You Asked, We Answered: What Can I Do to Help People Struggling with Opioid Addiction?

Jan 25, 2018

Opioid pills.
Credit AP

The obituary, so stark and visceral, captured the public’s attention.

It was for 24-year-old Molly Alice Parks. She died in 2015 of a heroin overdose in the bathroom of her Manchester workplace.

The obit’s final line: “If you have any loved ones who are fighting addiction, Molly’s family asks that you do everything possible to be supportive, and guide them to rehabilitation before it is too late.”

But what if you don’t? What if you’re lucky enough not to have a loved one battling this addiction?

Given the severity of this drug crisis, it is perhaps inevitable that questions about the opioid, heroin, and fentanyl epidemic would be submitted to NHPR’s Only In NH series. The series often explores the quirks of the Granite State and some lighter topics, but serious issues facing our community can't be ignored.

Which brings us to the question submitted by a Nashua woman: What can Granite Staters untouched by the opioid crisis do to help those who are?

 

We put the question to Maia Szalavitz, a neuroscience journalist and author of “Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction.”

 

Szalavitz writes about the role of social capital -- the web of personal, community and civic connections -- in understanding the drug epidemic. Opioid prescription rates in communities identified with low social capital are higher, she says.

People are at higher risk for addiction when they lose a job, or a loved one, for example, Szalavitz said in an interview with NHPR.

“One of the obvious things is that a lot of people with addiction go to support groups and help each other by creating new social bonds. But if you are somebody who is not directly affected, and that is rare, but if you are such a person, and you want to help, the main thing that you can do is be kind, be connected, and be participatory and work on activities that will increase community-level trust and that, again, can sound kind of disconnected.”

“But the thing about addiction is that it is characterized by isolation and shame and stigma. And the way we’ve dealt with this as a society is to say, 'You people are criminals, we are going to lock you up. You don’t have a medical condition. We don’t care about you. We’re just going to punish you in hope that that will stop you form doing stuff we don’t want you do to.' And that’s a really terrible way to deal with addiction which by the way is defined by compulsive behavior that continues despite negative consequences.”

So increased social capital dovetails with fighting that stigma. Stigma around substance abuse is something that Manchester Firefighter Chris Hickey, architect of the Manchester Fire Department's Safe Station, has told NHPR that the community must combat as well.

Recognizing that addiction is a disease, not a cause or crime, is something advocates have noted for years. Szalavitz says the community loss is intense."We're just losing resources that we shouldn't be losing. We're losing moms and dads, and sisters and brothers, and cousins and people who, you know, are really kind, wonderful people." 

FIND HELP, RESOURCES

  • New Hampshire has a Statewide Addiction Crisis Line. The toll-free number: 1-844-711-HELP. Individuals can also dial 211 for information about the crisis hotline.

  • The state Bureau of Drug & Alcohol Services, a division within N.H. Health and Human Services, has a Recovery Resource Guide. It  includes a map to find centers by location.

  • In Manchester, the Fire Department operates Safe Station, a program to help connect addicts with treatment and recovery services.