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First Friday Club on the Opiate Crisis

After we left Coffee Contacts on Thursday, we went to the monthly meeting of the First Friday Club in Cleveland, where we attended a very interesting panel discussion on the opioid crisis that addressed the issue from all sides.

Before it started, we shared a luncheon table and visited with Ms. Angelica Brewer who works in the area of cognitive behavior at the Oriana House whose mission is to provide "quality and humane chemical dependency treatment and community corrections services to clients while contributing to safer communities."

We were also very happy to encounter our good friend Ms. Ann Marie Donegan, R.N., the former mayor of Olmsted Falls, who is now working as the  Program Administrator for Addiction, Prevention, and Education at Catholic Charities.


The participants in the discussion included Mr. Bob Klupert, Vice President of National Sales at Medical Mutual, who actually moderated the program but still offered a few words that expressed a concerned insurer's point-of-view in terms of being able to provide plans that effectively address the challenges of substance abuse disorders.

The other panelists were Mr. Todd DeKatch, Supervisory Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who heads the drug and gang squad in Cleveland who spoke from the perspective of a law enforcement officer; Ms. Maureen Dee, Executive Director of Treatment, Prevention and Recovery Services at Catholic Charities who is very experienced in treatment and recovery programs; Ms. Diane Zbasnik, Director of the Diocesan Social Action Office at Catholic Charities who talked about what it is like to work with families and loved ones of those suffering from chemical dependency; and a young man named Marvin who is now in recovery and succeeding quite well.

We were particularly moved by Marvin's testimony as he spoke of how a large part of his recovery involves working with others in need of assistance and, most of all, a renewed faith in God, and being at peace with himself.  

And, also, Ms. Zbasnik was very eloquent as she talked about how her focus is to be there for families who are unable to help their afflicted loved one, but can help themselves if given proper guidance.

We are very grateful to Ms. Dee for sharing a copy of her statement in which she talked about Catholic Charities’ long history helping those suffering from substance abuse disorders such as the creation of the Matt Talbot program that assists both men and women. She also discussed the origins and current status of the opoid epidemic, which is growing in scale and the drugs involved are getting more and more deadly.

The most memorable thing that we took from the discussion was how difficult it is for a person suffering from a substance abuse disorder to cease usage. On this matter, Ms. Dee quoted the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) which explained, "the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary for most people but repeated drug use can lead to brain changes that challenge an addicted person's self-control, and interfere with their ability to resist (the) intense urges to take drugs."

Ms. Dee expanded the above quote by maintaining that "the task of the person addicted to drugs or alcohol is simple: stop using mood altering substances. For someone who is addicted, this is the most difficult task for them to accomplish. This is because addiction is a disease of the brain. Use of alcohol and other drugs, including opiates, changes the brain chemistry. A person who wants to stop, and even tries to stop is not able to. Here are three ways in which addiction alters the functioning of the brain: the more you use, the more you want to use; the more you pursue the euphoria or the high, the less you achieve it and continued use further limits your ability to choose to stop."

All of the panelists impressed us as wanting to do all that they could to help both substance abusers and those close to them. Agent DeKatch, who has seen a lot in his tenure, spoke of how he and his fellow agents have worked to create a climate of support, not of fear. Accordingly, when confronted with a sufferer, their priority is not to arrest but to get the party or parties to a place where they can obtain treatment.

As Ms. Dee surmised, "treatment is only the beginning of the journey of recovery. It is a daily effort that involves going to meetings and seeking routine reinforcement one day at a time."

Indeed she spoke for Ms. Zbasnik and Marvin as she continued by stating that "addition is a selfish and self-destructive disease; continued use is fatal with any drug. Recovery is about honesty, and re-discovering the purpose of life through valuable service to others. Trust, or lack thereof, tears families apart. This is why outreach, education and awareness is so important in our communities for everyone."

Earlier, Ms. Dee noted that, "our work is challenging and difficult, but we are in the business of changing lives and restoring hope through recovery-a miracle we witness daily."

After leaving this event, the program left us feeling somewhat numb due to the sheer size and severity of the epidemic but still hopeful because of the work being done trying to fight it.





Justin Faulhaber