The opioid crisis from ‘just a dad’

by Don Holman
In future posts, Don will be offering current event updates regarding national policy on the addiction and opiate crisis in the US 

Fighting the Opioid Crisis – What is it?

My proudest accomplishment in life is being a Dad to Kristen and Garrett. On 2/9/2017 that accomplishment took a tragic hit with the loss of my son Garrett. From that point on in my mind, no matter what I accomplish or acquire in the time I have left, I have lost. So, I had the choice of throwing in the towel and giving up, putting it behind me and moving on, or my choice; fighting for something that is bigger than me knowing that no matter how much good I accomplish if any, I still lose.

I don’t think that makes me weak. In fact I think it makes me much stronger.

Without the burden to win, the fight has no boundaries and no distractions. I pray to God daily to lead me down his path and know that with my daughter Kristen by my side, Garrett in my heart and God leading the way, something good has got to happen. So, while Garrett is my inspiration, Kristen is my motivation to do what I can to try and make this world a little better place. In my mind, I only have two options after losing my son, cover Kristen in bubble wrap and lock her in a padded room or change the world. Believe me, changing the world is the easier task!

In 2017 an estimated 72,000 Americans died from overdose. Now, I believe that this number is still mis-reported because in some cases, suicide was included and in other cases suicide as the result of Mental Illness and Substance abuse was excluded. Regardless, using the estimated number of 72,000 unacceptable deaths attributed to the Opioid Crisis, as another Dad told me, “Why are there not 144,000 parents speaking out and raising awareness to this crisis”.

I know personally how different parents and siblings handle the loss of a child, brother, or sister. The first time I saw Garrett in the funeral home, I felt like God awakened the Holy Spirit in my heart and Garrett jumped right in at the same time. I have been motivated from that day to find a way to make a difference so that other parents and siblings do not have to endure the pain and sense of loss that we felt and still feel today.

However, not everyone close to me feels the same desire to speak out and I have learned over the last 22 months that the desire to speak out and share the pain is least common for most than keeping it in and trying to resume some sense of a normalcy. It is because of that and out of consideration for others that this is not a testimony to Garrett and a detailed account of his life. Just know that Garrett’s death at 20 years old, 8 days before his 21st birthday really pissed me off and it was and still is totally unacceptable.

I am currently located in Washington D.C. for work where I brought Garrett with me 6 months before he passed away. My first thought after that tragic day was that I need to talk to the President to make him aware of what happened and how it could happen to anyone. Since then I have spent a lot of time connecting to other parents and siblings that are in the same fight and part of this club that none of us wanted to join. God has also opened doors at all levels of the Federal Government to allow me to share and interact with our leaders and their staff working to end this crisis.

As a note, with the division currently being experienced in our country by the left and right, the Opioid crisis is where I have seen the majority come together in a Bi-Partisan effort to save American lives. While it is easier to point out who and what are not doing enough or not competent in addressing this issue, I will not enter any type of political debate or stray from my focus which is fighting the Opioid Crisis.

Based on my personal interactions, I have experienced compassion and support from the White House, Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and several members and staffers in Congress.
I learned very early in my advocacy that even among fellow advocates that share a similar loss, there is sometimes division.

Many are angry and demand action especially in cases where the Pharmaceutical Industry needs to be monitored and held accountable, which is so important.

However, I learned that expressing my anger was not going to be good for me or productive in any way. I had to channel my anger into a positive approach for my own Mental Health and longevity to remain in this fight. So, I will not disagree with those who have negative concerns and approaches and I value those who are committed to addressing that accountability.

Anne Moss Rogers is one of those parents I connected with, before I lost my son and then again soon after. Anne reached out and asked me if I would write an occasional post to share information on the latest efforts in the fight against the Opioid Crisis. I had suggested starting with a specific event but realized an introduction may be an important start.

Please understand, I am not a Doctor, Lawyer, Politician or Public Figure, I am just a Dad.

Unfortunately, like so many other parents and siblings, we become unofficial experts on the Opioid Crisis after it is too late to help our loved ones. So please fact check anything I write and correct me if I am wrong, that is how I learn and become better prepared for the fight ahead. In cases where I state my opinion, I will acknowledge it, and it is ok if your opinion is different from mine. I feel the best place to start might be to give my interpretation of what the Opioid Crisis is and glimpse into its complexity.

What is the Opioid Crisis?

If you are looking for a scientific or technical definition, please go online and do a search for information written and published by a certified health professional. In my opinion, the label for this crisis is the result of an exponential increase in overdose deaths as a result of opioid pain relievers. “Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, U-47700, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, (OxyContin @), hydrocodone, (Vicodin@), codeine, morphine, and many others”; ref. NIDA.

