Opioid addiction as a crisis, public health epidemic

In 2016, drug overdoses killed 64,000 Americans. That’s more than the yearly death toll from breast cancer.

And, more than all of the American casualties during the Vietnam war. Experts say most of the increase in overdose deaths is due to opioid addiction.

Learn about one family battling to keep their son alive.

Rick Van Warner says his family never saw it coming. One day at age 16, their middle son never came home from school. Frantic, Rick distributed flyers with a photo of his missing son, and began to piece together a shocking story of addiction.

“Initially we had no idea that the problem we were dealing with was so severe. That he had fallen into OxyContin and was getting that in the school,” Van Warner said.

After days of searching, Rick found his son in an abandoned building. It was the start of a tumultuous battle. “Tommy” has been brought back from the brink of death twice. And, relapsed fourteen times. Lipi Roy, MD, MPH, DABAM, Clinical Assistant Professor, NYU Department of Population Health, is a nationally recognized expert in addiction medicine.

“Addiction is a chronic medical disease, a disease of the brain that’s relapsing and remitting, so relapse is expected. It is not a sign of moral weakness or failure,” Dr. Roy said.

Dr. Roy says the goal in the addiction field used to be abstinence from drugs. She says now there’s a move toward what’s called harm reduction with programs like needle exchange and access to overdose reversing drugs like naloxone.

“These are interventions that actually reduce harm to the drug user. It’s about respecting a person and meeting them where they’re at,” Dr. Roy said.

Van Warner says he has spent more than 200,000 dollars on his son’s recovery. His son is now 26 and has a job. Rick says his family takes life one day at a time.

“He’s a tremendously smart, loving person, and has a heart of gold, and there’s nothing he could do that would make me give up on him,” Van Warner said.

Van Warner recently published a book about his family’s ordeal and son’s struggle with addiction called “On Pills and Needles.” Dr. Roy says families looking for additional resources can find help in their local communities, or by contacting SAMHSA, 24-7 toll free, at 1-800-662-help (4357), the federal substance abuse and mental health services administration.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath and Katie Campbell, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Videographer.

Reporter:Channing Frampton
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