Editor’s Comment: More Than a Statistic - By Sarah Roland

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Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

I struggled this month with my column. Not because I didn’t have any material. I just finished a brief on double jeopardy and collateral estoppel that’s easily transformed into a short article. Nor was it because I didn’t know what I should write. Rather, I struggled because in my soul I knew exactly what I must write—not to gain any sympathy or pity but to hopefully strike a chord or spark some action . . .

According to the CDC, drug overdoses killed 63,632 Americans in 2016. The number topped 70,200 deaths in 2017. The numbers have increased exponentially since 1999. The statistics aren’t in for 2018 yet, but the trend is telling. The numbers are staggering. To put them in perspective, though, the number of overdose deaths in the last two years is over 20,000 more than the number of fatal car accidents, according to the National Safety Council (2016: 40,327 and 2017: 40,231).

My youngest brother, Randy, was one of the 63,632 people in 2016. Like everyone else, though, he’s more than just a statistic.

We grew up in a very stable and loving family. We were afforded all the opportunities a kid can hope for and benefit from. We had good parents who set the best example for us. We had rules and chores, went to church, spent time together as a family, and knew what was expected of us. We loved each other. Family was always was the most important thing to all of us. Randy knew without question we loved and supported him, and we know that he loved us. Randy was compassionate, kind, fearless, funny, and smart. He loved animals (especially fish), drawing, movies, and books. He was a genuinely good-to-the-core person. I am so proud to be his sister.

Randy began using drugs when he was 14 after the sudden death of our dad due to heart failure. He did not exhibit the typical signs of a drug user in the beginning, though. His grades were exceptional, he still appeared to follow the rules, and his friends didn’t change. But his use quickly escalated, and it became clear he was different than everyone else around him. He couldn’t stop and always needed something more or better. He was an addict. Then the series of rehabilitation stints began.

If addiction could be cured by enough love, Randy would have been cured as soon as he started using. Love isn’t the issue. If addiction could be cured by will power and determination, Randy would have defeated it hands down; he as much will power and grit as anyone I have ever met. If addiction could be cured by experience, then Randy would have been cured; he experienced so much.

But it cannot be cured by those things because addiction is currently an incurable disease. There are only periods of remission. There is no magic pill or quick fix, and it is inexplicable why some make it and some don’t. It doesn’t discriminate among us. It is not stereotypical, and no one particular category of people is immune from its effects. It affects us all regardless of race, gender, education, or socioeconomic status. It isn’t a disease for only the criminals and less fortunate among us—it affects all walks of life. I have seen it firsthand. Addiction causes immeasurable havoc and pain on the addict and his family. The suffering caused by addiction to individuals and society as a whole is incalculable. It must be controlled and stopped.

Before the tragedy of Randy’s death, I had no idea that August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD). I first mentioned International Overdose Awareness Day in 2016 several months after Randy died. IOAD is a day to remember those who have died due to the tragedy of overdose and to help educate in order to prevent such tragedies in the future.

IOAD was started in Australia in 2001 at the Salvation Army. In Texas in 2016, there was one IOAD event in Austin. My family attended. Then we became involved. It’s the way we’ve found to constructively channel our grief and, at the same time, remember and honor Randy and positively affect change in our community. We started North Texas Overdose Awareness Day. We are having our second annual remembrance and prevention event this year. This year there are multiple events throughout the state. To learn more and about how to get involved about IOAD visit www.overdoseday.com.

IOAD is a great thing but we can all do something to help our clients on a daily basis, though. We are on the front lines. We all have clients who struggle with addiction. Often, we are the last person left who hasn’t abandoned them because of their addiction. Let’s try to see past the addiction to the person. Let’s try not to see it as a defect of character. Let’s provide resources for treatment. Let’s follow up with phone calls to check on our clients. Let’s educate people about the law on Narcan and Naloxone, opioid antagonists. See Tex. Health & Safety Code Section 483.101, et seq. We keep Narcan in our office and freely give it to clients and/or their family members. To have a chance to get clean and sober, a person has to be alive. Let’s be realistic and meet them where they are in order to best help them. And, let’s encourage them when they achieve successes. Maybe, just maybe, we can do our part to help reduce the statistics . . .