Community Columns

Stanislaus County counselor shines light on opioid crisis with an up-close look

Thousands of opioid addicts and family members are struggling in our community.

Stanislaus County has lost 300 people since 2006. Nationwide, more than 400,000 Americans have died since 1996.

For me, addiction is a non-judgment zone. I’ve been working with those with addictive concerns for 30 years. I grew up in a family that had substance abuse issues. My sis didn’t make it. So, I also know the pain of loss and how destructive this illness can be.

Judgment doesn’t work to help someone eventually decide to be sober. What works over time is love and staying connected with the person struggling while supporting treatment and responsibility. Families need to let consequences be consequences by not enabling or making things too easy for someone that’s addicted.

Parents and spouses call me feeling angry, upset, confused, and helpless about what to do about their addictive loved one. I see clients, from all walks of life, every week, who want to be sober and get off these drugs permanently.

Here are standard questions I hear from clients:

  • “How did taking prescribed meds for pain relief lead me to an opioid addiction?”
  • “My wife is taking 7 oxy’s a day, 3 or 4 muscle relaxers, nods off and is scaring the heck out of me. What do I do?”
  • “Why do I keep relapsing when I WANT to stay clean?”
  • “I feel so awful in withdrawal, I relapse over and over again.”
  • “Where can I get treatment? The County program has a long waiting list and I don’t have private insurance.”

If you relate, you are not alone.

Many of those that develop an opioid problem began innocently taking these medications to treat pain. Experimental teens can find Vicodin or OxyContin in their parents’ medicine chests or be introduced to them by friends or at parties. Almost 80 percent of heroin users began with prescription pain pills, according to the New York Times.

The process of recovery is difficult, but doable. Better to never become addicted in the first place. It’d be far more positive and humane to have better education in our schools about addiction and teach mental health and relationship skills.

We did a good job with cigarettes and didn’t see many young people smoking until now, when we’re battling vaping.

Treatment can include counseling, a 12-Step Program, out-patient or in-patient treatment and medication support. The other thing that works for some are the consequences of a DUI, or a jail sentence and the education and counseling that are included.

There is always hope. If you’re struggling with an opioid problem, or a loved one who’s addicted, you need to know that.

The opioid crises is not just a medical issue, it’s a public health crisis. Stanislaus County had the Stanislaus Opioid Awareness Summit in March of 2019. Since pharmaceutical companies had a large hand in creating opioid addiction, it makes sense to me they should be held accountable and fined enough to pay for more access to treatment.

Lynn Telford-Sahl, M.A. Psychology, C.D.A.C., wrote this story for The Modesto Bee. She is the author of Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom.

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