Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Overdose Awareness Day: Berryville, VA - Lights of Change

Winchester Star: Addicts Come In all Sizes, Shapes (Castiglia, 9/1)

BERRYVILLE — That addiction does not discriminate based on age or economic class is a truism held throughout the drug world — one made clear by the diverse crowd of addiction-torn families that gathered at the Lights of Change solidarity event here Monday night.
It’s part of the message Stephens City resident Kristi Fernandez would like to deliver following the death of her 19-year-old son to a heroin overdose.
“He was a football player, boy next door, lots of girlfriends,” Fernandez said of Jesse Bolstridge, a Strasburg High School graduate who died in September 2013. “He was friends with everybody.”
Bolstridge — who now has a scholarship fund in his name managed by the Shenandoah Community Foundation — died the day before he was set to go to rehab in Florida. It would have been his second stint in recovery.
Fernandez said she believes her son got started on drugs after a football injury, or when he was diagnosed with Lyme meningitis — both of which warranted him having prescriptions to take powerful pain medications.
“If parents think it’s not gonna be their child, better think again,” Fernandez said.
The story is all too common in the region. There were 33 fatal drug overdoses in the Northern Shenandoah Valley in 2014 — up from 21 in 2013 and one in 2012. So far this year, there have been 12 fatal overdoses.
Bolstridge’s mother, grandmother, and two sisters were just one of the families that gathered at the Rose Hill Park and Gazebo in the town Monday night.
Lights of Change is an annual event sponsored by Change Addiction Now (CAN) held in communities throughout the United States. It coincides with International Overdose Awareness Day, which is observed all over the world on Aug. 31, having originated with the Salvation Army in Australia.
The day is also a kickoff to National Recovery Month, which is sponsored by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration “to increase awareness and understanding of mental and substance-abuse issues, and celebrate the people who recover.”
Stas Novitsky — a recovering addict and advocate with the McShin Foundation, a Richmond-based recovery community — spoke to the crowd about “life after addiction” and the need to actually want to recover.
He said an addict’s best chance is to find solace in those who have similarly struggled with addiction, and beaten it.
“Your desire to get clean and stay clean has got to outweigh your desire for drugs,” Novitsky said. “The best way to recover is to help other people recover.”
The event featured several other speakers — including pastor Brad Hill of Grace Community Church, Tim Coyne of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Council, and Marianne Burke, founder of Change Addiction Now — who offered practical ways to prevent overdoses in the community, spoke about legislative responses to the drug crisis, and talked about eliminating the stigma of drug addiction that drives families away from seeking help.
Lisa Wilkins, assistant director of Virginia Change Addiction Now, said Friday that the Northern Shenandoah Valley needs to put on more community events to raise awareness and provide support for families.
Wilkins — who lost her son Chip Wilkins to an overdose in 2011 — said that a mother or other loved one can be afraid to take action because of the stigma surrounding addiction, which she says is a disease.
“You’re afraid to say anything, because you’re afraid everyone is going to blame you,” she said.
She said events like Lights of Change can help alter how people view addiction and make the community realize that addicts most often need help more than punishment.
“Public perception changes public policy. We need to change the perception,” Wilkins said Monday.
The event also featured informational tables from a variety of community organizations to help educate and empower families in the community suffering from the effects of substance abuse.
It ended with a candle-lighting ceremony in recognition of those whose lives have been lost or damaged.
Fernandez said the most important thing she would like to see in the community is for people to “hate addiction, but love the addict.”
“Addiction is a disease,” she said. “Addicts need love, and they need treatment.”
— Contact Onofrio Castiglia at

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Q & A with Our Very Own Carol McDaid

Carol McDaid is a registered federal lobbyist with over 25 years of legislative experience in Washington. Her past successes include leading the Parity NOW coalition that supported the passage of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. The Q&A below features information on the policy aspects and future directions of the recovery movement.

How did you get started as a lobbyist for recovery?

