Informed Families President & CEO Peggy Sapp was invited to participate in a round table discussion about the opioid epidemic on Saturday, April 20. Organized by Congresswoman Donna Shalala, the panel was moderated by Rodrigo Lozano, LCSW, from the National Association of Social Workers and included John W. Newcomer, M.D., president and CEO of South Florida Behavioral Health Network in Miami, FL, Judge Victoria Sigler and Howard Rosen, Esq., head of narcotics in the State Attorney’s Office.
Informed Families Blog
How We Pass Down Values To The Next Generation
From the moment our children are born, everything we do, every choice we make and every action we may or may not take communicates our values. Our kids are absorbing our every move, soaking up our interactions with them and with others.
We want them to learn right from wrong, how to be kind to others, how to recognize and manage their emotions and how to be honest, responsible and fair. Not only are our children more pleasant to be around when they learn these things, but they are more likely to be happy, perform well in school and become a productive members of society.
The loss of our great supporter, friend and philanthropist Betty Chapman this past week is a great reminder that we have the ability to not only pass values down to our children and their children, but we can pass down values in a community. Betty’s dedication to her community will continue to influence others to give back to their communities for decades to come.
“A lot of people look at addicted individuals as people who lie, steal and hurt others,” said Katie Polewski. “This was not the case with my son. He always told me the truth. I knew he was struggling when he avoided me because he couldn’t lie.”
While he started his journey of drug use with marijuana, on the night that he died, Katie’s son Derrek was using heroin. He was ready to get sober and was attempting to wean himself off the drug to reduce withdrawal symptoms. Even though he used a tiny dose that night, the heroin contained fentanyl, which is significantly more potent and often deadly.
Katie Polewski lost her son Derrek on January 16, 2016 after a long battle with addiction.
“I believe that whether or not a child starts using drugs has a lot to do with friends they make, choices they make and not being aware of the dangers,” said Polewski. “I can’t express how important it is for awareness and prevention. All three of my kids were different. They had completely different personalities and they were all raised the same…with unconditional love.”
Written by: Nikki Strunck, mother
The sixth overdose was fatal. My only child Brendan died at the age of 24.
He and some friends started messing around with pot when he was 13. By the age of 14, he got oxycodone pills from a friend, and by 16, he was addicted to heroin.
I grieved for my son for years before he died. As difficult as talking about this is, if I can help one person not die, this is worth it.
I think when Brendan was small, I thought he would try drinking and smoking pot. I was not prepared for opioid abuse.
Brian Mendell was a child who loved the outdoors and had an infectious smile. In elementary school, Brian started to experience difficulties and was diagnosed with ADD. He was also later diagnosed with anxiety, depression and traits of Asperger's.
Brian started smoking marijuana at the age of 13 with some of his friends. He, unlike some of his friends, became addicted to marijuana and ultimately became addicted to opioids. He went through numerous treatment programs, struggled immensely, relapsed frequently and ultimately took his own life after a long battle with addiction in the fall of 2011.
Drug overdose was responsible for the loss of nearly 72,000 Americans in 2017, according to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention. That’s just under 200 people each day for the entire year - and 8,000 more deaths than the previous year, also a record year. At least 2/3 of those deaths were due to opioid abuse. Here are two trends that are contributing to this awful epidemic.
From Pills To Heroin
Patients receiving prescription drugs for pain as a result of an injury or recovering from surgery are often given significantly more than they need. While opioids are effective in managing pain, their addictive properties make them dangerous for long-term use.
OPIOIDS. OPIOIDS. OPIOIDS.
Do I have your attention? I’ve noticed that when I use the term “drug prevention,” people sometimes tune out…but when they hear “Opioids,” they appear to perk up. Opioids, they understand.
Many people, sadly, aren’t entirely sold on the importance or relevance of drug prevention to their daily lives. “Not my child. Not my family.” Even Ginger Katz, a mom who lost her son to a drug overdose and who we feature on our blog this month, shared the same feeling before it happened to her. Ginger’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring, but if we don’t show stories like Ginger’s, the public is going to continue to sweep the problem under the rug. And as Ginger so aptly said when we interviewed her, “we shove it under the rug until our heads hit the ceiling.”
We understand that drug prevention isn’t a “sexy” hot topic. On top of that, we are all needing a brain vacation and many of us only have enough time and energy to deal with what’s in front of us.
I am coining 2 new mental conditions:
When Ginger Katz’s 20-year-old son Ian died of a drug overdose, the doctors suggested she tell people that he died of a heart attack or brain aneurysm. Katz said that the night before the funeral, she couldn’t sleep, feeling “physically, spiritually and intellectually” unable to attend the next day’s events.
“I felt that [for me to attend the funeral] they’d have to carry me,” said Katz. “Then, I’m not sure where it came from but at some point that night, I visualized speaking out. I was not one for public speaking but I woke my husband up and told him that I wanted to speak out. I said, ‘if this is happening to us, it’s happening to other families and no one is talking about it.’”
Twenty-two years later, Ginger and her husband Larry Katz are still talking about their experience through the non-profit organization they ultimately founded: the Courage to Speak Foundation. They make presentations to children, parents, educators, clergy, professionals and others in 40 states. Knowing that their story alone could only take families so far, Ginger and Larry worked with a team of experts to develop curriculum evaluated and recommended by the Yale School of Medicine. Their elementary, middle and high school curriculum is implemented across the country. Additionally, they offer a multi-session program for parents called Courage to Speak -Courageous Parenting 101®.
How Large Is The Opioid Problem In Florida?
With the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation, Florida is certainly not immune. And apparently, the problem is getting worse. According to a recent report from Florida's medical examiners, there has been a dramatic 22% increase (2,126 more deaths) of in drug-related deaths from the prior year. The report also showed a 35% increase in opioid-related deaths (1,483 over the previous year for a total of 5,725).
Not suprisingly, more deaths were caused by prescription drugs than illicit drugs, accounting for 61% of all drug occurrences in the report. After all, availability and a low perception of harm lead to increased use and abuse.
The drugs that caused the most deaths were cocaine, benzodiazepines, fentanyl, morphine, heroin, alcohol, oxycodone, methadone and methamphetamine.
“Clearly, those are shocking numbers and we have got to do something about it,” said Senate Health Policy Chairwoman Dana Young, R-Tampa to The News Service of Florida.
Here are additional highlights from the report:
Red Ribbon Week is here! Join us in showing support for a drug-free America.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the Red Ribbon Campaign is the oldest and largest drug prevention program in the nation? You also may not know that National Red Ribbon Week® (October 23-31) is organized out of Informed Families' offices in Florida. Our President & CEO Peggy Sapp is also the volunteer President of the National Family Partnership, the national sponsor of Red Ribbon Week.