By Michael Hill
A painful and poignant path for Marjorie Barnes’ family. The Newark native and poet lost one addicted brother to HIV and has two more battling addiction.
How many times would she say they’ve been in and out of treatment?
“I can’t even count,” she said.
Marjorie was among those offering personal accounts at the fourth NJTV Drug Addiction Crisis Community Forum at the Boys and Girls Club of Newark. She shared a frightening prospect about her brothers being addicts for so long.
“It’s scary to me because I feel like they might not survive if they get clean,” she said.
Marjorie learned here there’s hope despite overwhelming despair.
“I was embarrassed to be an addict. I didn’t want to show my face,” said Gil Sanders.
Gil’s guilt gave way to treatment.
“It took a lot. It took five detoxes and four treatment centers before this last one,” he said.
Gil’s been clean for three years and now directs a sober living facility outside Philadelphia.
“In the beginning when I was using I felt on top of the world. And then towards the end it just killed me so much that I just wanted to die. Once recovery started, my life started and it’s a beautiful thing once you finally get the care that you need and finally grasp recovery and what it’s all about,” he said.
But, a common thread in recovery is relapse.
Is relapse failure?
“Absolutely not,” said Integrity House Chief Residential Officer Earl Lipphardt Jr.
But, some treatment programs will give a client the boot. Integrity House says that’s wrong — depending on the circumstances — and addiction should be treated like other medical conditions such as a diabetic who overindulges and goes into a coma.
“We wouldn’t ever lock that person up. We put them back in a hospital. We get them stabilized, we get them back on medications and continue to treat them. That is where — on the addiction end — we lag years behind, decades behind, other medical conditions,” Lipphardt said.
Endeavor House reiterated brain scans clearly show addiction is a disease.
“We see a very predictable progression of events after somebody develops this disease and part of it is genetics and part of it is environment. But 100 percent it requires exposure,” said Endeavor House Medical Director Christopher Johnston.
The Center for Network Therapy in Middlesex County says clients succeed with positive reinforcement and changing how they think.
“I’m a big promoter of doing cognitive behavior therapy. That means the thought process has to change because what you think is how you act and that is your destiny. So that is the model that we need to focus on. It is not a taboo to be using drugs and you can see, you can hear, from so many people who have been recovering from addiction, there are so many people working as a therapist that are 30, 35 years of being sober. If they can do it, you can do it,” said Dr. Indra Cidambi, medical director and founder at the Center for Network Therapy.
John Brogan — a recovery specialist — has gone to the hospital bedside of men and women who had their overdose reversed by naloxone in a recovery coach program in Ocean County.
What does he say to them when he’s bedside?
“I know exactly how you’re feeling,” he said. “And it shuts it down. When they hear that at first it’s like what are you even doing in here? You know, they’re surprised that someone’s even in there. And then there’s hope that there’s someone standing before, upright and bright-eyed. You know, you’re giving them some hope just by being there.”
Increasingly, families call the NJ Connect for Recovery Line and find ways to cope while an addicted loved one awaits treatment.
“What we say to them is, ‘What about you?’ Because on our line we realize we get these calls every day. Their families are feeling helpless, families are being held hostage and they often become collateral damage to the whims of the substance user,” said NJ Connect for Recovery Line Coordinator Pamela Taylor.
Ocean County has more overdose deaths now than last year at this time. Much of the credit goes to fentanyl and its synthetics lacing heroin.
“When these fentanyls get into the system, they seize the heart. It’s done, it’s over. It’s fast acting. It’s quick. They’re chasing the good high, this is the good high to the point that you’re going to pass away rather quickly. So they can come back and give you 10 shots of naloxone, you’re not coming back. You’re pretty much done,” said Capt. Juan Colon of the New Jersey State Police.
Former Gov. Jim McGreevey says because of the addiction crisis, all parties seem to be working toward the same goal.
“Part of what I think we’re trying to do is develop a comprehensive, coordinated response to understand that this is a concept that we all have to share the same vision. That the goal, God willing, is not to lock people up but the default mechanism is to get people into treatment,” he said.
For more stories that are part of the initiative Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Addiction Crisis, click here.