Image Source: Getty / Witthaya Prasongsin
Warning: This story contains detailed accounts of drug abuse that may be triggering for those who have experienced addiction or know someone who has.
Twenty-six-year-old Briana Schroeder is a mom. She's self-assured with a measured voice. She's a former high school athlete, an animal-lover, and a recovering heroin addict.
Born to parents who both struggled with addiction, Briana moved to Bensalem, PA, to live with her aunt and uncle when she was a child. She considered her aunt and uncle to be her true parents and had, by her own definition, a relatively normal childhood. She spent her days swimming and attending Catholic school. Despite her supportive upbringing, Briana always felt an overwhelming sense of emptiness.
"I had everything a child could want or need," Briana told POPSUGAR. "But there was still something missing. I didn't feel like I was good enough. I didn't understand why somebody would abandon their child. I didn't get it."
Swimming became Briana's escape, and the pool her home. "I tried to be the perfect kid for my aunt and uncle, and I did great in school. Sports became my addiction at a young age," Briana explained.
Unfortunately, Briana's high school experience was far from picture-perfect. Struggling with her sexuality, she had a difficult time assimilating in Catholic school. She was frequently bullied, her self-image suffered, and she turned to strict dieting and cutting to numb the pain. She transferred to public school, where her situation improved, she said, but her self-esteem felt permanently stunted.
Image Source: Briana Schroeder
Briana met a girl whom she started dating once she graduated. Although she doesn't blame her addiction on anyone, Briana admits her life spiraled at warp speed the more time she spent with her new girlfriend. It began with alcohol abuse.
At 18, Briana began relying on drinking as a crutch. The occasional drink turned into several, she said, leading her into the throes of cocaine and eventually Percocet, a prescription painkiller. Despite recognizing the signs of a toxic relationship, Briana agreed to move in with her girlfriend right after high school.
"Once I tried it, I remember thinking, 'This is what I need to do. This is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life.'"
"As soon as we moved in, my girlfriend began using heroin and I followed her right into it," Briana confessed. "Once I tried it, I remember thinking, 'This is what I need to do. This is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life to make myself feel better and fill all those voids.' Heroin made me feel free; it made those racing thoughts go away. It made me feel like I was able to do anything. The drugs were fun at first. They made me forget the past of my childhood. Slowly, things got worse."
Like many heroin addicts, Briana began by snorting the drug before eventually graduating to injections. She overdosed the first time she used a needle. Paramedics on site administered Naloxone - commonly known by its brand name, NARCAN - a nasal spray that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.
Briana awoke at the hospital a few hours later, but all she could do was think about her next fix. "I was there for three hours just thinking about how I was going to get more heroin," she explained. "Suddenly, I didn't care about anyone's thoughts or feelings. I just let heroin take over."
Briana overdosed seven times in 18 months - five instances required hospital stays. "My addiction slowly progressed, and I started running drugs for my dealers," she explained. "I lived in the basement of my dealer's house; I prostituted myself out. All my 'nevers' became reality, and I did it all for the heroin."
Briana briefly moved to Florida, where heroin was extremely hard to find, though she wasn't exactly sure why. She started using crack cocaine and, later, methamphetamine just to feel normal. With nowhere to turn, she found herself back in Pennsylvania living with her biological parents, who still used drugs but didn't permit heroin in the house. She hit her first rock bottom, she said, after getting kicked out for using. She felt isolated, hopeless, and physically at her worst.
"I lived in the basement of my dealer's house; I prostituted myself out. All my 'nevers' became reality, and I did it all for the heroin."
Officially homeless and alone, Briana sought rehab for the first time on Jan. 17, 2017, at the age of 23, but getting clean wasn't as easy as she thought. She was accepted at Valley Forge Medical Center and Hospital in Norristown, PA, but was kicked out for having relationships with other patients during her stay. She bounced around between various recovery centers, rotating between staying clean and getting high on meth and heroin. Eventually, she ended up back at Valley Forge, where she was allowed to stay with her service dog, who helps with her anxiety.
