Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Overdoses in obits: A lifting of the veil

Considerable gains have been made in the recent past to erode the stigma facing people with addiction. Science and the recovery movement have collaborated to improve public understanding about addiction as primarily a health issue. Even so, one does not have to look far to see the persistence of attitudes that fault the person with an addiction as well as their families.

Scanning addiction’s history, one finds it freighted with concealment, a silence that deepened the problem for all concerned. For decades, families and friends would go to great lengths to keep a loved one’s addiction from surfacing. At the root of this covert conduct, of course, lay stigma.

With the current opiate crisis and its pestilential number of overdose deaths, however, something very different has begun to happen. More and more families in these cases have responded with an act marked by selflessness: putting the cause of death in obituaries.

Many of the recent heroin deaths have been young adults, leaving parents with the ordeal of laying a child to rest. Some of these parents have summoned the strength to look past their heartbreak and set aside concern about stigma in hopes of sparing others from having to bury a son or daughter. In doing so, they have rejected despair.

This disclosure of overdose deaths in part reflects the depths of the opiate crisis. A parent who discloses they lost their child to an overdose knows they are in the company of thousands of others. And while overdose fatalities nationwide are unsettling, New Jersey’s drug-related deaths are three times the national average, according the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

A New York Times article recently took note of this change in revealing overdose as the cause of death. The article noted that obituaries of a person who died of drug use were long couched in vagaries, saying that the individual died “suddenly” or “in the home.” Now, the silence has begun to be broken. One recent obituary spoke to how widespread addiction is, urging people not to ignore the signs. The family included in their son’s obituary the following admonition: “Someone you know is battling addiction; if your ‘gut instinct’ says something is wrong, it most likely is.”

A father interviewed on NPR spoke of his reason for including his daughter’s heroin overdose in her obituary. He spoke of having read many obituaries for people in the 20’s or 30’s or 40’s, all dying abruptly. He said that doesn’t happen on this scale to people those ages, not without there being a blight of some sort.

This father said if putting the cause of her death in his daughter’s obituary saved one life, it would give him solace. That he could show such understanding amid his deep sorrow reveals how a magnanimous heart allows hope to emerge from the ashes.

By Dan Meara, Public Information Manager

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Legislative Round-up

After a hectic spring, the N.J. Legislature settled into its Summer Recess. This then is a time to catch our collective breath and take stock of how far our issues have come. The entire Assembly is on the ballot this November 3. Subsequently, the last two months of 2015 will constitute the “Lame Duck” session of the 2014/15 legislative Term. This is a period in which many of the pending bills that are outstanding in the Lower House will be acted upon before beginning the new 2016/17 Term. NCADD-NJ will continue to be a presence in the hallways of the Statehouse, as well as, in the District offices of Senators and Assembly members, advocating for quality treatment and recovery services for those seeking a respite from the disease of addiction.

Thanks in large part to the efforts of our Advocate Leaders, the message of addiction as an illness has resonated with a majority of our state’s decision-makers. The result of that refinement of thinking has been that we spend most of our time pushing for enhancements to public policies instead of battling to block negative measures. The following are some of the proposals that NCADD-NJ has been supporting:

S.2381/A.3723 – Permit the use of medication-assisted treatment in drug court, prisons and jails – Signed into law

A.3719/S.2377 – Directs all public, four-year colleges and universities, in which at least 25% of undergraduate students live in on-campus housing, to establish a substance abuse recovery housing program. The purpose of the recovery housing is to provide a supportive substance-free dormitory environment. – Signed into law

S.2058/A.3738 – Authorizes establishment of three pilot recovery alternative high schools that provide a secondary school education and support a substance dependency plan of recovery – Passed Legislature, Governor’s Conditional Veto

A.3602 and S.3164 – Would initiate a Certificate of Rehabilitation – On Assembly Floor, in Senate committee

A.206/A.471/S.552 – Would automatically expunge the convictions of a person who successfully completes Drug Court – Passes Assembly, on Senate Floor

SJR56/AJR87 – Establish an Opioid Antidote Commission to study and report on procedures to be used following the administration of an opiate blocker to a hospital patient – In committee

S.53 – Requires correctional facilities to provide inmates with medication that was prescribed for chronic conditions existing prior to incarceration – In committee

A.2982/S.478 – Allow persons on parole and probation to vote – In committee

A.3159/S.2457 – Provides that an inmate in a state prison who is otherwise eligible for drug treatment cannot be denied access to an on-site program solely based on that prisoner having any detainer or open charge issued against her/him – In Senate committee, on Assembly Floor

S.2806 – Removes restrictions on certain convicted drug offenders receiving General Assistance (formerly Welfare) benefits under Work First NJ program – In committee

S.52/A.3730 – Would require certain doctors working in jails or prisons to take a course recommended by the state, in how to deal with individuals with addictions – In committee   

By Ed Martone, Policy Analyst