Stories of Recovery
The following stories of recovery are part of the #WeAreRecovery campaign. Submit your story here to be shared on social media for the #WeAreRecovery project, or here for the #WeAreRecoveryAllies campaign. All stories are unique, and yours can inspire others. Your story may be featured in an upcoming issue of BHchat Corner: News You Can Use. If you have questions, email the BHTAC team.
Pam from Rocky Mount, Virginia, writes: In the early 2000s, I was an accomplished member of the local running community and well-respected as a mom, a professional, and an athlete. In truth, I was anxious and fearful, self-medicating with alcohol, trying desperately to keep my struggles hidden. Ultimately, I began spiraling out of control. I finally entered treatment on April 17, 2006—and took my first steps into sobriety. However, the foundation of recovery that saved my life was not built without extreme difficulty; I still faced the consequences of three DUI convictions, which included a three-month jail sentence. When I walked out of that jail on Dec. 31, 2006, the seeds had been planted that would ultimately grow into my desire to help those fighting battles similar to mine, and to show them there is hope, there is redemption, and there is recovery. Without asking for help and finding my own recovery, none of my running success, let alone my personal or professional well-being, would be possible.
Cassandra from Maple Valley, Washington writes: #MyRecovery has taught me how to live again. Recovery has given me a new joy and hope for my future. I am now almost 2 years sober from drugs (pain killers, Adderall, anything and everything) and alcohol. This picture was taken on my one-year recovery birthday. Recovery has brought many new people into my life who support me and have been there with me through thick and thin during challenges. Recovery is not easy, but it is worth it. It has cleared my mind and has given me a family, job, friends, compassion for others, joy, hope, encouragement, happiness, and much more. I have become an activist for recovery. I have begun public speaking; sharing my story of use to recovery. Becoming sober has been a huge part of my life; I realize that addiction is an unspoken disease in the community that needs to be brought into the light. Thank you.
Spotlights and Highlights
Senator McCann and Senator Gillibrand Propose Seven-Day Prescription Legislation
The BHTAC team is encouraged that the current administration sees the opioid crisis as an issue that deserves its attention; however, although this legislation seems filled with good intentions, it appears short sighted.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 91 Americans were dying every day from opioid overdoses in 2015, and those numbers continue to rise. So far, fighting this epidemic has been a losing battle. Legislation is being proposed to address elements of the epidemic, like that posed by Senators McCann and Gillibrand, but a comprehensive approach that addresses the root cause, not the symptoms, is needed. The 7-day prescription bill may help people who have not yet experienced problems with opiates, and several states are trying this approach. Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Maine, Rhode Island, and other New England states have enacted similar laws and are not finding them to have the effect they hoped. Not only are the new laws not seeming to affect opioid overdoses, doctors are reporting that the new legislation that was not supposed to affect individuals who rely on opioid pain relief, like those with cancer or in hospice, has done so. Moreover, there is real concern that if primary care doctors stop prescribing opioids for those who are addicted without offering support, education, or recovery alternatives, it will lead to an increase in heroin use when people with addiction seek street drugs after prescriptions are stopped.
The good news is that legislation to begin to address the root problems of addiction has already been passed—Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA)—yet remains unfunded. Although not perfect, CARA is multifaceted and includes interventions for substance use, from prevention to treatment and recovery. BHTAC’s position is that it makes good sense for congress to review this legislation and begin to identify funding to support its implementation. At this juncture, there’s no need to start from scratch, try to re-create something that already exists, or apply Band-Aids to the gaping wound. The most comprehensive legislation to address substance use disorders has been crafted and passed. It just needs funding.
Dialogue Session Focuses on Women’s Recovery Experiences
Advocates for Human Potential, Inc. (AHP), has held SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) Women, Children and Families (WCF) training and technical assistance contract since 2008. The contract funds a range of efforts supporting workforce development and effective treatment and recovery support for women with substance use and co-occurring disorders. To date, the WCF contract has sponsored five classes of the Women’s Addictions Services Leadership Institute (WASLI) and produced three large-scale webinar series focused on different aspects of substance use and co-occurring disorders in girls and women (i.e., Girls Matter!, Women Matter!, and Relationships Matter!). Additionally, the contract has developed guidance documents related to treatment considerations for women.
AHP is currently engaging subject-matter experts in support of a forthcoming SAMHSA document on recovery services and support that meet the needs unique to women with substance use and/or co-occurring disorders. On March 22, AHP conducted a dialog session at the Targeted-Capacity Expansion (TCE) grantees’ Peer-to-Peer Services conference in Bethesda, Maryland. The session was facilitated by Deb Werner, senior program manager and project director of the WCF contract and Pat Tucker, senior program manager at AHP.