Briana has officially been clean since Sept. 8, 2017. After a 65-day stay at Valley Forge, she began to piece her life back together, because there were simply no other options. "The second time I went to rehab, I knew I didn't want to die and I was spiritually broken," she said. "It was a whole new type of broken. I wanted to kill myself but I didn't have the courage to do it, so I decided to go to rehab again."
Image Source: Briana Schroeder
At eight months sober, Briana learned she was pregnant with her son Leo. Regardless, Briana stayed away from drugs, got a job, and planned to raise her baby with his father. But parenting as a recovering addict isn't exactly easy.
On top of doing everything for her newborn, Briana also had to make sure she was putting as much effort as she could into her recovery. While caring for a baby is hard enough, making sure you're going to your meetings and staying clean is paramount, especially when you don't have a strong support system in terms of family. After all, a relapse wouldn't only affect Briana once she became a mother; it would impact her son, too.
"After I had Leo, I started taking him to meetings. I go to my meetings every week. I do what I have to do," she said. Although getting and staying clean is the hardest thing she's ever done, she's been rewarded. "Now, I have a family. My family is back in my life," Briana said. "My aunt and uncle - as well as my sisters I didn't talk to for six years - are back in my life. I was a shell of a human for a very, very long time. I'm finally starting to love myself. I realize there's no one who's going to keep me sober but myself."
Image Source: Briana Schroeder
How Bad Is the Opioid Epidemic in the US?
Opioid addiction was the biggest US health crisis since the Spanish flu in 1918, until COVID-19 hit. Unfortunately, the coronavirus outbreak is only making the opioid crisis worse. In New Jersey alone, drug overdoses increased by 20 percent amid the pandemic, as social distancing has made it harder to get treatment and attend meetings. Additionally, recovering addicts have found it more difficult to stay sober.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 128 people die from opioid overdoses every day in the US, which includes prescription pills, such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin; pharmaceutical fentanyl (a synthetic opioid that's 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine); and heroin. In 2018, the US saw an estimated 68,557 overdoses. Of those cases, some 47,590 involved opioids, and 31,897 involved synthetic opioids.
The crisis has had a direct effect on American families. According to a 2019 study, "The Ripple Effect: The Impact of the Opioid Epidemic on Children and Families," eight million children lived in a household that had at least one parent who was addicted to opioids between 2009 and 2014. Every person in any given family can be affected by the crisis, from pregnant women to teenagers who make one bad decision at a party.
"This is the worst drug-addiction epidemic the United States has ever faced."
Experts agree that the country still faces a long uphill battle against opioid addiction. Dr. Andrew Kolodny, codirector of opioid policy research at the Heller School For Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University and executive director of Physicians For Responsible Opioid Prescribing, told POPSUGAR that opioid addiction is affecting families now more than ever.
"This is the worst drug-addiction epidemic the United States has ever faced," he said. "The current epidemic has really affected suburbs and rural areas more than inner cities."
Though the use of opiates has skyrocketed throughout the US in general, fentanyl might be the hardest substance to overcome as of late, especially where young people are concerned.
Dr. Joseph DeSanto, an addiction specialist and BioCorRx partner who has been sober from prescription opioids for eight years, is currently helping others kick their addiction in Costa Mesa, CA. As someone who began taking prescription pills after a kickboxing injury, Dr. DeSanto knows how difficult it is to break the habit. And while he's seen his fair share of patients who are addicted to heroin and prescription pills, in his experience, fentanyl is even harder to kick as of late - especially for teens.
"It's really making its impasse with young kids who don't have any other perspective on any other drugs," Dr. DeSanto said. "Some of my patients didn't even start with heroin. They went right to fentanyl and loved it so much that they can't even imagine doing heroin. Pound for pound, fentanyl is a dirtier drug: it takes a lot more steps to process in the body, so it just works so much faster."
How Are American Families Becoming Addicted?
