications.

The “heroin problem” in Ocean and Monmouth and other counties in New Jersey is part of a broader drug problem, involving prescription drugs prescribed by doctors. I added a comment to that article:

The surge in heroin-related deaths in Ocean County is not an isolated event. The rise in prescription drug misuse and the abuse in New Jersey over the past several years is now feeding into a heroin trade, as the prescription opiates and opioids (pain killers) become harder to obtain legally.

I’m a drug detox professional with Sunrise Detox in Morris County, and I collaborate with substance abuse treatment centers throughout New Jersey. I participate in the Ocean County Center for Prevention’s Prescription Drug Misuse working group (part of the DART Coalition). Sunrise Detox is opening a drug detox facility in Toms River later this year, to meet the growing demand for prescription drug, alcohol, and increasingly heroin addiction in Ocean and Monmouth counties.

Drug users, parents, loved ones, and community leaders need to recognize the strong connection between opioid prescription drugs (painkillers like oxycodone) and heroin. In many ways, heroin is a cheaper and more accessible form of the same drug, but heroin brings in additional risks associated with illicit manufacturing, irregular purity, and unknown dosing, all of which increasingly brings tragedy to NJ families who previously thought they were “only” dealing with a pill problem.

It is essential that we raise awareness of the signs of drug addiction epidemic in New Jersey, and help people get into treatment as early as possible. Currently medical intervention is restricted to those already too far along the addiction pathway. We need changes to the laws to enable medical assessments and early treatments for those showing signs of serious dependency, before they are tragically addicted to the most dangerous street drugs like heroin.

At Sunrise Detox we treat New Jersey residents who come to us with substance abuse issues that have gone out of control. Not all of the problems are recreational drug use. Many of them started as innocent prescription drug use. Pain killer use sometimes leads to mis-use and then abuse. The powerful prescription opioid medications are addicting, and act the same way in the body as heroin does, creating a cycle of addiction that is uncontrollable. For many, the only solution is to get medical assistance (medical drug detox) as soon as possible, and then the support and counseling needed to repair damaged lives, relationships, and expectations.

Adrian Hollywood Awarded Riley Regan Award by NJ EAPA

photo of family of Adrian Hollywood and NJ EAPA leadership

From left, (seated) Kevin O’Neill, past president NJ EAPA and CEAP of NJ Transit, Mark Hassell NJ EAPA Treasurer and EAP of United Airlines, (standing) Tom Garofola, NJ EAPA President, Hollywood family members Sheena Marie, Tara Margaret, and Kim Brown (the daughters and widow of Adrian Hollywood).

On April 19, 2013 the New Jersey Chapter of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA) awarded the inaugural Riley Regan Award to Adrian Hollywood (deceased). Adrian was an employee assistance professional with a long history of dedication to serving the communities of New Jersey. Most recently, Adrian was known for his work with American Addiction Centers and NCADD.

The Riley Regan Award is dedicated to “the individual who exemplifies the service of an EAP”. At the same meeting, Barbara Martin, of Princeton Healthcare, was named the NJ EAP of the year.

Adrian was listed as an “Advocacy Leader” in the NCADD New Jersey directory, with the following description:

“Adrian Hollywood has worked for the past 13 years in the behavioral health community, primarily as a counselor. His most recent position, as a Treatment Consultant, enabled him to help individuals get placed in treatment throughout New Jersey and the rest of the country. Adrian has been a member of the New Jersey Employee Assistance Professionals since March 2010, working with hospitals, unions, and professional groups regarding addiction needs. Adrian feels strongly “it is my duty to stand for those in need and ease their obstacles in their communities.”

The NCADD is a private nonprofit organization which advocates on behalf of those affected by drug and alcohol addiction and their families. The organization manages more than $22 million in addiction treatment funding, and operates the Substance Abuse Initiative (SAI), funded by the New Jersey Division of Family Development. The SAI  provides addiction and mental health clinical assessments and care coordination services to welfare recipients throughout the state of New Jersey.

NJ EAPA members John Moriarty and Jill Pulvirent

NJ EAPA member John F. Moriarty III of Sunrise Detox of Stirling, NJ (a substance abuse treatment facility in Morris County) with Jill Pulvirent, LCSW, an Outreach Specialist at American Addiction Centers and former friend and colleague of Adrian Hollywood.


Alcohol Awareness 72 hour Challenge.. without Cheating

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Can you go 72 hours without alcohol (and no cheating!)

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. Can you go 72 hours without alcohol (and no cheating!)

Next week the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence is asking everyone to take a challenge. The “April is Alcohol Awareness Month” campaign includes an Alcohol-Free Weekend, April 5-7. This 72 hour “no alcohol” challenge could take place on any weekend, and in fact it does take place fairly often in many families across the country. When drinking is a problem, families struggle with “could you please just not drink for this… wedding, BBQ, trip, etc etc”. The same challenge… can you please try to not drink just-this-once.

The family goal is usually maintaining peace and avoiding problems associated with problem drinking. The goal of the national campaign is to raise awareness of the relationship you may have with alcohol. In both cases, it’s a plea for awareness (and possibly action, which can lead to positive changes). If you can’t go 72 hours without alcohol, there’s a decent chance you have an alcohol dependency (emotional or physical). In this case, it’s the National Council asking you to try, because they know many people aren’t aware of their dependency. If it’s your loved ones who are asking you to try, then obviously someone suspects there really is a problem.

My version of the 72 hour challenge is slightly different. I’d suggest… Can you live your life over ta 72 hour period without drinking alcohol, and without cheating?

Can you successfully complete the weekend chores without a drink? Can you interact and relate and socialize and get along with your neighbors etc. without a drink? Even if you simply want to drink, or simply enjoy a drink, or feel you deserve to enjoy your weekend the way you’d like to, can you go 72 hours by choice without alcohol.

