By SARAH EDWARDS When I tell people I am in recovery, they are usually shocked or don't believe me because I don't "e;look"e; like someone who has used drugs before. To which I respond: What is someone in recovery supposed to look like? Unfortunately, many
When I tell people I am in recovery, they are usually shocked or don’t believe me because I don’t “look” like someone who has used drugs before. To which I respond:
What is someone in recovery supposed to look like?
Unfortunately, many in our society still have a stigmatized perception of what substance use and substance use disorder is “supposed" to look like—of who it is "supposed" to affect. The fact that it can look like anyone and it affects everyone.
I became addicted to opioids when I was in high school, which quickly sent my life into a downward spiral. Because I didn't fit many people's preconceptions about substance use, I was often not suspected of anything. This fueled the isolation of my addiction until it became glaringly obvious that I was struggling.
I was fortunate to have a solid support system, a family that loved me and wanted me to be healthy, and access to resources that helped me find my path to recovery. If this didn’t happen, I would be dead by now.
My experience gives me perspective about where we are today, in this pandemic, with social isolation and limited access to support networks. The impact this has on an already vulnerable population is frightening. I think about those who are suffering in silence, without access to strong support systems or life-saving resources.
We lost 305 Rhode Islanders to overdoses between January and September of last year—an all-time high.
This is happening nationwide, and it is happening in Rhode Island. It is happening in every community and it continues to take lives.
Overdose deaths are preventable, and anyone could save a life. It is a simple as carrying the overdose reversal medicine naloxone or giving it to someone who may need it. Carrying naloxone is legal, safe, and free through Rhode Island’s 10,000 Chances Project. Recently, community organizations have been working with the State to distribute 10,000 kits of naloxone to people throughout the state.
This year has been rough for everyone, especially for those who were already struggling. I’ve seen our communities pull together in amazing ways to help one another: running errands for neighbors, supporting the immunocompromised, and creating mutual aid. I believe it is in our nature to help one another and to be of purpose.
However, through my personal experience and as an outreach worker, I see kind-hearted people struggle to find empathy for those with substance use disorder. Perhaps this is due to stigma or a negative personal experience. For some, it may even be subconscious. But it is tragic.
People who are struggling with substance use need and deserve the same extraordinary support that so many have shown one another in this pandemic.
Please, remember that substance use disorder can affect anyone. It could be someone very close to you or maybe just a stranger. We must support our community.
Please, prioritize carrying naloxone and reaching out to someone to make sure they are ok, just as we would go and pick groceries for a neighbor during this time.
We need more allies to help tackle this crisis. It is a matter of life and death. S
arah Edwards is an outreach worker with the Parent Support Network of Rhode Island. www.PreventOverdoseRI.org www.PreventOverdoseRI.orgprovides Rhode Islanders with access to free naloxone, also known as Narcan, as well as other overdose and substance use recovery services.