If you want to trace the current opioid crisis back to its origin, start with pharmaceutical companies' campaign to assure the medical community that opioids were safe and nonaddictive in the late 1990s. Under the impression that people couldn't become hooked on painkillers like oxycodone, physicians began prescribing opioids at an exponential rate, resulting in wide-scale drug dependency across the country.
While patients with terminal illnesses deserve to live out the remainder of their days as pain-free as possible, many medical professionals began prescribing some form of opiate to Americans, whether they got a root canal or went in for a routine surgery.
"The medical community has been overprescribing opiates in response to a multifaceted marketing campaign that was disguised as education to improve pain treatment," Dr. Kolodny said. The CDC reported 191 million opioid prescriptions were dispensed to Americans in 2017, more than any other country in the world.
"On the streets of New Jersey, it costs $60 for one OxyContin pill, which is really just a synthetic version of heroin."
"Young adults basically get their first taste of the drug from a doctor or a dentist," Dr. Kolodny said. "Maybe they like the effect. They're certainly not afraid of it, because they had it prescribed to them, and they took it and it didn't hurt them initially. At some point after that brief medical exposure, they might use recreationally and become addicted."
But abusing prescription medication is just the beginning of what can be a lifelong drug dependency. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, people who use opioids for the first time recreationally face an even bigger risk compared to those who never tried prescription opioids. In a 2014 study published in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers concluded that heroin "was more readily accessible and much less expensive than prescription opioids."
Not much has changed in six years on that front. According to Angela Conover, director of the Opioid Response and Prevention Outreach Services for the Partnership For a Drug-Free New Jersey, more people are turning toward heroin for one reason: it's cheaper. And when you've been abusing a prescription for a long time, the cost adds up as your tolerance grows. Some addicts develop a habit that sets them back thousands of dollars per day, making heroin or fentanyl more attractive choices.
"On the streets of New Jersey, it costs $60 for one OxyContin pill, which is really just a synthetic version of heroin," Conover explained. "However, a bag of heroin can go for $5 or $10, according to the DEA. We're in the middle of a huge fentanyl epidemic throughout the state because it's so cheap."
"People will say, 'Oh, it won't ever happen to me, I live by the beach or in the suburbs.'"
Conover said that making the leap from prescription pills to heroin isn't unusual, especially for teens who usually don't have an income or parents with families to support. Pair that with the fact it only takes five days for a person to develop an opioid addiction, and an individual's addiction can become unmanageable very quickly.
The opioid crisis doesn't only affect the economically disadvantaged, and it's become more of an issue in middle- and upper-class communities. "People will say, 'Oh, it won't ever happen to me, I live by the beach or in the suburbs.' Opioid addiction does not discriminate," Conover explained. "I truly believe that the stigma plays a role in parents thinking it won't affect their families."
To that end, although the opioid crisis has been historically portrayed by the media as an issue that mainly plagues white families, that's not the case. "Attention to this epidemic has focused primarily on white suburban and rural communities," states a 2020 study completed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "Less attention has focused on Black [and] African American communities which are similarly experiencing dramatic increases in opioid misuse and overdose deaths. The rate of increase of Black [and] African American drug overdose deaths between 2015-2016 was 40 percent compared to the overall population increase at 21 percent."
While we always want to feel like our families are safe, the opioid crisis has an impact on nearly every community in the US. "This is something everybody needs to be concerned about, especially in the suburban and rural communities," Conover noted. "They have been hit particularly hard in recent years."
Terry Drass and Margee Callaghan - executive nurse and nurse manager, respectively, at Valley Forge Medical Center and Hospital - have helped hundreds of heroin, fentanyl, and prescription-pill addicts through rehabilitation. These medical professionals classify opioid addiction as a full-fledged disease. You cannot wake up after months of injecting heroin and suddenly decide to quit, which is especially hard on the addict's family members.
Located just 21 miles away from the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, it's a stone's throw away from the worst site of heroin addiction on the East Coast, which makes the 86 beds the treatment center offers incredibly important.