The 90-minute dialog began with a broad discussion by all 18 attendees to identify salient topics specific to women’s recovery experiences. The group agreed to focus their 45-minute small group sessions on three groups that would address the areas of family, housing, and trauma. Each group was provided two guidance questions—“What do we know about our topic?” and “What are the strengths, weakness, opportunities and challenges?”—in each area.
The breakout groups produced a rich body of reflections and recommendations with a wide range of considerations. All three topics areas noted the consequence of women’s roles as caregivers and in various interpersonal relationships. This is often a significant challenge for women navigating policy and systemic issues particularly within the criminal justice and child welfare systems. Because of this, participants emphasized the importance of value-based recovery services, building and maintaining healthy relationship skills, and allowing for the appropriately timed services for women. The TCE grantees are an essential voice in the development of this document.
Researchers Show Growing Connection Between Alcohol and Suicide
It’s a startling statistic to hear that alcohol is involved over a quarter of all suicides in the United States; that is approximately 7,500 each year. Alcohol can increase impulsivity, negative self-image, and high-risk behaviors while decreasing self-esteem. Although SAMHSA’s National Prevention Week is this month, the links between suicide and alcohol and drug use are increasingly prevalent and in need of year-round attention.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, several surveys have uncovered the relationship between alcohol and other drug use and suicidal behavior. Contributing factors include lower minimum-age drinking laws, histories of depression and substance use challenges, and co-occurring disorders. It is important to remember that those who are dependent on substances often have other risk factors for suicide, such as personal loss, trauma, and job or financial problems. Behavioral health workers should also be aware of the target populations who are most likely to have alcohol as a contributing factor to suicide, including men, elders, Veterans, and Native American/Alaska Natives.
Behavioral health workers are researching suicidal individuals who have substance use problems, striving to curtail the number of preventable deaths. They are using preventive services and testing treatments for at-risk populations. And, everyone can continue to look for signs: if someone is threatening self-harm or looking for ways to attempt it, talking about death and suicide, or showing suicidal tendencies, call 911 or the National Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Latest in Research
Heightened Risk of Birth Defects with Antidepressants Prescribed During Pregnancy
In a recent study conducted by the University of Montreal, researchers have discovered a higher risk of birth defects in women who use antidepressants during their first trimester of pregnancy. According to the senior author, Anick Bérard, this risk increases from 3% to 5% in women who do not take antidepressants and from 6% to 10% for women who take these medications, with different medications being associated with different types of birth defects, including heart, lung, eye, ear, face, and neck defects.
Previous studies conducted by Dr. Bérard has established links between antidepressants and low birth weight, gestational hypertension, miscarriages, and autism. Her new study is among the first to examine the link to birth defects among depressed women.
“We only looked at the first trimester because this is where all the organ systems are developing,” Bérard says. “At 12 weeks of gestation, the baby is formed.” The article notes that antidepressants used during this timeframe has the potential to interfere with serotonin intake by the fetus, which can result in birth defects. According to the study, serotonin during early pregnancy is essential for the development of all embryonic cells; any insult that disturbs the serotonin signaling process may result in a variety of malformations.\
With more women being diagnosed with depression during pregnancy, this study has direct implications on their clinical management, the study notes, especially as the effectiveness of antidepressants during pregnancy has marginal effect on a woman’s depression. The need for caution with these medications and alternative non-drug options should be considered.
Link Between Birth Defect and Neurodegenerative Diseases
Two of the most birth defects of the spinal cord and brain are spina bifida and anencephaly, which occur when misfolded proteins accumulate in the cells of a developing nervous system, forming insoluble clumps which causes widespread cell death. These same types of protein clumps also play a major role in Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Huntington's disease. In a recent study, researchers have identified this link that may lead to new treatment for both neural tube defects and these neurodegenerative diseases.
According to the study’s lead author, Zhiyong Zhao, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the link was surprising, noting that "The association suggests that these disparate diseases may have more in common than we previously realized."
The researchers studied pregnant mice with diabetes and found that their embryos contained clumps of at least three misfolded proteins that are also associated with the three neurodegenerative diseases listed above. The scientists also examined whether it is possible to reduce levels of the misfolded proteins in the pregnant mice, and in doing so, reduce neural tube defects. During the study, they gave the mice sodium 4-phenylbutyrate (PBA), a compound that can reduce mistakes in molecular structure by aiding the molecules that ensure proper protein folding. The animals that received PBA experienced significantly less protein misfolding and fewer neural tube defects in the embryos. PBA has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for other uses; if it proves safe and effective in humans for this purpose, it could potentially reach individuals who need it much more quickly than an entirely new drug.
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