This assembly at the Burlington High School, attended and led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, was different from the regular ones. It had gripping tales of opioid addiction, recovery, victory and tragedy, turning it into an emotionally charged event. Those present in the assembly grew poignant, as many lecturers recollected their respective struggles with addiction and the ways they overcame them.
Heart-wrenching tales of opioid addiction echoed through hall
During the assembly, the harrowing accounts of people who dabbled with addiction left many people fighting to control their emotions. Even Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan came to tears when he recounted the opioid addiction of a friend from school. His friend, who was smart, charismatic and an ace footballer, became addicted to opioids. They used to hang out together a lot, although they lost touch later on.
“And then out of the blue, I got this random message from him,” said Donovan. This time his friend called for help—something Donovan chose to ignore only to repent later on. “I thought like a lawyer. I didn’t think like a regular person.” His friend died from an overdose soon after. “This disease, it kills people’s souls,” Donovan said.
Another panelist, nurse Kelly Breeyear, narrated her ordeal with addiction that continued through her pregnancies and during her phase of homelessness. “I see a huge crowd of people here I’m really scared for,” she said. She shared that her affinity to opioids began when she was in the high school. Doctors had prescribed opioids to manage her pain. Unfortunately, a spate of personal tragedies worsened her pain—both physically and emotionally—veering her toward her “pain-relieving pills”. Thus began her long struggle with opioids. She had to undergo rigorous treatment programs and after a brief relapse, she is now perfectly healthy and sober. “We need to stop this now. I don’t want any of your families to feel the pain that my family has felt,” she said.
Discussion based on eradicating stigma and underlining treatment
The proceedings mostly revolved around eliminating the stigma associated with opioid addiction and expansion of treatment. Sen. Sanders stressed on treating the malady as a medical condition and not a criminal justice issue.
“I need your help. Not only for Vermont but for the entire country,” he told the students. Sanders iterated that it is paramount to “have an honest and open discussion about this crisis.” Opioids claimed 112 lives in Vermont last year. “If we do not have the courage to talk about this issue, we are never, ever going to solve it,” he said.
Opioid epidemic a national disaster
The opioid crisis sweeping the United States is unprecedented, killing thousands of people over the last couple of decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 64,000 people succumbed to opioid overdose in 2016.
However, with treatment, one can gain sobriety and lead an addiction-free life. For example, large-scale administering of Narcan, an opioid antagonist, can reverse an overdose. The Vermont Department of Health reported that more than 2,200 Vermonters received Narcan in 2016. If you have a loved one struggling with an opioid addiction, seek immediate help.
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