"When you're addicted to opioids, it affects the hippocampus of the brain," Terry explained. "Your brain tells you, 'If you don't do a drug, you're going to die and you're not safe.' It just becomes such a compulsion. The patient is compromised both physically and psychologically. Patients can come to treatment with all the hope in the world, but they need to make a behavioral change, which takes a long time."
Margee added that sheer willpower really has nothing to do with it. Put simply, opioids completely alter a person's brain chemistry, which means having a family member go through addiction is particularly difficult. "It's such a feeling of helplessness, and it's heartbreaking because people want to stop, but they can't," she said. "They can't do it on their own."
What It's Like to Have a Child Who Struggles With Opioid Addiction: A Father's Story
Image Source: Don Riebel
Don Riebel, a father from Bellmawr, NJ, lost his son Colin to the heroin epidemic. Colin's personal battle started when he was 15 years old; he tore his rotator cuff and was prescribed a 30-day supply of Percocet.
Don had no idea how dangerous opioids were, and he trusted his son's doctors wholeheartedly. "Both my wife and I always taught our kids that you should do whatever the doctor tells you to do. They know best," he said. "When his pain increased, we were told to give him more of the medication, so more prescriptions were written."
Wanting the best for his son, Don took Colin to a well-respected and reputable doctor in the area, who even had experience working with professional athletes. After Colin recovered from his rotator cuff surgery, he continued to compete in athletics until he tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) three times between his sophomore and senior year of high school.
"Both my wife and I always taught our kids that you should do whatever the doctor tells you to do. They know best."
Before Colin's last knee surgery - which involved implanting a cadaver ACL and required eight weeks of bed rest - the teen confessed to his parents that he felt he was becoming addicted to his pain medication. In an effort to help their son, Don spoke with Colin's doctor.
"We told the doctor, 'Hey, we know that Colin had a problem with the medication. Please, when we go into this round of pain management, his prescription needs to be extremely low-dose or no dose at all,'" Don recalled. "'We need to give him something else.'" While Colin's doctor wasn't overly sympathetic, he agreed.
By that point, Colin had been relying on Percocet for a long time. The pain block the surgical team gave him didn't work during his procedure. Since his body had become so accustomed to opiates from previous prescriptions, he felt every pang during his surgery.
After his operation, Colin's addiction worsened, and eventually, he began injecting heroin. His parents gave him all the help they could, getting him spots in both inpatient and outpatient rehab facilities and helping him get a full-time job at Don's company.
In 2010, Colin spent two months in an inpatient rehab center before eventually relapsing. Desperate to get his son the help he needed, Don secured him a spot in a Florida-based inpatient facility for eight weeks in 2013. But it was a challenge to find resources for recovering addicts after getting out of rehab. While the goal of inpatient programs is to give individuals the tools they need to stay clean, simply attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings is often not enough.
"If I was ever told that Colin is not prepared to come home, or he needs to go into a recovery house or a halfway home, or a farm and plant corn, I would've done that," Don said. "But that was never the recommendation to me."
Colin returned home from Florida on Nov. 20, 2013, at the age of 22. As soon as he got back, he went back to work, and everything seemed normal for the first two days. On the night of Nov. 22, Don noticed that Colin was struggling. In the middle of an argument with his girlfriend at the time, Colin retreated to his bedroom.
"If there's anything to be thankful for at all, it's that my son died in my home."
"I can't even tell you at what point he left the house [to buy drugs]; I didn't hear anything," Don said. "At 1:30 a.m. I still saw his light on. I didn't want to be that parent. He just got home from rehab, I'm not going to barge in and ask, 'What are you doing? You should be in bed.'"
An hour later, Don saw that Colin's bedroom light was still on and he decided to check on his son. When he entered his son's bedroom, he found Colin had overdosed. Because he hadn't used drugs in months, the heroin shocked his system and caused his heart to stop. It's a moment that will be burned into Don's memory for the rest of his life.
"I hear a lot of horror stories about having to identify children if they're in a different home, parking lot, or the ER," Don said. "If there's anything to be thankful for at all, it's that my son died in my home."