By sheer luck, grace, and synchronicity.  During the Clintons’ early 90’s failed effort to pass health reform, health lobbyists were in high demand.  I was asked to come and interview at a boutique government relations firm to lead their healthcare practice.  I was a mid-level trade association lobbyist at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, so leading the health practice for a firm with Fortune 500 clients would be a big promotion for me.  As I was interviewing, the head of the firm hands me a written list of clients I would have to service and Hazelden was on the list.  He asked me, “Do you know who they are and what they want out of health reform?”
Three years earlier I was a patient at Hazelden and I was convinced him mentioning Hazelden was part of a grand conspiracy.  I envisioned that my potentially new boss had checked up on me and knew I had a drug and alcohol problem and had been to rehab.  While I was currently silent about being in recovery, I had not been quiet in the way I practiced my alcohol and drug use.
I was offered the job two weeks later and ultimately had to tell my boss I had been a patient at Hazelden before he found out during our first client visit to Hazelden.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: Duffy, before we go to Minnesota, I want you to know I went to Hazelden.
Duffy: What, for a conference?
Me: No, I was a patient there.
Duffy: (Pregnant pause) YOU have a drinking problem? You look so… girl next door!
Me: (Looking at my feet) Drinking and drug problem…
Duffy: Long sigh, pacing back and forth, then with hands raised in the air – MACDAID! These people are going to think I’m a genius; that I have gone and hired one of their own to lobby for them!  Here’s what we are going to do… play along in Minnesota and act like I knew you went there, and then we will get Betty Ford and the rest of them [rehabs] as clients and you can become THE addiction lobbyist in Washington.

What interested you in the policy aspects of recovery?

Initially it was my own experience in 1989 of needing addiction residential care while working at a large employee benefits consulting practice.  Even some of the smartest folks at the practice that helped intervene on me, and were experts in employee benefits, had no idea that our health plan (which indicated it covered up to 30 days of residential addiction treatment) in fact did not allow access to the coverage.  I had failed at outpatient two times, but the plan said I had not met the “fail first requirement” in the plan because the “fail first clock” started over if I missed an outpatient appointment.  I felt angry about that because I know many people do not have family who can pay for their care like mine did for me.
As I continued to work in the field, my husband and I started an addiction peer recovery organization where I live in Richmond, Virginia called the McShin Foundation.  This endeavor was due in large part to the long waiting lists for publicly provided addiction resources in our state.  Once we started working with more individuals and families in or seeking addiction recovery, I realized how involvement in the criminal justice system over alcohol and drug charges could wreck an individual’s life.  Not only did I see individuals get multiple, often in my view inflated, drug charges, but once they got out they couldn’t drive, get a job, a student loan, an apartment, or public housing.  Having had my life transformed as a result of my recovery, these injustices make me angry and compel my work in the addiction policy area.  Many have asked me, “How have you hung in there over 20 years doing this work?”  I do so because I feel I have an obligation to use the skills I have to fix these discriminatory laws and policies.

What are the most challenging aspects of advocating for recovery in Washington?

Four things: lack of resources and reimbursement, shame and discrimination, public safety impact, and lack of payer recognition of the cost benefit analysis of investing in addiction prevention, treatment and recovery.
Not only is prevention, treatment, recovery and research underfunded in Washington, but the entire advocacy effort on addiction is much smaller and has fewer resources than other advocacy groups such as the prison and health insurance industries.
The shame associated with those having and treating this illness is an externally and internally driven problem, as is the volitional nature of the illness.  Policymakers often contend that individuals choose to take that first drink or drug and sometimes commit crimes in the acute phase of the illness.  Moreover, both public and private payers often ignore the growing costs of untreated addiction and fail to see the benefits of investing in quality addiction care and recovery.

 What are the three biggest changes that need to be made from a policy standpoint which would enhance the effectiveness of our current approaches to addiction?

1) Fully implement and enforce the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA).
2) Financial investments in addiction prevention, treatment, recovery, and research.
3) Repeal discriminatory laws that prevent people in or seeking recovery from addiction from getting education, employment, health care, and housing (just to name a few) the same way individuals without criminal records related to this illness do.

Since passing the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, what are some of the remaining challenges in ensuring that people have access to treatment and services that are on par with other kinds of medical conditions?

I work at the ground level with individuals and providers seeking addiction and mental health services through my work with the Parity Implementation Coalition (PIC).  The four biggest issues we see are:
1)      Lack of public education campaigns that individuals know about the law and the rights and benefits that are included in it.
2)      Lack of disclosure including how and why health plans make adverse benefit determinations and how that compares with the how and why plans make denials of other medical conditions.
3)      Lack of information about plans applying medical management techniques (known as non-quantitative treatment limitations or NQTLs in the parity law) to both medical and addiction/mental health benefits.
4)      Lack of full state and federal implementation and enforcement of the law.

What needs to happen next to ensure people gain access to addiction services at the intensity needed to support long term recovery?

Full implementation and enforcement of MHPAEA in the public and private sectors along with routine public and private coverage and adequate reimbursement for recovery support services.  We also need more research on which services help sustain recovery including recovery support services and housing.