Opioids not only relieve physical pain, but they also alleviate emotional pain and I am told by some patients that while taking opioids they experience a feeling of euphoria. The most common scenario that leads a person to an opioid addiction is the case where an injury or surgery resulted in a legal prescription for opioid pain relievers.

A patient is prescribed a larger quantity of pills than required (overprescribed) and sent home with instructions to take as needed for pain. Each person is different but having a prescription for 90 Oxycodone without adequate warnings and education, can result in a patient becoming addicted to the medication. This is where the debate around Chronic Pain Patients starts so I think it is a good time to address it.

I have family and friends that I talk to that fall into both categories

Some have been overprescribed opioids for pain then cut off and some are living with chronic physical pain that need pain relief in order to live a somewhat normal life. Many times, this becomes a debate and puts Chronic Pain Patients against those trying to stop opioid overdose deaths. In my opinion, both groups are part of the Opioid Crisis and the solution should support everyone.

The challenge is determining if a person needs Opioids to relieve chronic physical pain or if using the opioids has led to addiction that is stronger than any physical pain. Either way, I feel physicians that freely prescribed Opioids then out of fear of repercussion cut off a patient that they very well may be responsible for addicting to the Opioids in the first place, are responsible for diagnosing and treating the addiction.

Then finally if a person is truly suffering from unbearable Chronic pain and they are addicted to Opioids, is that acceptable? I personally don’t know the answer to that question, but I suspect depending on the age and condition of the patient, some will say yes.

To come back to the most common scenario, let’s use an athlete in High School that suffers a sports injury and is prescribed Opioids for pain. The parents nor the student are concerned about the medication only healing the injury, so the athlete can get back into the game. The recovery may seem to take longer than expected and the need for pain medication does not diminish.

At some point the athlete may be denied the pain medication but now addicted, will possibly turn to street versions and eventually to lower cost, easier accessible Heroin.

Now our athlete is a drug addict, and instead of compassion and understanding, there is judgement and criticism due to the negative stigma surrounding those struggling with the disease of Substance Use Disorder.

In other scenarios, an injury was not the trigger to substance use disorder but could be a result of mental health issues and a need to self-medicate in order to cope. Many young people start experimenting with marijuana then with social media and social pressures, struggle to fit in and may progress to taking medication not prescribed for them that will lead them down a similar path.

Finally, illicit Synthetic Opioids such as Fentanyl, Fentanyl analogs, and U-47700 can be ordered online, shipped primarily from China, and delivered to the mailbox by the postal service. Also, Fentanyl can be mixed with crushed aspirin then pressed into a pill resembling a prescription tablet. A victim may think they are taking one Xanax for example but it is something totally different that contains an amount of Fentanyl that will result in instant death.

Now with the practice of dealers using Synthetic Opioids such as Fentanyl to cut product, other street drugs like Cocaine and even Marijuana can contain Fentanyl resulting in a user experiencing an Opioid Overdose. A prescription overdose reversal drug called Naloxone is available in most states to the public without prescription (Standing Prescription on file). I went to my local pharmacy and purchased a twin pack of nasal administered Naloxone called Narcan for about 130.00. I carry this with me when I go out in case I am ever in a situation where someone is experiencing an overdose, I can potentially save their life and give them one more chance.

This is an introduction to me and my opinion of the Opioid Crisis. Going forward I will focus on current efforts and anything positive being done in the battle to save lives. I will acknowledge areas that need more attention and additional actions needed at the Federal, State, and local levels. However, awareness among the public, especially those not personally affected is critical in changing the stigma and allowing those struggling and their loved ones to reach out for help without fear of being judged or alienated. Compassion and Non-Judgement will allow for a discussion that will help change the stigma.

Don Holman – Just a Dad
“It’s better to know me than to be me”

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26 thoughts on “The opioid crisis from ‘just a dad’”

  1. Don

    Excellent piece, as your reflections will help many! I never cease to be amazed by your strength and the work that you’ve done in the short time since losing Garrett. So proud to partner with you on so many things, as you are a light in our darkness. Thanks so much,

    1. Kevin,

      Not sure I deserve any credit but I always appreciate your encouragement and especially your friendship. You lead by example, what you have done since losing your son KC over 10 years ago has helped so many. City of Angeles with you, your wife, and a staff of volunteers is the best example of how things can work on the front lines. As always “What’s next?” Take Care and talk soon!