Image Source: Don Riebel
Now, Don and his wife do everything they can to raise awareness for the opioid crisis. His Facebook profile photo rotates between pictures of Colin during the good times. They set up fundraiser walks, raise money, and speak candidly to the media about their son's experience so other parents don't have to endure the heartbreak they did.
"My biggest fear is that Colin's name is going to be forgotten," Don said. "If for nothing else, I want to be able to use his name. I will be his voice now. I want to be able to use his name to help spread awareness and education, so maybe, if nothing else, maybe we will save one life."
What It's Like to Have a Child Who Struggles With Opioid Addiction: A Mother's Story
Lisa Bloomfield-Henson's son Zak was an outgoing, college-bound athlete who loved his family. The oldest of three, he was the first person to show up at his younger siblings' holiday shows at school. He had everything going for him, but after experimenting with Percocet at a party one evening, opiates took over his life when he was 17 years old.
"My son didn't [display] any predisposition to addiction, and I think that's an important thing for parents to know," Lisa told POPSUGAR. "There is no real precursor. My son was a great kid. He was nice and he was good-looking. He was even taking calculus in high school." Zak began buying prescription pills on the weekends. His group of friends raided their family members' medicine cabinets, looking for anything that would keep the party going. Eventually, one of Zak's friends found a cheaper way to get the same high: heroin.
Image Source: Lisa Bloomfield-Henson
"It becomes like water; your body begins to need it," Lisa said. "Nobody thinks they're going to develop an addiction. And then when they do, they can't afford it. Opioids completely change your body chemistry. It stops producing dopamine, and it can take up to a year for your body to regulate itself after addiction."
For Lisa, a paralegal, her son's addiction was hard to fathom, but she caught on quickly. "I had a feeling he was doing pills of some sort," she explained. "I didn't know how much it had escalated. We were tracking him down at different apartments. I had no idea that he was doing heroin."
"As a parent, I couldn't get over the fact that you can do everything right sometimes and still have one of your kids become an addict."
"As a parent, I couldn't get over the fact that you can do everything right sometimes and still have one of your kids become an addict," Lisa said. "My son had a lot of shame about his addiction. He wouldn't tell us when he relapsed."
Zak went through multiple rounds of rehab. "Ironically, my son died after coming out of rehab and relapsing," she explained. "By stopping and starting taking heroin again, it was terrible for his heart. The shame he felt cost him his life."
Lisa will never forget the day her son passed away. "He went to my mom's house and told her he was taking a shower," Lisa said. "She went out and ran some errands, and when she came home she found out that he had died in the bathroom." Zak was pronounced dead on Sept. 21, 2012 - about one year before emergency service workers began regularly carrying NARCAN, which could have saved his life.
Image Source: Lisa Bloomfield-Henson
After losing her son, Lisa began encouraging other parents to abandon the "my kid would never do this" mindset. "If somebody told me this was going to happen to my kid, I would've said no," Lisa said. "He was really dedicated to his recovery. He never gave up. I'm still really proud of him."
Eight years later, Lisa is doing the best to move on with her life while honoring Zak's memory. However, she'll never be able to shake the fact her younger kids will be forced to grow up without their big brother.
What It's Like to Become Addicted as a Parent
Image Source: Heather Price
Heather Price was introduced to opiates at a low point in her life while living in California at 27 years old. Her father had passed away, and she began experimenting with prescription pills that she got from her friends and family members to try to numb the pain.
Due to the high cost of prescription pills, Heather began injecting heroin regularly after six months. "You exhaust your resources for doctors," she told POPSUGAR. "Prescriptions only get filled every 30 days, so at that point people are turning to street drugs. When you're sick, you will do anything to make yourself feel better."
Heather was a mother to 5- and 7-year-old boys at the time, so to say her addiction touched her family's life would be a massive understatement. "I was functional, but I was always late. I didn't pay attention to the fact that my son had lice at one point," she said. "My electricity wasn't on at times, and my household bills weren't getting paid. But my kids always had food. They were always clothed. They were always clean."
"I was functional, but I was always late. I didn't pay attention to the fact that my son had lice at one point."