If you could tell the general public one thing about recovery, what would it be?

Over 23 million people are in long term recovery.  We are your neighbors, co-workers, and family members, not derelicts.  Recovery saves lives, dollars, helps build stronger communities, and is a good investment of tax payer dollars.

Reposted from:
Originally published on: August 1, 2015 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Tracy's Story

I dropped out of high school my senior year because all I wanted to do was smoke pot. I was addicted to oxycontin by age 17. I had a child that I wasn't taking care of and my parents had to step in and take care of her. From age 17 to 21 I didn't work and became an addict. I had a couple run ins with the law, a couple drunk in publics. At the age of 22 I decided to go into a treatment center called New Life for Youth. It was a faith based treatment program that I did for 12 months. After I got clean, I went into the Military. I was in the army from 2005-2012. During this time I got married and had two kids. It was great. I got an honorable discharge, due to medical reasons. I was medically retired from the military. Along the same time I got divorced. Thats when I picked up and moved to Denver Colorado. At the age of 30 I started using meth and shooting meth. During that time I was homeless. I lived on the streets of Colorado for a year. Shooting meth and heroine, and started selling drugs at one point. The guy I was dating at the time, got stabbed in the neck. I called my parents immediately after and they put me on a bus back to New Life for Youth. I did 6 months there. Then they moved me to a house called Mercy Mom's and I got my daughter back. I got money through the military and was able to get my life back together. I got my own place and my car back. I ended up hanging out with the wrong people and started using again. I was using everyday. I overdosed with my 8 year old daughter at the house. I had legal charges such as child endangerment and possession of heroine charge. I was arrested and went jail. I spent 50 days in jail. While I was in jail my sister arranged for me to go to McShin. She called everyday and talked to someone in the office to make sure I would be ready to go once released from jail. Once I got out of jail I was sent here to the McShin Foundation. I'm now 60+ days sober, and loving life.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Jason's Story

I started smoking Marijuana when I was 14 years old. I smoked it all the way up to age 35, which is my current age. This is the first time in 20 years I've gone clean from smoking Marijuana. I've only known to get high with everything I do. I have a twin sister and she suffers from alcoholism. I saw her get clean about 10 years ago, she had 7 years sober and now she's out and still drinking. I've always been an isolator. I've always been independent, a loner, because of that I haven't had a girlfriend in 2 years. Sex part goes along with that. I'm doing what I love as a profession. I'm in the music business. I'm coming to grips with what it takes to be in the music business. The back stage smoking pot and the crowed, I try to get that under control. I tried recovery before about 15 years ago. I thought I was different, I didn't want to do the work. I thought I had the will power to stop. I was doing good but then I never really got control. In my 20's I started doing the harder stuff. My bestfriend and cousin were murdered around the same time. I've seen his whole family fall apart because of it. I'm still trying to deal with that mentally and haven't really talked to anyone about it yet. Grew up in Hampton. I was very active in sports in high school. I played baseball, and eventually lost interested due to the drugs and all. My father is a functioning alcoholic. I think thats where my sister got it from. I have an uncle who's a heroine addict, and I think thats where I got it from. Just from being told certain things, I think thats where it got passed down. I have two dogs, they're my children. It took me a year of not using to stop and asked for help. I lived in fear of losing everything I worked so hard to create. I've done various forms of work. Sales with Pepsi and Cola. Hospitality business, music business. I've learned how to sell certain things to people whether its manipulating or trying other ways. I had a truck repossessed because I was using the money for other things. I've been in McShin a little more than a week. It was tough the first couple days. It's hard for me to warm up to people I don't know, people younger than me, complete strangers. I have trouble finding ways to relate with people I haven't met. I've had to humble myself a lot. Taking suggestions and being told what to do, is something I'm learning today. I've had an open mind the whole week when it comes to taking suggestions. I'm in the McSunny house. There was some theft going on and I personally experienced it. I was trying to figure out in my head how to fix the problem. Recently developed some friendships with some of the guys. I feel more comfortable about asking them for rides and stuff. I have two vehicles by the McSunny house, but I can't drive for 30 days. I'm learning how to rely on my peers. I got a sponsor. We've been to three meetings together and he gave me homework to do. I had to read who was an addict, and my name is all over that story. I'm coming to grips with step one. To admit to it. I joined a home group. Wednesday night taps meeting here at Hatcher. I have daily goals everyday. My weekly goal is to help out at the house a little more. I want to provide more community service to the house. I want to get a job and my vehicle back by the end of this month. I'm seeing sobriety in people and its something that I want. I see many fun things that McShin is putting on and I'm very interested in those. I love the calendar events. I see myself giving back to the recovery community. There are many events where I have to opportunity to meet other recovering addicts. I've been going through withdrawals, I've had headaches everyday. I had horrible dreams and nightmares the first couple days here. I was told I yelled for help in my sleep. The side effects of going through withdrawals. I've had people open up to me, since I've opened up about my recovery. They've opened up about theirs. I saw another coworker last night at a meeting who had over a year clean and I wanted that. I saw the sobriety that I wanted. He knew I smoked pot but didn't know about my harder drug issues. I want my family to come up for one of the Family night dinners. They live so far away that it might be a surprise if I see them. But its important to have the family aspect. My older brother told me that if I didn't get help, I would just continue down the path I am and I've now accepted it. Meeting other addicts in the same job community, its very interesting to me. How they deal with their problems interests me in how to help with my recovery. My main thing is that I want to give back to my community. Because I'm in the music business I would love to have recovery concerts and things to give back to the community. Through it all I've been told one day at a time.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Carrigan's Story

