The human side of the opioid crisis

  • Khadijah Tuitt, left, hugs Henry Brown after he spoke about his son during a live WHMP radio broadcast titled “It Won’t Happen to Me: Heroin Addiction in the Valley,” at The Parlor Room in Northampton. Deb Wyland looks on. Gazette Photo

For The Recorder
Published: 1/25/2018 11:28:14 PM

The life-saving medication for opioid overdose Narcan is stocked at pharmacies across the United States, and is available without a prescription in Massachusetts.

But when it comes to actually treating opioid addiction, the state is far behind, according to those at the WHMP’s forum Wednesday on heroin addiction “It Won’t Happen to Me” at the Parlor Room in Northampton.

“You can walk into a pharmacy and get Narcan, but you can’t walk into your doctor’s office and get treatment,” said Khadijah Tuitt, a behavioral resource nurse at Baystate Medical Center.

Tuitt was part of a panel that included recovering addicts and a father who lost his son to an opioid overdose. The radio station said the live broadcast was designed to give the human side of the opioid crisis.

“No doctors, no police, no prosecutors, no experts,” the event’s advertisement read.

Kali McConnell, a drummer who has played alongside musicians such as Willie Nelson and Pete Seeger, said he lost everything to opioid addiction. He was prescribed the pills to treat chronic pain, but got hooked. In a detox program, he was introduced to heroin.

“Why are you taking Percocets?” McConnell recalls another patient saying to him. “Heroin is much cheaper.”

But even to get into a detox program, McConnell said, he had to test positive for drugs.

“I had to, on my way there, get opioids so my insurance would pay for it,” McConnell said.

WHMP host Bob Flaherty said his son, who is now in recovery for opioid addiction, had a similar situation in which a program told him “he had to be using to get in.”

Henry Brown, who was on the panel, lost his son Patrick in February 2016 from an opioid overdose.

Brown said there’s no treatment for opioid addiction like there is for other diseases or long-term chronic health problems such as diabetes.

And he said the opioid epidemic was man-made, and pharmaceutical companies should be paying the damages.

“There wasn’t a black plague,” Brown said. “It was man-made, it was marketed, it was designed.”

The pills were marketed to treat pain, but Brown said “pain is part of life.”

To help people who are battling addiction, Tuitt said the emergency room can be a place to start by providing people with the proper resources. She said even something as simple as giving a patient a card to keep in their wallet can make a difference.

When someone looks in their wallet for cash for use, the card is in there with a phone number for treatment, just in case they change their mind, Tuitt said.

Tuitt also said emergency room personnel should have a routine question screen for opioid addiction, much like the common question to screen for domestic abuse: “Do you feel safe at home?”

Bill Foley, a volunteer cuddler at Baystate’s neonatal unit, said babies born with an addiction need extra care. Some will scream for hours, he said.

The babies are often born prematurely, he said, and are weaned on morphine.

“They have underdeveloped organs, but they want to eat constantly,” Foley said, adding that the two don’t mix. “When they’re being fed they have to be burped constantly.”

Deb Wyand, recovering opioid user and alcoholic, has been in recovery for about two years. She and McConnell are members of the Northampton Recovery Center, which meets at the Edwards Church.

She said the center’s a “place to belong” and membership is growing. Within a year, the membership grew from less than 30 people to 300, Wyand said.

“It’s not just a place to go,” Wyand said. “It’s a place to connect.”


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