10 things I learned at ‘Research to Recovery’

Katharine Hunter, DBHDS; Tom Bannard, COBE

Hosted by COBE and the VA Dept of Behavioral Health (DBHDS), this COBE Substance Use Disorder Conference focused on the science behind the disease. This post is inspired by Bill Maher, gentle interventionist, who asked me what I learned from the perspective of a mom who lost a child to addiction.

The conference was great and very informative. Here are my takeaways Well, some of them. Please add yours in the comments.

1. Drug users lives matter

These individuals are human beings, not throwaways. It’s someone’s son, brother, mother, sister, wife, husband, friend or cousin. They are people with an illness. So let’s save their lives. (this goes for alcohol users, too)

2.We need to do outcome reimbursement in healthcare

Right now, it’s a fee-for-service based model. We make it outcome based, you can bet we’d get funding for support services and continuum of care because someone’s paycheck would depend on it. And that would eliminate businesses just profiting from desperate parents and loved ones.

3. We need to redefine pain

It’s not about being “pain-free.” It’s about defining what it is a person wants to do such as sitting on the floor with a grandchild and then making that possible. It’s about taking the edge off pain and utilizing other methods of managing it and helping people meet the goals of what they want to accomplish. Acupuncture and physical therapy are two alternative approaches to diminishing pain. It’s all about setting expectations.

4. We need to change policy

Historically, this has worked well for smoking which is reduced by more than half since policies were put in place. New policies has also reduced deaths from drunk driving.

5. Collegiate recovery is key to saving lives

Collegiate recovery is key to reducing the overdose and relapse numbers. Giving emerging adults a purpose with a supportive environment increases the chances of maintaining recovery. We need to take collegiate recovery to more universities and also to trade schools and community colleges. Check out this program, Life of Purpose.

6. I want less gratuitous academia that no one ever uses

More life skills, mindfulness training and classes that bring people together for a sense of belongingness. Why are we forcing students to choose Calculus so they can get into a college when less than 10% of them will ever use it? Not every kid is an engineer!

My oldest son recently said, “How come I’ve been through 16 years of school and no one ever mentioned a checking account, taxes or how to buy a car?”

College students will drive the change and erase stigma because they influence up. I call it trickle up marketing.

7. The mental health community needs to assess their own behavior and prejudices

There are still a lot of prejudices we hold onto. For instance, many recovery facilities shame those who relapse which is part of the disease.

8. Predisposition to addiction is tied to personality traits

Hopelessness, anxiety sensitivity, impulse control, sensation seeking. Kids with these traits are identified as having greater risk for developing addiction. This, of course, is from the program Preventure for which a grant has recently been submitted.

However, as Dr. Danielle Dick says, “Dispositions are not destiny.”

9. Exposure to stimulants doesn’t increase addiction

Kids that get used to failing over and over due to not having the skills to follow through, be organized or set goals lose motivation which makes kids feel like failures. ADHD treatment is an individualized approach based on what kind of intervention works for a particular child.

10. They don’t do it “better in Europe”

How many times have you heard that Europe introduces drinking as part of a culture earlier therefore kids learn to moderate alcohol consumption? It’s a myth.

The truth is that anything that makes drugs and alcohol more available to teens leads to higher rates of risky behavior and binge drinking. One thing research has shown with no exceptions is that drugs and alcohol have negative effects on the developing brain.

Other countries who have successfully reduced overdose and other drug related deaths.

Linda, Anne Moss, Dr. Danielle Dick

Who is to blame for the opiate crisis?

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