There is a ruthless killer on the loose in Mississippi. From dark alleys to dimly lit streets, to winding dirt roads leading to single family homes and through gated neighborhoods to the wealthiest in town, this killer has no mercy and finds its victims of all races, creeds and incomes. The state of Mississippi has yet to stop this merciless killer and with each passing year, the lives of so many more are ended. The killer is a chameleon of sorts, taking on different forms and fashion and unrelenting in its pursuit of victims. The culprit lurks not in the form of a vicious villain roaming the street, but quietly nestled in bottles and syringes as prescription pain killers, synthetic opioids and illegal drugs such as heroin.
Families First for Mississippi looks to be a beacon of hope for those Mississippians who feel hopelessly clinched in the cycle of addiction and through educational and recovery resources to circumvent the devastating drug overdoses in Mississippi. Through offering Adult Addiction Education Programs free of charge, Families First for Mississippi offers resources to begin the process of healing and recovery for those suffering with addiction and their family members. “Families First for Mississippi is here to connect the dots to get those suffering from addiction the adequate services they need to help support addiction recovery,” said Dr. Nancy New, Executive Director of Families First for Mississippi.
When thinking about opioid drug addiction, the statics are staggering. Nationwide, more Americans died from a drug overdose in 2016 than those Americans killed in the Vietnam War. During 2017, over 3.3 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed in Mississippi. On average, over half a million pills were dispensed every day during last year. The preliminary number of suspected overdose deaths reported to Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics reached 256 during 2017. Opioid-related deaths accounted for two-thirds (173 or 67.6 percent) of those deaths.
With Mississippi being a leading prescriber of opioid painkillers, ranking fourth nationwide, with the equivalent of approximately 70 opioid pills for every man, woman and child in 2016, youth and adult addictions are rapidly on the rise in our state. “During the past 30 years that I have been in practice, it was typical to see 18 or 19-year-olds starting in the fledgling stages of drug usage and now it is very common to see 13-or 14-year-olds start using heavy, heavy drugs. These teens are getting these highly addictive controlled substances like Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin and Valium from their parents’ medicine cabinets, from friends and on the street,” said John Owen, CEAP, CAS, of Recovery Consultations and Addiction Educator Director of Families First for Mississippi.
With readily available prescription painkillers, which are easily accessible and rapidly prescribed and commonly found in households for adults and teens, the opioid epidemic is ravaging Mississippi. “Opioids act on the mu opioid receptor in the brain, Owen said. “It stimulates that receptor and after a period of time your body stops producing the natural endorphin that your body produces. When you cease taking opioids, now with having the extra receptor sites in your brain, your body now is crying out for it and your body is not producing it; so you get terribly sick. An opiate addiction can occur within five days and most will not understand that he/she is addicted until they do not feel well when they do not take it.”
Many people who become addicted to prescription painkillers often move on to heroin, as access is easier and cheaper. Now, with the introduction of fentanyl through the illegal drug market, the death rate for opioid-related overdoses are rapidly rising. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl. It is sold through illegal drug markets for its heroin-like effect. In October 2017, the CDC reported that fentanyl was involved in over half of opioid-related overdose deaths across 10 states.
Looking beyond the numbers and facts, the painful reality is that lives are shattered, ended all too soon and lost in the midst of deep physical and emotional suffering. The first step towards bringing hope and healing is a transformation in the mindset of many Mississippians. “I believe the most important thing is that there is a perception that addiction is a situation of people who are of low economic status or the less intelligent and more vulnerable. The reality is, and all data shows, that is absolutely a misnomer. Until we break that stereotype and that notion, we are going to keep trying to deal with this as something that happens to others. In reality, if you take any family of any neighborhood in the state of Mississippi, regardless of their socioeconomic status or educational status, you are going to find that they have addiction in their family,” said John Owen, CEAP, CAS, of Recovery Consultations and Addiction Educator Director of Families First for Mississippi.
With addiction comes judgment and shame many times for those involved in the cycle of abuse. Becoming openminded that many times those who abuse drugs are suffering and don’t know how to get help, brings empathy and compassion to a situation that seems rather hopeless. John Owen pointed out, “Many people wonder why someone would go to great lengths to get drugs and say, ‘I would never do that.’ Well, get off your high horse because if you’ve ever been thirsty or hungry, it is amazing what you will eat or drink to live. That is addiction. What happens with addiction is that the brain gets tricked into thinking that the substance is necessary for survival. There is a place where you stop getting high - you simply use it to feel functional. If you find someone that has been involved in addiction for a while, they are not just trying to get high - they are just trying to get up and get through the day. They will tell you that they are miserable and that they hate it.”
Now in a generation of social media savvy adults and teens, social media can add to the idea that for those suffering from addiction because of the pictures of perfection on Facebook timelines, Instagram feeds and Snapchat stories, that everyone else has their life together. This ever present element, saturated pictures of “happiness” on social media and others living “happy-go-lucky lives,” can fuel depression. “Social media is an amplified example how people judge their insides by other people’s outsides. People put on social media how they want to be portrayed and how they want to be seen, but that is rarely the truth. Everybody has problems and everybody is hurting. They see their friends doing so well, so they turn to medicating themselves and suicide,” Owen said.
With easy access to prescription opioids in homes and other illegal and powerful drugs being sold on the illegal drug markets, parents should be vigilant in their mindfulness and become educated about addiction to help safeguard their children. “One thing that I would do is get out of this notion that we don’t look through their things because we are upsetting our teenagers’ privacy - no, you need to look through their things and if something is concerning you, ask the questions. Many parents innocently put prescription opioids in their medicine cabinet and a lot of kids may know what it is and tell their friend, who in turn will ask to get some pills for them. Parents need to educate themselves about what do you do about these medicines; how should they be dispensed and how do you get them out of the house. You don’t keep them around in case you hurt later. If you hurt later, you go back to the doctor,” Owen stated.
With Mississippi being a leading prescriber of opioid painkillers, Mississippi’s opioid and heroin crisis needs a solution for all those suffering. Families First for
Mississippi hopes to bring out to the forefront of the minds of Mississippians that we have to come together as a community with a transformed mindset cultivated in empathy for those suffering from addiction and with unified dedication to offer education and resources free of charge to create an avenue for recovery. John Owen, CEAP, CAS, of Recovery Consultations and Addiction Educator Director for Families First of Mississippi said, “As Mississippians we should think that what makes us the most similar, strangely enough, are where we are wounded. Everybody can find the sameness and the connection universally in pain and suffering. With our services at Families First for Mississippi, I always tell those suffering from addiction that we will find them help. The good news is that addiction is very treatable and Families First for Mississippi will connect you to resources that you need for recovery.”
For more information on Families First for Mississippi Adult Addiction Education and Recovery Program, visit https://www.familiesfirstforms.org/adult- addiction-recovery or call 601-366-6405 for central/southern Mississippi and 662-844-0013 for north Mississippi meetings.