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Battle With Addiction, Part 5: “Is it just a matter of will?”

Posted: October 09, 2015

o far we’ve heard five heart wrenching stories about drug addiction and the damage it left behind. We’ve learned that recovering addicts never completely get over it. Neither do their families. These are people struggling right here in our community. 

One person I know had a couple surgeries after some serious injuries. That resulted in a dependence on prescription pain killers. It took a long time and a lot of work to get off them.

I spoke with another Mom just yesterday, who told me this story: Her son was first hooked on painkillers after getting hit by a car here in town (while he was walking). His body finally healed, but his need for prescription drugs never did. That need turned into heroin use that has never stopped. 

So some people get into drugs by hanging around the wrong crowd. Drinking and marijuana start them on a path that can lead to the harder stuff. But legitimate injuries and surgeries can lead you there too, and once you’re there, getting off is never easy. Some people never do. 

I wanted to talk with some experts so I went to the Human Resource Center (HRC). Byron Hooser is the Substance Abuse Disorder Supervisor and Mental Health Therapist with 11 years at HRC, an M.S. in Counseling, and 30 years of experience. Crystal Elam also works at HRC and has a B.S. in Addictions Counseling and 6 years experience. 

TD: Why do we have such a drug problem here in Paris and Edgar County?
Bryon: Well, we have highways that go right to Chicago, and four colleges around us. We’re right in the middle of it. 

TD: So it’s easy to get drugs like meth and heroin. 
Bryon: It’s as easy to get as pot. 

TD: What’s the difference for the user?
Bryon: It’s a more intense rush. For them, it’s all about getting close to an edge. Sometimes they cross the line. I’ve been doing this (counseling) a very long time, and I’ve buried a lot of users. 

TD: The people I interviewed told me they still have issues with the craving, even years later in their recovery.  
Bryon: This is a part of the treatment aspect: the client needs to get to the point where they have a craving, but their next step is to get help (instead of going and finding the drug). 

TD: What kind of help?
Bryon: Talking to someone; doing something. The rule of thumb is 15 minutes. If you spend 15 minutes actively doing something else, the chances are you’re going to get past it. 

TD: But it’s not easy. 
Bryon: The public has a perception this is all about willpower. But in addiction, you’re changing the chemical makeup of your brain to where you have to have this drug. Now there is a physical need, and pain of withdrawal. 

TD: Some people have to take other medicines to help with this. How long do they have to take it, or do they have to take it forever?
Bryon: Generally you want to wean them off. It can take two years or more; it depends on the person. 

TD: What can we do as a community to help with this?
Crystal: We need to deal with substance use. We don’t want to focus on just meth; we want to educate the community on all the different types of drugs. 

TD: I think whether pot is a “gateway drug” or not, it’s pretty clear that every time someone uses it, they’re getting in the habit of taking something. So when someone offers them something more, they’ve already developed the habit of saying yes. 
Bryon: They’re looking at the “quick.” If it hurts, fix it. Pot is a quick relaxer. 

TD: It’s much stronger than it used to be. 
Bryon: Oh yeah. 
Crystal: Now dealers are coming up with “customer service.” We’ve had clients tell us their dealers will call and ask “How was your experience?”

TD: Is there such a thing as an addictive personality?
Bryon: Yes, it can be. You can develop an addictive personality by who you’re around. Take a look at your friends. If they abuse alcohol or drugs, chances are you do it too. It can become a coping mechanism: I get stressed out, I drink, I use. 

TD: What about genetic predisposition for drug or alcohol abuse?
Bryon: We don’t really know. But I believe in it. Let’s put it this way. If you have blood relatives with the problem, I wouldn’t even mess with it. 

TD: I was told that heroin overdoses are a big problem up in Danville. An R.N. said they’re seeing it every week in the E.R. Now we’ve had four deaths in less than three years here. Why aren’t we hearing more about it. 
Crystal: We’ve had more than that. A lot of deaths are reported as respiratory failure; the heart stops. People (from here) die in other counties. And not just from heroin. You’re looking at (deaths from) opiates of all kinds. 

TD: Why are they turning to heroin?
Crystal: The laws have changed. Physicians are tightening up on prescriptions. Heroin is cheaper than illegal prescription drugs. 
Bryon: The market has changed. Drugs are flowing up through Mexico. Remember our highways? We have a perfect place to sell em. 

TD: The 2006 Methamphetamine Precursor Control Act (MPCA, 720 ILCS 648) has had an impact, right? It’s harder for manufacturers to get over the counter meds to make meth. 
Crystal: But it’s had another effect. Now they shoot it up because it’s not as strong. We didn’t really help the addict. We just took away their drug. And we’ve introduced them to needles and shooting up. 

TD: So what can we do as a community? What would you tell parents to do?
Bryon: Parents need to be there, committed to all phases of their (child’s) life. Know all their friends. Every time it happens, there was a friend. 

TD: And treatment?
Bryon: We all have a body and spirit, and they’re connected. All these things need to be healthy. 

TD: What else do you want us to know? What’s our takeaway from this?
Bryon: This is not a matter of willpower. It’s not just a matter of saying “no.” It’s not easy. It’s so much more than that.

After talking with people in recovery, and this conversation with the experts at HRC, I found myself having more compassion for them than I’d had before. I also felt an overwhelming sense of danger for our little ones. We have to do more to prevent this!

Next week, we’ll hear from the experts in law enforcement.