Overdose

Unpopular Opinions: Marijuana For Good

When it comes to the fight against substance abuse, especially geared towards students and young people, many communities are still wasting precious time and resources trying to fight against the inevitable legalization of medical, and eventually recreational, marijuana. While hundreds of people die every day due to heroin and other opioid related overdoses, we know that no one has ever, in the history of the world, died from an overdose of marijuana.

That doesn’t mean like with every single drug and/or medication out there that there are not risks. True that driving under the influence of any substance, marijuana included, is dangerous and can cause serious injury and death to not only the driver and passengers, but other innocent people on the road. It is true that we don’t fully understand the impact marijuana has on the growing and developing brain and body, so keeping individuals under the age of 18 from using this substance isn’t a bad idea. I certainly don’t object to efforts to keep kids from experimenting with marijuana until they are of legal age, just like we do with alcohol.

Fighting to keep marijuana illegal, whether it’s medical or recreational, is a complete waste of resources and it is a fight that will not be won by opponents of legalization.

Marijuana is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, mood and mind altering substances in the world. It has been used by humans for thousands of years for both medical and recreational purposes. We know that it is not a drug that causes fatalities. We know that less than ten percent of users develop an addiction to the drug, which is characterized not by regular use but by any negative consequences associated with that use. Smoking weed everyday, just like drinking a glass of wine everyday, does not make one an addict. Being unable to go to work or school because of the consumption of the substance, or financial issues resulting from money spent on the substance, or the ability to live a functional life due to the substance would indicate a possible addiction. This is extremely rare when we talk about marijuana, just like with alcoholic beverages. Many people consume alcohol on a regular basis, with about 70% of Americans reporting drinking within the past year.

However, just like with marijuana, less than 10% of individuals who drink have a problem with alcohol consumption.

So why is marijuana illegal while alcohol is not? Many people believe that it goes back to industries that lobbied to make hemp illegal because it would be a more cost effective alternative to their products. Hemp is an incredible resource that can be made into paper, textiles, and hundreds of other everyday products, so other industries vilified the drug itself to prevent it from harming their business and bottom lines. Other reasons trace back to early immigrants who used the drug, so just as we do today, the white people vilified the drug because it was linked to brown immigrants who they considered dirty, lazy, and undesirable. We are all familiar with the prohibition of alcohol, and the propaganda used against it. It has been much the same with the prohibition of marijuana.

Many people in the treatment industry believe that if one is sober, that they need to abstain from every mind altering substance out there. This is the way promoted by Twelve Step fellowships, and consequentially this is the philosophy held by the majority of those who work or live in recovery. Just like each person gets recovery in their own way, the parameters of what recovery means can be different for different people. Many people in recovery from drug use are able to drink alcohol without consequence, and the same is true of casual use of marijuana. It is up to each of us as individuals to decide what recovery means to us.

When it comes to opiates, marijuana has been used for decades, probably even longer, to help with the withdrawal effects. Historically, people who couldn’t afford to get on methadone or receive other kinds of treatment have turned to marijuana to help with both acute and post acute withdrawal. Many people use it just like methadone or Suboxone, as an unofficial maintenance program to help them cope with the long, years long process, of staying off opiates. If we can treat opiate dependence with marijuana instead of other opiates, then why shouldn’t we? Isn’t it a better alternative than staying dependent on methadone or Suboxone for years on end? Some states get this, and are trying to move forward with “marijuana maintenance” programs for those addicted to opiates.

In the same vein, isn’t it better to prescribe marijuana for various medical conditions than the alternative of prescribing dangerous opiates and benzodiazepines? The dependence and side effects of these drugs are so dangerous and even deadly, while the alternative of using marijuana is much safer. I’d rather see a chronic pain patient smoking weed or using CBD’s to treat their condition that spending their life dependent on an ever increasing dose of oxycodone.

We’ve all seen the videos online of people having seizures, or episodes of indescribable pain, and using marijuana almost instantly reverses the symptoms. It is inhumane to allow people, especially children, to suffer from pain, discomfort, or crippling anxiety when we have a drug that can be used to treat it with little to no side effects. There are countless strains of marijuana that can be used for all kinds of issues. Each strain has a unique set of traits that can be applied to almost any illness or condition.

Legalization would provide an incredible amount of tax revenue to our communities. It could solve a great deal of budget issues. Furthermore, it would drastically reduce the number of people that are incarcerated for possession or sale of marijuana. It would put a significant dent in our prison overcrowding problems. It would significantly lessen the traffic through our courts and drastically reduce the number of people who participate in diversion programs and who are on probation. It would lower the number of children who are placed into foster care, and parents who are trapped in DCF programs, simply because they use marijuana. This is basically the equivalent of taking the children of parents who drink alcohol, and since most adults in this country drink, everyone should be able to see how ridiculous this policy is.