Although Heather's kids didn't know she was addicted to heroin at the time, they knew something was wrong with their mom. "I was just so erratic. You never knew which way I was going," she explained. "My kids lived through it. They just figured, this is how my mom is. They didn't know that I had a problem."
For years, it seemed like luck wasn't on Heather's side. Between her addiction and several deaths in her extended family, her dependence on heroin was out of control. After she was arrested twice in two weeks on drug-related charges, her ex-husband gave her an ultimatum in 2009: get help or the boys would live with him full-time.
Getting clean was hard for Heather. Over the next 10 years, she continued to struggle with opioid and alcohol addiction and eventually lost custody of her kids. She entered into a relationship with a physically and emotionally abusive addict and alcoholic, then became pregnant with her daughter, Madison. While she was able to spend some time with her sons every other weekend, she still engaged in the same dangerous behavior.
Looking for a fresh start, Heather moved back to the East Coast to live with her mother and seek treatment when Madison was 2, leaving her sons with her ex-husband in California. While Heather wishes she had been able to willingly give up custody of her daughter due to her drug abuse, she ultimately didn't have a say in the matter. "I want to say that I let the state take my daughter because I chose to use drugs over my children," she said. "In reality, we were in a car accident where the window blew out right by her face. The state took custody of her, and my parents ended up fostering her."
"I felt it was important for me to focus on my recovery first this time. And I still continue to put my recovery first."
Heather went on the run for two weeks after that, spending the $6,000 she received from her tax refund on drugs. By then, Heather knew she needed serious help. She was finally admitted to a treatment facility after 18 long days of waiting. She completed treatment and moved to a halfway house, but it wasn't until nine months after using for the last time that she truly began to feel like herself again.
"My parents offered to let me move in with them so I could be with my daughter on a daily basis, and I chose not to," Heather said. "I felt it was important for me to focus on my recovery first this time. And I still continue to put my recovery first. Even though some nights she's crying for me to stay home, I still say, 'Mommy has to go to a meeting tonight, honey.'"
Since getting clean at 39 years old, Heather now dedicates her time to helping others out of the grips of addiction by working as a volunteer coordinator at HOPE Sheds Light, an opioid-focused nonprofit dedicated to educating people on the dangers of addiction based in Toms River, NJ. She's been able to spend more time with her sons, who are now teenagers. Still, she's well-aware that she'll never get back the years she missed.
Health Insurance: The Uphill Battle
If there's one common thread among the families I've spoken with, it's that insurance companies often don't make getting your loved one's treatment any easier. On Sept. 25, 2019, I attended a segment of Knock Out Opioid Abuse, a town-hall series run by the Partnership For a Drug-Free New Jersey that spreads awareness about addiction and discusses the resources in place for addicts and their families.
Even more interesting was that the event was sponsored by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, an insurance company. When the floor was opened for questions, a man in the audience named Adam Mogul asked the question that had been weighing on my mind: "What are we doing to help people who can't afford treatment?" While there's no easy answer, for recovering addicts and their children, it's painfully obvious something needs to change.
"It's hard to tell parents that their son or daughter needs to leave treatment after one month because that's what they can afford."
As a retired police officer and client services representative for the Northeast at Transformations Treatment Center, Adam has seen the damage opioid addiction can do firsthand. He acknowledges that getting an individual on board to enter a treatment facility is the first major step, but figuring out how to pay for it is an entirely different ball game.
No surprise, the type of treatment facility where a person ends up is largely based on his or her health insurance. However, even for middle-class families, getting their loved one into treatment can bankrupt them overnight.
"Movie stars don't have to worry about the cost of treatment," Adam passionately explained to POPSUGAR. "They go to these premier centers that roughly cost well over $100,000 a month. For normal people, the average facility would cost about $20,000 per month."
The price tag is staggering. And that's if your child needs only one round of rehab. While some facilities offer financial aid, the chances of getting it are few and far between. There are no hard-and-fast figures on just how many people relapse after treatment, but experts agree that the number is high.
