Protecting Your Children from Addiction

What were you stressed about when you were in eighth grade?

I remember worrying about rushing home after school to check the score of the Cleveland Indians game. I was also anxious to get my homework done before Good Times, M*A*S*H or The Jeffersons came on one of the three channels we had on our TV.

Back then, in 1974, an error in your Little League game, a wardrobe malfunction or walking out of the bathroom with a piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe might make your friends laugh. But it would be forgotten the next day.

Today, those same events might be captured on a smart phone or an iPad. They might become a hit on a public forum like Facebook or Twitter — your embarrassment archived for eternity.

In my day, after school, I went back to my home and was under the eye of parents or my siblings pretty much constantly. We ate together, fought together and slept too-many-in-a-room together.

Today, with divorce affecting more than half of marriages, kids are often shuttled between homes. Their home might be with Mom four days and Dad three days. Or vice versa. Some kids have to check the calendar to know where they are sleeping tonight.

It’s easy to see that kids these days grow up in a much different environment than us. So protecting them from addictions is bound to require a different approach than when we grew up, right?

Not really. Maybe just more focus and effort on the approaches we already know works.

After decades of research, we have been able to identify very specific “risk and protective factors” that could make it more likely or less likely for your child to become involved in substance abuse and addiction.

You can see a list of these factors on the Meridian HealthCare website.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to incorporate these factors into your everyday life. Actually, most are just common sense.

One of the biggest negative, or “risk” factors is having parents who use drugs and abuse alcohol themselves — or accept the use of drugs and abuse of alcohol by friends and relatives in or around their home or at events and social settings. This acceptance of drug and alcohol abuse can inadvertently show that you are okay with this behavior which can send mixed messages to your kids.

Being involved in school activities and extracurricular activities can be considered a protective factor. A focus on good grades can be, too. If your kids are interested in getting good grades or participating in an activity, usually because you encourage this, they are less at risk. This is due to the fact that they now have something to aspire to and a way to achieve praise and accomplishment.

Divorces happen, and divorced parents strive for as much stability as possible. Which only makes this next protective factor even MORE important. No matter which parent or which home — EAT DINNER WITH YOUR KIDS as often as possible. Without the TV on. Or the iPad or iPhone.

Sound silly? It’s not. A very big protective factor is talking to and listening to your kids. Unfortunately, whether one home or two, it doesn’t happen a lot of the time. Fight to make sure it does in your home. I promise it’s worth it.

This may surprise you, but most adolescents care very much about what their parents say to them. Believe it or not, even if they’re acting otherwise, they’re listening to you. And you are a big influence on them. The biggest in fact.

Lastly, LISTEN TO YOUR KIDS. There’s a Cat Stevens song that goes, “From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen.” They want to talk with you. They trust you and need you.

Of course, nothing guarantees your child will be spared from the curse of addiction. You can’t put a fence around them or assign a private guard to them.

But by using some common sense, and being aware of the risk and protective factors, you have a much better chance of what every parent sees as his or her first duty — protecting their children.

 

Larry Moliterno is CEO of Meridian HealthCare and currently serves as President of the Ohio Alliance of Recovery Providers. Send email to lmoliterno@MeridianCommunityCare.org

 

Beating America’s Last Stigma

It’s not unusual for strangers to start talking to me as if we’ve already met. In a way, I guess we have. “You’re the guy from TV, right?” they’ll say.

“Yep, that’s me,” I reply. If they look hesitant, I’ll add something like, “Did you see I only got second place on ‘America’s Got Talent’? I really deserved to win it all, don’t you think?”

In two seconds they realize I’m kidding and start laughing. But sometimes they double-check my identity by using the closing line of our TV spots. “You do the ‘Power of Care,’ right?”

“Yep, ‘The Power of Care,’” I’ll say. Then, with the ice broken, they tell me their story.

I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you that people approach me and ask for advice for a friend or relative with an addiction problem. But it may surprise you to learn that I’m approached almost as often by people in recovery from active addiction — people who have 5, 10, even 15 years of sobriety.

They tell me how their lives have turned around. How they have a good job and support their families. How they have hope now instead of despair. How they have the love and respect of their family instead of disdain. How they’ve earned the trust of their spouse and their friends.

They may have been treated at Meridian HealthCare, or at one of the other organizations here or out of town.

Unfortunately, even though I’m a stranger, I’m one of the few people they feel safe telling about their sobriety. Very few people, especially professionals, feel comfortable telling anyone about their recovery.

Why? Because people in recovery often still feel discriminated against. They still seem to be wearing an imaginary “Scarlet Letter.”

People are finally able to openly celebrate their racial and sexual diversity — and that’s how it should be in this country. People who have beaten cancer, heart disease and other terrible diseases are able to talk frankly about their struggles and their victory.