When opponents of marijuana are asked to explain their argument, they have nothing but junk science and skewed studies to support their position. Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, and in all honestly probably less so. We are spending copious amounts of money to keep this drug illegal. We have to pay police, prosecutors, public defenders, advocates, court employees, treatment centers who run diversion programs, and an endless list of people and agencies. It costs a lot of money to keep this drug illegal, while legalizing it would actually GENERATE money. Dispensaries could bring jobs to our communities. Imagine the research that could get done on so many different diseases and medical conditions once we work to eliminate the stigma associated with marijuana.

Marijuana is just as valid of a medication as pain killing opioids, with a fraction of the risks associated with them. It is also just as safe of a recreational drug as alcohol, if not more so. The health risks are really in the ingestion method, which is typically smoking. However, using cannabinoids and marijuana itself in other ingestion methods would eliminate this one potential danger. We can do better when it comes to the ways we treat many different diseases and conditions, including the terrible issue we have with opioid dependent individuals. We need to focus our energies on the prevention of dangerous drug use, like that of opiates, and stop wasting our time and other resources fighting something that just isn’t worth the battle.

Rather than a danger to those in recovery, marijuana could be, and to many people already is and has always been, a blessing.

©Copyright 2017 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin

The Dressing Room & The Damage Done

It was late summer and I had a flight booked from Bradley Airport to Ft. Lauderdale. I was headed to treatment in Florida for the second time in as many years. A little more than a year prior, I had flown into the same airport and was picked up by a friendly Aussie from Sunrise Detox located in West Palm Beach. It is by far the best detox I have ever been to, and I could not possibly recommend it enough. When it was time to detox again, I knew I’d be back.

In a way, I was almost looking forward to it. A soft clean bed with freshly laundered white sheets, changed several times daily to keep up with the sweating and shedding of toxins the body goes through. Flat screen TV, vending machines full of candy and soda, and a chef on staff cooking three delicious meals a day. Unlimited peanut butter and jelly. What more could you ask for when you’re going through hell? They keep you more comfortable than anywhere else, and if you don’t know where your headed next they will find a place for you.

So I knew what to expect from detox, and I had spoken at length with Loren Seaman from the Orchid Recovery Center for Women and I had a decent idea of what treatment would be like. My main priorities for the coming week were to get as high as possible and not forget to pack my bathing suit.

My mother and I had been fighting over Naltrexone and I had been doing everything I could to dodge it and hide it and spit it out. Once I booked my flight and promised to go to treatment, she relented and I was free to finish using without having to use three times as much dope to overcome the pain in the ass opiate blocker she had been shoving down my throat.

I was trying to be smart, accounting for the effects of the Naltrexone wearing off, and taper down my use so that I wouldn’t overdose. I think if the dope hadn’t changed over to a new batch in the process of this taper, everything would’ve been fine. Except it wasn’t.

I’m in the last dressing room on the right hand side in the bathing suit section of the Macy’s in the Waterbury mall. I’ve got my spoon that I stole off the display in the housewares section, a belt that I borrowed from accessories, my bag of works and a six bags of dope that I counted off my bundle. In a miraculous departure from my normal habits, I left the remaining four bags in the car.

The previous day I had used eight bags, so I thought accounting for it being the third day off the Naltrexone that shaving two bags off the count would be perfect. I hadn’t gone on this trip to the city to pick up this batch, so I didn’t get to sample it in Harlem like I normally would have. I didn’t know how strong it was.

I stack my bags on top of each other and rip the tops off. I shake each one out into the spoon and draw up half a syringe of water from the water bottle I had purchased from the pretzel stand outside in the mall. I squirt it into the spoon and mix the dope up with the plunger from the syringe. Once I was satisfied, I draw it up into the barrel and begin the struggle of finding a vein. Since I had been using for awhile at this point, my already small and damaged veins were pretty much tapped out. I get lucky and I hit one. I remember flushing out the needle and capping it. I stood up. Everything after that is black.

I can faintly hear someone calling my name. Over and over again, I hear my name. I realize they are actually yelling. I am moving and there are bright lights over my head, I can see them through my closed eyelids that no matter how hard I try I cannot open. I cannot speak. I try to raise my hand to acknowledge that I am hearing them, because they are annoying me and I want them to stop yelling. I am paralyzed and I cannot move a single muscle, including those stubborn eyelids.

Finally I am able to make sounds from my mouth, but not words. I’m trying to say “I’m here” but whatever comes out is unintelligible. I continue to say it until the words eventually come together. I start to be able to open my eyes and I realize that I am in the hallway of a hospital and I am on a stretcher, and I am being pushed very, very fast.

Shit.

Once all the fun and games are over, I realize that I have been stripped of my clothing and possessions, and I am alone in the ER in a room behind a curtain. The doctor who eventually shows up to talk to me is very unpleasant. She immediately starts in with telling me that I cannot leave until she deems me sober enough and I gather that she intends to spend that entire time period trying to convince me to go to treatment.

