Person in Recovery Helping Others to Stop The Overdose Epidemic
August 27, 2020
With overdose deaths on the rise in Denver and nationwide and only getting worse, we need more people like Jean Jones in this world.
"People are in danger and their lives are at risk. It is most definitely a crisis, it is most definitely an epidemic," said Jones, the Adams County Chapter Lead for Young People in Recovery. She should know, because she had an addiction to heroin and is now in recovery after years of drug use.
"For me, my addiction has actually taught me so many life lessons. I actually wouldn't change them for the world because had I not been there, I wouldn't be who I am today. Looking back on everything, I actually gained a lot of compassion and I gained a different view of the world than I ever would have hoped to experience because my addiction did lead me to being homeless and that gave me, just a whole different perspective."
Jones said she had lost at least 14 friends to overdose and has stopped counting because of how difficult it is. She said people don't understand that they didn't do that to themselves. "Addiction comes from a place of pain and suffering. I think people really view it as somebody wakes up and makes this decision to become addicted to a substance and that's not the way it is.
"That person is still a person, no matter what, they're a person and their life mattered."
Colorado Overdose Death Epidemic During COVID-19 Pandemic
From January to May of 2020, there have been 555 overdose deaths in Colorado; that breaks down to 111 deaths per month and about 3-4 per day. Last year at this time, there were just 80 overdose deaths per month.
During that same time, overdose deaths from fentanyl, opioids and synthetic opioids have increased by 292 percent.
Jones could have been among one of those statistics. She remembered many moments in her life while she was homeless where she really wanted to change. She remembered a period of at least three and a half years where she felt like she was perpetually at rock bottom.
"I had lost so much, all my belongings, time and time over again. It really took a toll on my self esteem. I think the way that people perceived me when I was homeless was just that I was a stereotypical homeless person that I was drug addict. I don't think that they see that there's actually a lot of pain there."
She said she wanted something different, but didn't know how to get there or where to start.
Path to Recovery Through "No Wrong Door"
"Denver Health has a long history in Colorado and one of the things we recognized is that it's hard for people to seek treatment," said Hermione Hurley, MD, an infectious disease and addiction medicine specialist at the Center for Addiction Medicine at Denver Health. "That's why we created the Center for Addiction Medicine to try and promote no wrong door to getting treatment. Sometimes I find the biggest barrier is the sense of stigma, shame, or self doubt. And none of those things are either relevant or useful for people getting into recovery. Usually I ask people to just go from where they are when they walk in the door the same night."
Jones continued, "It wasn't until I actually got pregnant with my daughter that I was like, regardless of what I decided to do, I need to give this baby a clean healthy fresh start at life. I came to Denver Health and I started the methadone programs so that I could get into rehab."
"It's okay if you do not have everything taken care of in the first time you see us," said Dr. Hurley. "Recovery is not just about abstinence, it's not just about reduction in use. It's about getting to where you want to be in your own life and you get to make those goals."
Harm Reduction Model
At the Center for Addiction Medicine, our providers recognize that recovery does not look the same for everyone. We promote the Harm Reduction Model, which is a person-first model, meaning that the person comes first instead of having an agency come in and tell you what you're going to do and tell you what you need. The individual who is seeking services gets a say in what they need and where they're headed.
"When I'm thinking about harm reduction, I really dislike the word enabling – I think that's punitive and judgmental," Dr. Hurley pointed out. "Harm reduction is about control and life choices. The only thing Naloxone – the opioid overdose-reversing drug – enables is breathing. The only thing harm reduction enables is control."
Recovery Isn't About The Addiction
"Part of recovery is about deep internal healing that has nothing to do with your addiction," Jones reflected. "It has to do with things that happened maybe prior to or during that didn't really have to do with the drugs – and healing from those things is also healing from your addiction even though it might not seem like it. When I was experiencing my addiction, I didn't really see myself having a future, and therefore I didn't have dreams. I didn't have hopes, I didn't have things that I thought about that I wanted to do. Since gaining recovery, I know that I was put on this earth to help people."
And that is exactly what Jones is doing now, helping young people battle their addictions and get on the road to recovery. Both she and Dr. Hurley agree that overdose deaths are preventable if we band together to smash the stigma and recognize that all people deserve to be loved and cared for and encourage people to do what they can – including carrying naloxone or NARCAN – to keep other people alive.
Overdose Awareness Day
Join Denver Health on August 31, 2020 to recognize the lives we have lost this past year to overdose on Overdose Awareness Day. This year, Denver Health will observe this day virtually. Please follow Denver Health on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more about the support we offer and what is important to know about persons with substance use disorders. We are requesting that on Monday, August 31, people take a moment of silence and leave a message to a loved one in our Memory Box as you walk by the memorial on the Denver Health main campus representing those in Colorado who were lost to overdose last year.
We also ask that you join us and wear purple on August 31 to observe and support Overdose Awareness Day and use #EndOverdoseCO in any social posts about the day.