On the third day, after you have successfully achieved 55 or 65 hours without alcohol, can you complete the 72 without rewarding yourself for your accomplishment with…. a drink?

For many, alcohol dependency is rooted in a desire to succeed in living life without the complications that come from the boredom, the anxiety, the irritating neighbors, and the daily stressful challenges of real life. But alcohol used to cope with reality is still alcohol dependency, and alcohol dependency is often a path to more serious trouble down the road.

Some of the challenges I expect will crop up with a real world 72 hour no-cheating challenge include the following:

  • socializing alcohol-free without conflict… where “cheating” is deciding not to go, sneaking a drink or getting high instead;
  • sitting through family dinner without a drink… where “cheating” is deciding you’re not hungry, or you will eat later by yourself or otherwise skip the meal;
  • spending time with the family having fun without sneaking a drink… where “cheating” is deciding to smoke pot instead or taking a long nap;
  • attending a “no alcohol” event without feeling something’s missing… where “cheating” is bringing your own, deciding to take something else beforehand;
  • going to the movies without buying alcohol… where “cheating” is drinking beforehand or bringing some of your own or deciding not to go this time;
  • watching a ballgame without pregaming… where “cheating” is smuggling in your own or announcing you really don’t want to go.

Can you be bored, anxious, or angry without a drink? For three days? Do you know how to cope with those feelings without using alcohol? And if you can make it through 72 hours, what is your desired activity for day 4? Is it “catching up”?

Celebrity Rehab: Addiction Kills 100 Americans Every Day

Following the death of Mindy McCready, there has been buzz about deaths from addiction. McCready was the fifth cast member on Dr. Pinsky's “Celebrity Rehab Show”  to die from either suicide or overdose.  This seems unusual to many people, some of whom think the statistic reveals something about the show. But the unfortunate truth is people die from addiction every day. Addiction kills.

According to the Centers for Disease Control,  100 people die from drug overdose every day in America.

More than 12 million Americans report using prescription pain medication without a medical reason. Even more frightening — 55 % of prescription drugs taken off label are acquired from a friend or family member.

The number one cause of death with prescription painkillers is respiratory failure. Breathing stops, due to the overdose.  In January of 2012 I urged for increased adoption of prescription drug monitoring programs.  Thankfully, more  states have adopted these programs following Florida and New Jersey. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 43 states have now passed or filed Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.

But prescription drugs aren't the only path to death by sedation after overdose. A 2011 World Health Organization report claimed that alcohol related deaths now outnumber deaths from AIDS worldwide. More than 2.5 million people die each year from alcohol. In the former Soviet Union, 1 in 5 deaths are related to alcohol. Alcohol,  according to the W.H.O., also accelerates 60 different types of diseases.

What are we missing here? The disease of Addiction is a deadly epidemic that we need to look at further. Medical detoxification, treatment and a strong aftercare are only the beginning. On a daily basis I personally wonder why we as a society are not doing more. Why aren't we taking more preventive measures for this serious problem we face.

As an addiction professional I am reminded daily that addiction kills. I know only too well of the countless lives of celebrities, famous people, sons, daughters, mothers, and husbands that have ended way too early. People like you an me.



The Reality of Addiction All Around Us

I had an ironic encounter with someone the night before the Seabrook House Foundation's Charity Golf Tournament that really made me thankful for where I'm at now in my life.

For those who don't know me that well, I have been sober going on 12 years now and abstinent from gambling for the past 4 years. As I was waiting for my colleague's flight to arrive,  I decided to sit and watch the Giant's game that was on TV at the hotel bar. Some people may have raised an eyebrow at a recovering alcoholic/gambler sitting in a hotel lobby bar 7 miles from Atlantic City on a Thursday night watching a football game, but fortunately for me, today I can watch a game with my favorite Diet Coke.

After a while watching the game, my legs were bothering me more than normal,  and that led me to limp a tad more than I normally do. The waitress noticed,  and asked me immediately what I was taking for the pain. When I told her Tylenol she asked me “Why not Oxycontin?“.

Sallie, as I will call her, seemed sincere and innocent with her question. As an addiction professional my mind started to realize the reality of living in a society ignorant about prescription opiates. This young woman spoke of Oxycontin as innocently as a Tylenol.  I expressed to Sallie that I felt the danger of dependence with those types of drugs was not worth the risk. She agreed. When I told her I worked for Sunrise Detox Center and was attending a fundraiser to support a local foundation for treatment, her jaw hit the floor.

After a few moments, Sallie re-engaged me in our conversation.  She confided in me that she had had an addiction problem at one time with Oxycontin. She had stolen from her boyfriend and father in the past to support her habit and now she was on Suboxone,  but felt she couldn't  get off of that either. When I asked her why, she said, “I'm terrified.”

I recognized the look on her face. I knew I was there once before, lost in the panic and confusion of addiction. Sallie told me that her job waiting tables didn't help her avoid addiction either, as some of her colleagues offered her drugs on a daily basis.

I told Sallie that had many options available to her.  I gave her our admissions number – (888)443-3869, and  I strongly recommended detox plus 28 days of rehab. I explained it would give her the best chance of success. I also encouraged her to seek support in 12 steps. Especially as a woman who had long term sobriety.

As I left for the airport to pick up my colleague, I realized that I am lucky to have found recovery, and lucky to be working at Sunrise Detox. I have acquired so much of the knowledge I have today about addiction from my work with Sunrise Detox.

I also left the sports bar thinking that maybe someone or something had put me in that ironic situation,  so that I could possibly affect Sallie's life in a positive way, and be reminded of my good fortune and the results of my own recovery efforts.