I tell her that I am going to treatment in a few days, and that I even have a flight booked. She of course, does not believe me. I know all about treatment in Connecticut and there is no way on God’s green earth that I’m going to give up my Sundays on the beach and beautifully decorated apartment in Florida for a stripped down residential hell hole somewhere in the tri-state area. I tell her as much. She doesn’t give a shit, and she tells me as much.

We fight back and forth about this until I wear her out and she leaves me there to think it over. I beg her for my clothes. I eventually come to accept this woman is not going to let me leave until her shift ends and I pray that time is coming sooner rather than later.

During my time in the Emergency Room I am informed that I was dosed three times with Narcan before I came back to life. The rest of the story I put together myself during the time I spend trapped in the shitty hospital room. I must have fallen backwards into the locked dressing room door because I have a huge bump on the back of my head and it’s really painful. I wonder if I broke the door, or if I just made a lot of noise. Either way, some strange woman must have heard me fall and called 911. I don’t know who she was, she didn’t stick around to give her name or follow me to the hospital. I will never be able to thank her for what she did. I will never be able to thank her for not minding her business. My only hope is someday my story will be public enough that she will read it and recognize it and contact me.

It isn’t until I get to detox the following week and I am able to feel my body again that I realize I have a fractured rib from the CPR that was administered by the paramedics.

Eventually the evil doctor’s shift is over and she lets me go around midnight. Luckily, I am just a few blocks from the mall and I walk back to my car in the dark night through the dangerous streets of downtown Waterbury. My car is right where I left it, and my four bags of dope are still safely stashed inside. At that moment I’m glad for that because tomorrow I’ll be able to get high in the morning. At this moment I’m glad for that because if I had any drugs on me when I overdosed I might have gotten arrested for possession. Luckily all I had was paraphernalia and they must have decided to let that slide given the circumstances. Not everyone is so lucky. Imagine dying, and you come back to life only to find out that you’ve got a court date in the morning. Thanks for nothing.

I get home and I don’t tell my mother what has happened. I know that she will force me to fly out the very next day, and I still have a few days of using left to do. I still have a car left to total two days later when I fall asleep driving on the highway and drive straight into the guardrail on I691 at 80 miles per hour. I walk away from this too, alive and un-arrested.

Overdosing was one big ‘yet’ for me that I always thought I was too smart to ever have to deal with. I thought people that overdose were morons, unable to gauge their use properly or interpret the strength of their dope. I thought I had it all figured out. I was wrong. Very, dangerously, deadly wrong.

Because paramedics carry a drug called Narcan, generically known as naloxone, I am alive to tell this story. We keep a Narcan kit in our home just incase it’s ever needed. I carry one on me, just incase I ever happen to be the stranger in the dressing room who witnesses someone on their worst day. I only hope that I never get the chance to return the favor, and that I never need to use my Narcan kit. But if I do, I’m ready. If you overdose in my presence, you can rest assured that I will be there to try and save your life.

It is unfortunate that many fatal overdoses happen in the home. Because of the financial consequences of addiction, many addicts live at home with their parents. This can be a blessing in an overdose because it means someone is there to call for help. But often times, help doesn’t get there fast enough. When you are blue, not breathing, dead, there can be a matter of moments between you waking up again and getting buried under six feet of earth.

This is why it is not just important, but VITAL that we supply the families of addicts with Narcan for use in the home. It is VITAL that they are trained in CPR. It is VITAL that they know that Narcan is temporary, and that they must still call 911 to prevent the overdose from reoccurring when the medication wears off. We not only need to supply this medication, but we need to provide the training for it as well.

An addict’s doctor can write a prescription for Narcan and it can be picked up at your pharmacy. Your insurance may or may not cover it. Your doctor may or may not be willing to prescribe it in the first place. But that does not teach you how to use it or what to do during an overdose.

Because I owe my life to this medication, and I feel so strongly about it, my first priority with In Angel’s Arms is to hold an Overdose Workshop to teach anyone who is interested everything they need to know about Narcan. Our workshop will cover:

  • What Narcan is
  • How to access it
  • How to administer it
  • What will happen when it is administered
  • Calling 911
  • Preforming CPR

Admission to this event is only $20, so that we can cover our costs. If you cannot afford the $20, please come anyway. I will cover you. If you are living with or spend a lot of time with an addict, you should be there. If you are an addict, please feel free to attend as well. I encourage you to bring anyone who is close to you with you. Everyone is welcome.

Because of this medication, I am here to tell you this story. It is my job to make sure other addicts have the same opportunity to tell their own stories. If you would like to help us provide low cost Narcan kits to families who need them, please donate to our fundraiser. Because of the increased demand, these kits have become very expensive. With your donation, we can help families to afford kits at a reduced cost.

Please join us at the Knights of Columbus located at 22 Church Street in North Haven, CT from 6:30-8:30pm on Wednesday, February 1, 2017.

If you have any questions about the event please contact me at lauren@inangelsarms.com

©Copyright 2016 In Angel’s Arms and Lauren Goodkin