  2. I am a mother who cannot sit still after losing my 18 yr old son, David, this year to a xanax/fentanyl overdose. I am giving seminars in my community and high schools. I am banging heads with my local police and DEA. I think they are sick of the noise I’m making and the non stop talk and frustration I display about the drug crisis in the Bay Area. I would love to join hands with other parents and families who are taking the riegns to spread drug awareness and try to stop the dealers who are killing of our youth! Thank you Don. I am so sorry that this happened to you. I understand and stand by you 100%! Karin, David Ochoa’s mom

    1. Hi Karin, I am so sorry for your loss and totally understand your pain and anger. We each express our grief in different ways and for those like us, keeping quiet doesn’t work. Follow your heart and take the path before you. I never claim to have the solution but if someone asks me the right question I will share what I have learned. I will not judge and I will ask hard questions while fully prepared to answer equally as tough ones. Those of us that relate can share all day long but it is going to take those not personally affected to pay attention to prevent future loss. Follow me on twitter and keep in touch. @donaldaholman1
      Don

  3. I am glad some dad’s are becoming able to step up and share. I can only imagine, vaguely, what it must be like to survive the loss of a child (in any form) let alone like this. I love your courage and mission. God bless you and your struggle.

  4. Beautifully written and spoken from the heart. I am one of the chronically ill with MS and a couple of other problems. I was over prescribed and forced tapered. I look forward to reading updates from you on this opioid crisis. I believe we can all work together for that greater cause. My heart is with you on this new journey.

    1. Liz, your story is so important. So proud of you for your fight to take back control of your condition. We are all in this together and together we will win.

    1. Thank you Amy. I hope anything I share will start a conversation, no one thing is a solution but there are things that will work.

  5. Thank you, wholeheartedly, for sharing your story. This comment really grabbed me, “Many are angry and demand action especially in cases where the Pharmaceutical Industry needs to be monitored and held accountabable.” As an EX-pharmaceutical representative and mother of a daughter dealing with addiction, it is an excruciating and gut-wrenching path to be on. There is so much that needs to be done and you are 100% correct in your comment. My heart goes out to you and all that are struggling.

    1. Mel, your story could provide much insight and education. It is rare that someone speaks out when a child is struggling unfortunately it seems to happen when it is too late.

      David and Jackie Siegel lost their daughter Victoria to overdose. Later they were made aware of a journal she kept the last four years and are publishing it into a book. It is a photo copy of her pages in her own handwriting. The name of the book is Victoria’s Voice and it should be out in Feb. I have a draft copy they gave me and would recommend you and your daughter reading it when it comes out. It is very raw and in your face but that is what this disease is all about.

      God Bless you and your daughter and I know you will never give up.

      1. Yes, you are correct—I will never give up. It is overwhelmingly difficult to be a lone voice speaking out against the pharmaceutical industry. Anything that stands in the way of their profit is to be obliterated. They are trying their best to silence my voice by making sure that I will never work again, in any industry. I have been unemployed for 2 years, although I am highly educated and highly qualified. I am keeping the faith, though, as this is now my mission—to shed light on this disease and those who pad their pockets at the expense of those who suffer from it.

  6. Thank you so much for writing this and for doing what you can to make a difference. We need you in this fight! I am so sorry you lost your son to this epidemic.

  7. Don, my son Jared Murphy died from an accidental heroin overdose on September 24th, 2018. He is/was an extremely bright and articulate man who graduated with honors (.02 pts from magna cum laude) from VCU with a degree in psychology. He left behind several insightful papers on addiction from an ‘insiders’ view as well as quite a few videos. He shared on a deeply honest and open level and was able to authentically connect with a lot of people. I think from a parent’s perspective it is sometimes difficult to detect, help and understand the issue so they are most helpful. Anyway, I am looking for a venue to share them more broadly so if you would have any interest in using any of them, please let me know. The pain of losing him has been excruciating and I know he would want to help others.

    1. Maureen, I am so sorry for your loss and I know you have not even come close to catching your breath. I appreciate so much your offer to share your sons writings’ and video’s because I am sure as painful as they are, I know you cherish them. When you are ready please feel free to email them to me. Be sure to take care of yourself right now and only do what you feel you can. As another dad told me early on, “When our sons died we died, now we have to figure out who we are today”. Also keep in mind that who you are now may not necessarily be who those closest to you expect you to be. I will say that the Dad I just mentioned feels just like I do and it has been over 10 years since he lost his son. I pray you find some peace in the coming months. Please stay in touch.

  8. Don, I’m so sorry for the loss of your son Garrett. I’m wondering if you have had the opportunity to meet John Shinholser and or his wife Carol McDaid who started the McShin Foundation in Richmond, Va?
    God bless you and your work.

    1. Thank you Debbie, I have not connected formally but we may have met here in DC last year at a Rally. I do follow them on Twitter and pay attention to their work. I have connected with several advocacy groups and keep in touch with them all. I actually believe that pulling them and others across the country together in a similar direction would be powerful in the fight at a National level.

      Thank you again.

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