One of the greatest tragedies of opioid overdose and death is that it can be prevented.
They were too late, and he was gone.
It was just one night, and she overdosed.
We didn’t know what to do, and when we reached out for help, it was too late.
Like one of our parent coaches says, it’s the same chorus, but a different verse. Too many families have lost someone they love to a drug overdose. In fact, today, 128 families are grieving, and today’s toxicology report adds one more family to that roll call: the family of Prince. He is number 129.
Even those who seem to have all the resources and connections imaginable face the same tragedy. Given any other disease, Prince, a beloved, immensely talented artist, and those who loved him may have openly sought care and treatment.
We would never assume to know the thoughts and actions of his family and friends, but what we do know is that addiction is a stigmatized disease that is treated differently. It’s a disease that has been even more debilitating because of the shame that has accompanied it. Family upon family has expressed to us that they didn’t know where to turn or didn’t know what to do to help. They fumbled and encountered countless hurdles as they looked for answers and support when it came to their loved one’s addiction. And yet many still suffered in silence for fear of being judged harshly as they sought guidance for a child’s substance use disorder.
Prince’s death comes at a time when 129 Americans a day die of a drug overdose, when presidential candidates are talking openly about substance abuse on the campaign trail and when we can no longer ignore the weekly – even daily – headlines of sons and daughters lost to opioid abuse. But where families can find hope is in the solutions that are available, and inspiration from those who advocate and demand more action around this treatable and preventable disease.
Solutions come in the form of medication-assisted treatment, the use of medication, along with therapy and support, to help address withdrawal, cravings and relapse prevention so that our loved ones can move into recovery. They also present themselves via interventions with Naloxone and through the protection of Good Samaritan laws, a lifesaving drug and a lifesaving law, respectively, where more access is needed and in more states across the country.
Another part of the solutions are the families themselves, mothers and fathers who are advocating and working for change, rejecting conventional wisdom and the status quo. Too many lives have been lost; too many families have been told it’s their fault. We can do a better job of listening, empowering and equipping these women and men to lead the revolution.
From our viewpoint, the response to Prince’s tragic death has evoked more compassion than condemnation. Let his death not be for naught. Let it signify the change that awaits, where we move from shame to solutions.