Yet people in recovery from addiction — people who have also beaten a life-threatening disease — rarely mention it, because they know there is still a stigma connected with it. They know the stigma can permanently alter the way others treat them. They worry it can affect their chance for advancement in their jobs, or the comfort level of their neighbors.

That doesn’t seem fair does it?

I wonder why this stigma is still so strong — especially considering there are tens of thousands of people in the Mahoning Valley alone who are in recovery.

Bank tellers, waitresses and school bus drivers, but also doctors, lawyers and teachers, have successfully battled addiction. In fact, many are healthier now than ever before.

Equally troubling is that this stigma also prevents people from getting treatment in the first place. That’s why we must work to reduce this stigma — and in fact, publicly celebrate the sobriety of those who have beaten active addiction.

We’re working hard to make that a reality. But there is more to be done, and we need your help. If you know someone in recovery or are in recovery yourself, write to me with your suggestions or support.

When we finally beat this stigma, we can all stand together and say, “Now, THAT’s the Power of Care.”

 

Larry Moliterno is CEO of Meridian HealthCare and currently serves as President of the Ohio Alliance of Recovery Providers. Send email to lmoliterno@MeridianCommunityCare.org 

Ohio Legislators Take Action

As an organization that works with some of the most vulnerable among us, it is important to Meridian HealthCare to recognize that just providing a service is not enough. While our services are important, they’re only a small part of our obligation. It’s critical that we also include education and advocacy in our responsibilities.

We must educate the community about the needs of our clients and help people understand the issues. How can we help people relate to the challenges of living every day with an addiction or mental illness? How do we help them understand what best practices are available to give our clients the best opportunity for success? How do we convince people that an investment in our services is an effective way to make our community a better place to live?

We understand that our clients often do not have a voice. It falls upon us to find champions among us to support our efforts. We work closely with our elected officials in Columbus and Washington to help improve the lives of the people we serve. 

At Meridian, we have seen the frightening growth of heroin use over the last few years. The epidemic began with prescription opiates and has advanced to heroin. Our state legislators share our concerns and are introducing legislation to assist in addressing the problem. 

Currently, there are a number of bills before the Ohio House of Representatives that address issues relating to opioid addiction and prevention. These issues include:

  • opioid treatment of chronic pain
  • diversion of drugs containing opioids for hospice care programs
  • required disclosure of the addictive nature of certain prescription drugs
  • barring physicians from prescribing opioid drugs to patients unless they also receive treatment
  • prohibiting controlled substances that contain opioids from being prescribed or dispensed without review from the State Board of Pharmacy.

Representatives Lynn R. Wachtmann (District 81), Nikki J. Antonio (District 13), Ryan Smith (District 93) and Robert Sprague (District 83) are among the legislators in the Ohio House who have sponsored these bills. Other representatives and senators have also shown support on these issues. 

As a representative of The Ohio Alliance of Recovery Providers (OARP), I recently had the opportunity to testify at committee hearings in Columbus regarding some of the House Bills that attempt to address the opiate epidemic. Together, we’re making meaningful contributions to the strategies being implemented to combat this problem.

As some of these bills reach the Ohio Senate, the Mahoning Valley is fortunate to have two State Senators that continue to champion our causes. 

“Everyone agrees that opioid use and addiction is a huge problem in Ohio; fortunately we have seen many different bills in the legislature to raise awareness and find solutions,” says Senator Joe Schiavoni. “It is my goal to help pass legislation that could prevent future tragedies for Ohio families. I look forward to working with Meridian HealthCare, as well as the many other advocates and leaders, on this issue here in the Mahoning Valley, to combat this problem head-first.”

Senator Capri Cafaro has also been very active in the Ohio Senate, providing solutions and bills to address the needs in our community. One area the Senator has focused on is the expansion of Medicaid. Her efforts to get the Medicaid bill passed last October have provided increased access to treatment for those who were not eligible before. She has also been a supporter and speaker at a number of different community events addressing addiction and treatment.

Whether a treatment agency or a legislator, we are all working towards not only providing a service to those who need it, but also furthering the education behind these issues and being a voice for those struggling with an addiction.

Larry Moliterno is CEO of Meridian HealthCare and currently serves as President of the Ohio Alliance of Recovery Providers. Send email to lmoliterno@MeridianCommunityCare.org 

Sharing Stories Can Turn Despair Into Hope

In 1935, a Wall Street golden boy by the name of Bill W., who had been dealing with his addiction to alcohol, met Dr. Bob at a mutual friend’s house in Akron, Ohio. Bill W. shared his story of alcoholism, and soon Dr. Bob opened up to him about his same struggles. Both men enjoyed the company of another person dealing with the same issue, and quickly realized how much spiritual support and hope can come from one alcoholic talking to another. This chance encounter was the beginning of a worldwide support group, now known as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Eventually, with influence from the Oxford Group principles, the duo began seeking others suffering with alcoholism. They found that by helping others, they helped themselves. The group developed a set of principles known as The Twelve Steps, a suggested program of recovery.

