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‘We try to pay it forward’: People in long-term recovery from opioid addiction guide others

By Keira McGuire

It has been more than 15 years since overdose deaths involving prescription opioids began to spike in the United States.

It has been almost 10 years since we saw a rapid increase in overdose deaths involving heroin.

More than five years ago we began to see significant increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl.

And we’re not out of the woods yet.

York County Coroner Pam Gay says she is seeing a slight decrease in deaths but that she attributes that to the increased use of Naloxone by first responders. Today, even family members of someone in active addiction are often armed with the opioid overdose reversal drug.

“We knew that we needed to sort of stop the bleeding, if you want to use that phrase. But we had to figure out a way to slow the deaths down. And to us, the most effective way to do that, it seemed, was Narcan,” says Gay.

Dauphin County Coroner, Graham Hetrick agrees that Naloxone and even maintenance drugs like Suboxone and Methadone have helped to keep people alive but he does not believe they are the solution to the epidemic.

“I keep on saying this is not an opioid crisis. This is an addiction crisis. And we have to we have to understand that and the totalness of this problem or we’re not going to change anything,” says Hetrick.  “And that takes intervention by people who are (a) knowledgeable, (b) care and (c) are there and accessible in those times.”

More and more today, those are people in long-term recovery from opioid addiction who know firsthand what addiction feels like and how overwhelming it can be to come out of treatment and pick up the pieces. Many of them feel passionate about guiding others to recovery.

Dan Albert is in long-term recovery from opioid addiction.

“My perspective is you know in our process of struggling there’s been one or two people that were there for us that loved us until we can learn how to love ourselves and what we do, is we try to pay it forward by doing the same thing,” says Albert.

Keira McGuire
Keira McGuire

Keira McGuire is a health reporter and multimedia producer for WITF. She hosts and produces Transforming Health television programs as well as other shows and documentaries for WITF’s Original Productions. McGuire produced the Emmy Award winning series HealthSmart for the last ten years. Keira previously worked at WBFF in Baltimore and WMDT in Salisbury as a reporter and anchor. She’s a graduate of Towson University.

Read more by Keira McGuire