By: Samantha Nelson
Original Source: www.usatoday.com
Sarah Wilson, wife and mother of four, became addicted to opioid pain medications after she suffered severe injuries from getting hit by an intoxicated driver about eight-years-ago.
She was almost three years into her recovery from addiction to hydrocodone before anyone outside of her immediate family knew.
Wilson said that people are always surprised to learn that she was an addict. She said many have a certain image that people who suffer from addiction are junkies, or in her words “people like that.”
“But I’m ‘people like that,’“ she said.
And she’s not alone.
Some 2.1 million people abused prescription pain opioid pain relievers in 2012 alone, according to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report.
Many organizations are working to combat opioid use disorder, a medical condition defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Others aren’t sure what to do, and some feel as though it’s not their battle to fight, claiming that using drugs is a choice made by the user.
Tom Hill, senior adviser on addiction and recovery at the Substance Abuse Treatment Center of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said addiction affects everyone in some way.
Hill said that there needs to be a change in attitudes regarding addiction, and openly discussing the subject will help. He noted that diseases like cancer and HIV/AIDS were once taboo subjects as well.
The stigma of addiction may prevent people from openly talking about it, which creates a “culture of secrecy,” as Hill put it.
Wilson started recovery when she became a patient in clinical trials that tested several types of delivery methods of buprenorphine, a medication that’s used to treat opioid addiction.
In January, Wilson spoke in Washington at the open public hearing to support FDA approval of Probuphine, a form of treatment for people with opioid use disorder. It works as an implant in the arm that provides a constant, low-level dose of buprenorphine for six months.
Wilson has openly shared her story with others when no one else would. She said that because of the stigma behind addiction, people are unwilling to talk about it.
“I began to realize if I’m not speaking out, and no one else is speaking out, who’s going to fix it?” she said.
Hill, who is 24 years substance-free, also has also experienced judgment similar to Wilson, hearing phrases like “you don’t look like that” or “you’re not one of them.” He said that people make wrong assumptions about people who suffer from addiction.
Groups like FORCE, which stands for Female Opioid-addiction Research and Clinical Experts, have banded together with the mission to reduce the negative stigma and treatment barriers surrounding opioid addiction.
Behshad Sheldon, a member of FORCE, said that people often think of opioid addiction as a moral failure, which she said isn’t the case. Sheldon is also the CEO and president of Braeburn Pharmaceuticals, the company behind Probuphine.
“It can happen to anyone and it does happen to anybody,” she said, referring to opioid addiction.
Wilson said despite what she’s gone through and the fact that she’s recovered, it doesn’t make her more deserving of respect or special consideration than others with different circumstances who suffer from the same disease as her. She said she also has to account for the “terrible things” she did while in the peak of her addiction.
“To somebody they are everything, no matter how many bad things they’ve done,” she said. “Somebody loves them, and their lives are valuable, period.”
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