In April 1948, Ann C. of Niles, Ohio, expanded upon these Twelve Steps and created the The Twelve Rewards. They were written “to show the contrast that can take place in any of our lives when we try to follow the AA principles.”

The more time I spend in the recovery community, the more I realize that these principles and guidelines are useful in any aspect of life. Throughout this year we will examine these Twelve Rewards, and how the concepts can give us a different perspective on the challenges we face every day.

The first of The Twelve Rewards is “Hope instead of desperation.” In life, we all struggle with anger, anxiety, arrogance, closed-mindedness, fear, impatience and resentment. We also worry and obsess over parenting issues, diet struggles, grief and loss, work, divorce and other emotional problems. These struggles can leave us feeling desperate and alone, with lasting consequences.

Perhaps because we’re hurt or embarrassed, we tend to keep things to ourselves and try to deal with them on our own. But there is hope that can come from opening up to others who may be dealing with these same issues. When we know someone else has been there, it seems to make our struggles less daunting.

Take parenting, for example. We all have concerns and anxieties about how we’re doing as parents. We wonder if we’re making the best decisions for our children and if we’re raising them the right way. A few years ago, a friend opened up to me regarding his worry over his parenting skills; he wasn’t sure he could live up to his own expectations. As I listened, I began to think of my own worries about parenting. I told him I felt the same way sometimes, and we discussed how we dealt with those feelings. As the conversation continued, we both started to feel more comfortable sharing with each other.

This brief conversation allowed us to open up the dialogue about these kinds of issues. We now frequently have these conversations. The anxiety may not have gone away completely, but I was able to feel slightly less worried because someone else shared similar concerns.

So whether you’re the one struggling and seeking hope, or you’re providing that hope to another individual — share your story. Your experiences can have a huge impact in someone’s life. The simple act of sharing stories that began one of the largest support groups in our society today, Alcoholics Anonymous, can be of benefit to anyone in any situation.

The Double Standard of Addiction

You know the story. You see movie stars do it. You see professional athletes do it. And more and more often, you see prominent politicians do it.

They have a run-in with the law, are caught in a humiliating public incident or use horrendously poor judgment and say something totally inappropriate and out of character. Everyone knows this is not normal. Something has gone wrong.

When they finally face the music, the movie star, athlete or politician (or their spokesperson) admits what everyone already suspects. That’s right…a substance abuse issue.

So after an apology, it’s off to an expensive rehab facility with a promise that he or she will come back and try harder. The movie star’s fans post supportive comments on Facebook and Twitter. Teammates of the athlete speak up and point out the athlete’s community activities and leadership qualities. Colleagues of the politician talk about his long history of public service.

If the celebrity comes back and stays on the straight and narrow and makes a go of recovery, everyone says they are an inspiration. Their courage is amazing.

Now let’s look at a different story….

You see your neighbor’s son heading to work one day. He’s a personable kid who likes to party a bit, but got through high school with decent grades. He goes on to enroll in college and gets a job to cover his expenses.

Maybe he gets hurt at work or he rides a motorcycle and crashes one day when the driver of an automobile pulls out in front of him. It’s serious enough to put him in the hospital.

The neighbor boy goes through a few painful surgeries, followed up with treatment that includes pain killers — Percocet or maybe even Demerol or Oxycotin.

Soon he finds himself needing the painkillers for more than just the injury. He uses all of his refills, then borrows some from friends, and ultimately steals a few from his grandfather who has cancer. Slowly he has become addicted. He MUST have those pills.

When he can no longer get refills or buy the pills on the street, he does what he swore he would never do. He buys some heroin — surprised that it’s a fraction of the cost of the pills. He tries it at first and then things start to spiral out of control. He gets caught inside a house in broad daylight. He broke in to get pills or money from a home he thought was empty.

Now when your neighbor boy faces the music, we don’t hear about his leadership or public service. There are no fans to post supportive comments. Instead of a support group, the community turns against him and his family when they read about the arrest. “What’s wrong with those people?” we ask. “I can’t believe he went to school with my children.”

We are forgiving of the celebrity, but not of our neighbor. Addiction has a stigma that is hard to shake. Today there’s a double standard — an ordinary person can’t fall victim to the disease of addiction, but a celebrity can. We forgive the celebrity, and vilify our neighbor.

One of the long-term goals of Meridian HealthCare is to eliminate addiction. But until we can eliminate it, we have to treat it.

When someone enters treatment (recovery), he or she needs a chance to make it back — whether they’re a celebrity or the person down the street. It is a very, very tough thing to do. Being vilified makes it that much more difficult.

It’s not our job to eliminate the stigma attached to addiction. That will happen slowly over time. But the next time you see a person in recovery, remember to give him or her at least some of the credit and support you would give to the celebrity.