New Hope and Help for Families and Addicts
In January 2016, Maria* got a call no mother wants to get. Her son, Kyle*, had sent a Facebook message to a family friend stating he was going to commit suicide. But the friend hadn’t seen the message right away. And by the time she called Maria, it had been days since the message was sent. As Maria and her ex-husband rushed to their son’s home, frantically calling with no answer and not sure what they would find when they got there, Maria was terrified she may never see Kyle alive again.
It was only by chance that they even knew where to find their son, a heroin addict, who had increasingly isolated himself from friends and family in recent years. He had started drinking in his teenage years and experimented with other substances while in high school. But it was after his car was hit by a train when he was in college, and he was prescribed opioids for pain, that his addiction took hold – and didn’t let go. This bright, caring, good-hearted man who once had a promising future and a whole life ahead of him, eventually lost everything to the grip of heroin.
Kyle had somehow survived overdoses in the past, and Maria had considered the idea of an intervention several times over the years but didn’t have the support of other family members and friends. And since Kyle was an adult by the time he was in the throes of his addiction, he was free to make his own decisions, which meant Maria could only pray and hope he survived long enough to get help.
When they arrived at Kyle’s home that January day, they found him alive. But there were empty heroin capsules scattered all over the floor and blood everywhere. He had tried, unsuccessfully, to cut himself and overdose in the days after he sent that Facebook message. And he had placed a long suicide note on the table, which gave them insight into just how far into the darkness his addiction had taken him.
They took Kyle to the ER of a local hospital, where he was placed in detox. But he didn’t have insurance, so it wasn’t long before he had to leave the hospital even though he was still experiencing intense withdrawal symptoms after two weeks. One of the nurses told Maria she had never seen a case as bad as her son’s. It was a miracle he was still alive. And Maria knew in her heart that if they put him back out there, he would go right back to using and the next call they got, he would be dead.
In the weeks and months following Kyle’s suicide attempt, Maria found herself in a battle to save her son’s life. Her days were spent trying to find a rehab facility that would take him without insurance. Through it all, convincing Kyle to stay in treatment was a daily challenge.
Fortunately, through Maria’s intense efforts, Kyle did get help and the chance to break free from heroin. They found a bed for him in a 6-month rehab program in Kansas City. And though convincing him to stay there involved a whole new level of struggle in the first six weeks, he successfully completed the program and has been clean for 18 months.
Though many may still think of heroin as an “urban” problem, stories like Kyle’s spiral into heroin addiction after taking prescription opiates, and Maria’s struggles to get him the help he needed, are playing out in families across our region. For families with a loved one who is addicted, not knowing what resources are out there or where to turn for help makes a heartbreaking situation even more difficult.
Lisa Cassidy, a St. Charles County Ambulance District Paramedic, has been in the field and seen the heartbreak heroin addiction brings. And, like her fellow first responders, Cassidy was deeply troubled by the exponential rise in overdose calls and deaths since 2008. While attending C.R.U.S.H. meetings, a collaborative, multi-agency initiative started in 2015 by St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar to fight the heroin epidemic, she started wondering how the SCCAD could do more. That desire to do more led Cassidy to start the SCCAD’s #StopHeroin initiative in 2016.
The initiative’s first goal was to raise awareness. They started small with a change to their uniforms that placed a #StopHeroin logo on the back of their t-shirts. And Cassidy says the response they got was amazing. “People were walking up, telling us their stories and telling us they’re glad people are talking about this because it’s been swept under the rug for so long.”
To shed even more light on the problem, Cassidy and her colleagues also started giving presentations to high schools, middles schools, and various organizations throughout the area. They created a powerful, realistic video reenactment of an overdose call, which they share at presentations and on their website (sccad.com). And Cassidy created and coordinates the Substance Use Recovery Response Team (SURRT) program, which proactively reaches out to addicts and their families to provide resources.
The SURRT program, which officially rolled out in March of 2017, is all about saving lives. SCCAD first responders provide free intranasal Narcan for family members of addicts when they go out on a call, so the family can intervene quickly in case of future overdose. They also give a folder full of information and resources for getting treatment to every patient on every call they go out on, since they’ve found that addicts are most open to intervention when they’re in that 24–48 hours following an overdose and still at high risk for death. With that in mind, they also created a form they use as part of the program where they get contact information and permission to follow up with the patient after the initial crisis to get them the help they need.
The SURRT program has been very successful so far, offering new hope and help for addicts and their families. In just the first three months of the program from March to June 2017, they gave out 90 folders, had 44 consents to get into the program and 31 connected with treatment. And only two completely declined the help offered.
Cassidy and her team are bringing the conversation about the heroin epidemic in St. Charles County more into the open with the #StopHeroin program. And with programs like SURRT making resources more available, there can be new hope that addicts and their families will get the help they need. “It’s a huge step toward changing outcomes for the better,” Cassidy stated, “Getting clean for good takes a lot of work for the addict, but it can happen. We don’t want people to feel ashamed if they’re struggling or they relapse. We want to be there for them, so we can help.”
If someone you know is struggling with heroin/opioid addiction, please contact: Lisa Cassidy at the SCCAD – 636-344-7600 – for a list of available resources.
* Names have been changed to provide anonymity