Support for families of opioid addicts

SILVANA – It looked like any group gathering to play cards, talk about issues or eat dinner.

Young and old, people from all walks of life. But what brought them together may surprise you – opioids.

“It affects everybody. This disease does not care,” said Carly Payne, whose four-month-old small group Opioid Affected Families of Snohomish County, put on the meeting.

Whether it’s a family member or friend or a guy on the street that we pay taxes for to help – it affects everyone, she added.

Payne got involved because a sister has been an addict for four years, but currently is in recovery in Spokane. “There’s no difference between her and I.”

When Payne finally started talking to others about it, she couldn’t believe how many people are affected. She felt empowered being open about it.

“We want to remove that stigma so people will open up and share ideas,” she said. People can get too comfortable, accept it too easily and act like it isn’t there if they don’t talk about it. “Let the floodgates open,” she said. “Don’t worry about what others think and say.”

If families and addicts themselves share information, others can hear success stories about how they got through it. And that can lead to others getting better.

Payne’s sister got started by using pain pills for migraine headaches. She became addicted then starting using heroin because it’s less expensive. That’s how many people get addicted.

“It’s ridiculous how available it is,” Payne said of heroin, adding she sees it sold openly in casino parking lots.

Payne’s parents started to blame themselves.

“Don’t even go there,” Payne said her sister told their parents. “It was a choice I made.”

Payne’s mother, Willow, talked about the ride with an addict being like an emotional roller coaster. “Every time they relapse, we relapse,” she said.

Willow said it’s a fine line between helping and enabling.

A friend of hers told her to “let ‘em fall. You get to that point you are done. It was a defining thing making her do it on her own.”

Willow said families keep quiet because they hope their loved one will get through it before anyone knows about it. “But it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take a long time.”

Carly said she didn’t talk about it for three years. She escaped to snowboarding instead. “I dreaded coming home,” she said.

But, “Talking builds bonds. People won’t shut you out – just the opposite.” Talking about it helps addicts and their families realize they are not alone, she said.

Others speak out

Suddenly, others in the crowd started speaking out.

One said their nephew got no support.

Another said their child started stealing from them, and they don’t know what to do.

A woman said addiction runs in her family. After attending three funerals she sought help but, “There was nothing there. Wait in line.”

Another said their son is an active user, and a key is getting them away from “friends. They need to get a new community.”

One participant talked about helping our neighbors and being there for one another. “I’m in if anyone needs my phone number.”

They talked about doctors overprescribing oxycontin and now cutting back because they don’t want to deal with lawsuits. So then addicts move to the cheaper drug – heroin. Willow said she wonders why the medical community isn’t using the drug vivitrol, an opioid blocker, more often. One woman said be careful when an addict asks for help. “It could be another con,” she said. “It hooks us back into being enablers.”

But when she finally set him free it felt like, “A giant cinder block was off my chest.”

One man admitted he once was an addict. He said his parents were shocked. “I hid it really well,” he said, adding they also were in denial. He said from experience that, “You’re not going to cure an addict. They have to want to” stop. The man, who said he has been in recovery for 12 years, said most addicts have to hit bottom before seeking help. Families have to learn to let go. “They will let you down every time” if you don’t, he said of addicts.

It’s better for families to support each other. “Pick up that one-hundred-pound phone,” he said, describing how hard it can be to open up and seek help.

Another person spoke out that their sister’s death was caused by their family not working together.

Still another said she’s been “battling this monster” since 2004. “The nightmare doesn’t end.”

She said all the courts do is fine her son – now to the tune of $15,000. “He has no life left to return to. My son has no idea what real life is anymore.”

She said early intervention is key. “Don’t wait until they are face down someplace in a back alley,” she said.

Snohomish County Councilman Nate Nehring, who was in the audience, chimed in that a community or drug court is needed, along with a diversion center to send addicts to, so they can get help rather than fined or put in jail.

“We need to be a community,” Carly said. “We need to help ourselves and each other before we can help them.”

Information hub

Carly said families don’t know what to do when someone they care about becomes addicted. She wants her group to become an information hub where people can go for help.

“It’s not readily available,” she said of information needed surrounding opioids. “You have to dig for it.”

Another member of the group, Wes Mai, said he would like to see a brochure made and placed around towns that tells people what to do. Almost a step-by-step approach on where to go for detox and treatment. “If you’re new … you don’t know where to start,” he said.

Nehring said the county is putting a lot of this type of information together, and he would check on the brochure idea.

Mayor Leo Kelley of Stanwood also gave his support.

“There’s no support groups for families,” he said. “Reach out to others with the same issues. It’s like pulling teeth bit by bit to get information.”

Nehring said the meeting was great.

“It’s something we’re lacking,” he said. “I’ve never heard of it anywhere – a support group so families of addicts can help each other.”

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