It breaks Adam's heart to warn a parent that shelling out $20,000 for one month of rehab might not completely cure their child. The chance of relapse is high, especially if addicts can't remain at in-patient treatment for long. "It's hard to tell parents that their son or daughter needs to leave treatment after one month because that's what they can afford," Adam said. "And then what happens? They relapse. They just blew $20,000 or $30,000 on something that's not guaranteed. Nothing's guaranteed in life. That's why we rely on insurance. It's a frustrating business."
And if you're poor, getting good treatment is that much harder. Medicaid coverage varies by state and doesn't always cover the level of care required to effectively set patients on a path to recovery. And if addicts are released before they're ready, they're then left to their own devices. Adam noted that although he considers his health-insurance coverage to be comprehensive, even his plan wouldn't allow someone to remain in inpatient treatment for an extended period of time.
"If I was to go in today and say I need treatment, even with my insurance, I get 28 days," Adam said. "I can come home and relapse and go back to treatment and get another 28 days. Come back, relapse, go back again, but they won't give me consistent time: they won't let me stay for two months or three months."
"If we were to actually give six months of consistent treatment to somebody, people would not be relapsed at the rate we have now."
According to Adam, the best way to help people climb out of addiction would be to let individuals remain in treatment for longer, continuous periods of time. "If we were to actually give six months of consistent treatment to somebody, people would not be relapsed at the rate we have now," he said.
For families, the struggle to get their loved ones into treatment - and keep them there - can be as frustrating as the addiction itself. Heather had to wait more than two weeks before entering rehab. Don had to call his son's treatment facility in Florida every 48 hours to make sure Colin still had a bed.
Lisa could get Zak into rehab only once a year. "He followed along with the program. He was just a nice, sweet person," Lisa said. "Just because he was agreeable doesn't mean he could kick heroin addiction on his own. He needed to be there. Zak never spent more than 24 days in a rehab facility . . . he clearly needed to be there longer."
What Do Insurance Companies Have to Say?
Dr. Eric Bailly is the business solutions director at the insurance company Anthem, Inc. - the largest healthcare branch within the Blue Cross Blue Shield Organization. As the individual leading the companywide effort to mitigate the opioid crisis, Dr. Bailly agrees that while more can certainly be done to help addicts seeking treatment, Anthem is making a serious effort.
As factors such as copays and deductibles can vary based on a family's coverage, Dr. Bailly explained what parents with a child who needs in-patient rehabilitation should know.
"The best thing a parent can do is go to a trusted facility in their community and have a full assessment done."
"When navigating and looking for treatment, I think it's important for parents to get under the hood a bit, and do some research and find out well where the top-quality programs are," he told POPSUGAR. "There are some mechanisms to do that. For instance, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association has a Blue Distinction of care for substance-use treatment and recovery, which parents can use to identify where the centers with a high standard of care for substance-use-disorder treatment are."
Dr. Bailly also suggested having your child evaluated for other issues, if necessary, as mental health issues can also play a part in how successful treatment can be.
"The best thing a parent can do is go to a trusted facility in their community and have a full assessment done. The assessment process can sort out other issues that might be contributing to the bigger picture," he explained. "Do they have co-occurring mental health issues that are going on like depression or anxiety? Or physical ailments that need to be addressed? And all of those things need to be factored in so that there can be a comprehensive approach, and then start to let it unfold from there."
Where Do We Go From Here?
Although the conversation surrounding opioid addiction is louder than ever, families are still suffering with the fallout. Whether parents are grappling with their child's overdose or they're doing everything in their power to get their loved one in rehab, more resources need to be put into place for families in crisis. Additionally, an increase in support post-treatment combined with extra preventative measures could potentially save thousands of lives. While both Colin and Zak tragically lost their lives to the the opioid epidemic, their families will continue to speak out to help others avoid the same heartbreaking experience.
If you or someone you love are experiencing signs or symptoms of opioid abuse and need help, the US Department of Health and Human Services has resources and a helpline (1-800-662-HELP).