CARA is a first great step against addiction

By: 
DEREK GIBBS

Few people would think twice if a friend told them they took a Vicodin, but if the same friend told you they’d been using heroin, you would likely be more alarmed. However, both are opioid drugs, both are highly addictive and one is a gateway drug to the other. Unfortunately, far too many Montanans will abuse prescription opioids, build a dangerous dependence on them and then start using heroin. This is a dangerous cycle with extremely serious consequences, not only to the addict but the entire community that surrounds them.
I have experienced this firsthand through my own fight with Substance Use Disorders. My addiction to opiates and alcohol led me on a down ward path, one of which I saw no way out. I was a threat to my family and my community and bounced in and out of jails, institutions and treatment. It was through the opportunity the Montana Department of Corrections that I was able to start my recovery journey. In 2006 the Department of Corrections gave me the option of going to a long term intensive treatment program or prison; I chose treatment and have lived a lifestyle based in recovery since. Since being in Recovery I have gone on to complete two college degrees, be there for the birth of all my grandchildren, walk my daughter down the aisle of her wedding, purchase a home, and have the greatest job. I am an advocate at the local, state and federal level for those experiencing a Substance Use Disorder. However, many other Montanans have not been so lucky.
Through my own life and work as a License Addiction Counselor, I have seen the heartbreaking effects of opioids. In Montana almost one in twenty kids between the age of 12 and 17 has used opioids non-medically. In fact, reports show that 80 percent of heroin users reported having previously used prescription opioids.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that opioid prescriptions have increased from 76 million in 1997 to 207 million in 2013. While many Americans who struggle with pain need these medications, this dramatic increase has made prescription opioids too accessible. This availability paired with the sense that a prescription drug is less dangerous than their illicit counterparts is part of what makes opioids so dangerous. Astonishingly, 1,428 more people than were killed by overdoses than on all illegal drugs.
Since overcoming my own addiction I have been dedicated to helping others do the same. The War on Drugs has crowded our prisons and flooded our healthcare systems. We can’t afford to waste limited resources on an expensive revolving door. Prevention and education are two of the most important weapons in this fight against opioids. Support for treatment and recovery centers is critical for folks looking to get help and regain control of their life.
The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which was recently signed into law, puts the spotlight on this epidemic and creates the new programs needed to beat opioid addiction. I have journeyed to Washington D.C. several times to fight for CARA and am encouraged to see this bill finally become law. This historic legislation creates a task force of agencies that are geared towards identifying best practices for prescribing pain medication and identifying alternatives to prescription opioids. CARA also creates vital grants for local governments, tribes, nonprofits and care centers. In a state like Montana, funding for local law enforcement, clinics and recovery centers are investments that will pay dividends in helping protect and heal our communities. This epidemic deserves a comprehensive approach, one that reduces stigma, provides quality care and monitors the flow of prescription drugs.
CARA is a great first step. As a person who is actively fighting against opioid addiction and someone who knows what it is like to fight this battle against addiction myself, I am very grateful to Congressman Ryan Zinke for his leadership as a cosponsor of CARA and his vote to pass it into law. I look forward to the day when opioid addiction doesn’t needlessly claim the lives of so many Montanans. I believe with the passage of CARA, that day will be sooner rather than later.

Derek Gibbs is President/Founder of T.O.R.C.H. Inc (Together Our Recovery Center Heals) in Lewistown.

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