, Salem, MA


May 17, 2014

Column: Working together, a community can fight opiate abuse early

While the nation is busy responding to the opiate crisis, I encourage people to say, “Let’s find out why.” Maybe then we might be able to stem the tide of the overdose crisis upstream instead of downstream as people’s lives are swept over the waterfall. Treatment options with various forms of medication and nasal Narcan for medical response to overdose are very important because they form a dam at the point just before the waterfall and because these downstream approaches definitely save lives. But what about the point where people first fall in the water? Can they be rescued there?

I had a parent of a young adult suffering from opiate addiction call me in response to Brian Watson’s column “Options exist for those suffering opiate addiction” (May 6), a wonderful article pointing out many challenges and many options for those addicted. Advice from a parent in the know: If something does not seem right with your child, ask “Did something happen? Can you talk about it?” The caller’s point: Substance abuse often begins as a way to cope with life experiences that seem overwhelming or unmanageable or, sometimes, even unspeakable.

There is an undisputed link with childhood trauma and the expression of anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Trauma takes many forms — domestic or partner abuse, child sexual abuse, extreme poverty, a sentinel event, or living in a family with chronic illness or addiction. Substance abuse can also stem from pure experimentation, a risk-taking behavior for which adolescent brains are wired.

But what if we looked comprehensively at a person and all that is happening in their lives, how their behaviors change in school or at work, how friends change, how grades drop or absenteeism increases, or how they act out in ways otherwise “not typical.” If we were informed, knew what to look for, asked the right questions and had the supports in place, would we be able to intervene earlier?

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