When I was 14 years old, I was raped by a parent of some kids I was babysitting. 4 Months after that, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and a month after that my dad lost his eye sight. A few months after that my grandmother died. I was so young, I didn't know how to process emotions. So, I started smoking weed to cope with all the feelings of mistrust and I felt like everyone I got close to left, or something bad happened. A couple years later I noticed my parents had pain killers, I didn't think it would get me high. But they did. I took pain killers from my parents. I binge used pain killers until they were out. Then I did it again until they were out, and again till they were out. I didn't make it a habit, but it was definitely there. I met my ex a few years later, who had just gotten out of prison for selling heroin. A few months into our relationship he introduced me to heroin. We'd sniff it a weekend, then wouldn't do it for a while, then do it another weekend, then stop. We also experimented with molly as well. Then we started doing morphine. Doing 30 mg, and 100mg of morphine. I had formed a habit of taking morphine, but I was able to kick the habit myself. I didn't like the way they made me feel after a while. The physical, emotional, and physical abuse of my relationship was consistently getting worse. I eventually got the courage to leave him. After I left him, he started sending me nasty messages; threatening to kill me, threatening my family, told me no one would love me, that I was too much of a bitch, said I was getting too fat for anyone to love me. All these comments lowered my self-esteem and was fucking with my head. I didn't know how to deal with all he emotions. One night I went out with one of my friends, and it ended up being the first night a needle went in my arm. I told the guy with me and my bestfriend that I had sniffed it before but it made me sick and I didn't like how it felt. He told me in order to avoid all that was I had to shoot up. So, he shot me up for the first time. After it hit me, all the insecurities and emotions went away. I knew right then that I was going to make a habit of it. I was okay with it because it made all the feelings go away. I got off work one night, and I went to go see the guy I was using with. We ended up getting high together and I left to go home. I nodded out while driving home at 2:30 in the morning, and I came to with my car half way into the ditch and I couldn't get it back on the road. I jerked the wheel and ended up doing a 180 onto the other side of the road, into a field with trees. I got out, checked my car and I was missing a head light. I backed out and drove home. I swore I'd never do dope again, it was too much for me. I woke up the next morning and my using buddy came over so I called my friend to come pick me to go get high. My addiction just continued. About a week later, I started driving my car around, unfixed. I ran out of my own money, so I would go to WaWa and use my parents credit card to buy gift cards. I took the gift cards and would pawn them for money. One night I'm at work and my parents saw I maxed out their card and spent $12,000 over the max. I got off of work and saw that my sisters car was parked right next to mine, with my using buddy in it. He was there to pick me up from work. Then my parents pull up and everyone saw my car unfixed. My mom took my purse and found a needle in it, then proceeded to search my car and found 75 more. Then they took me to the hospital to get checked out and the doctor said I didn't have a problem, I just needed to get my shit together. A few days later, they brought me to McShin, to look at facilities for me to go to. Upon arriving here, my sister told me I couldn't go home, and none of my family would let me stay with them. I stayed, and a few days later fell in love with it here. Sobriety was never something I really experienced since I was 13. I love it because I'm getting the trust back from my parents and sister. I've been able to form real friendships. I am not able to be a good daughter, friend, sister, someone that people can confide in, and all I want to do at this point is help a newcomer. I want to help a newcomer the same way I was helped when I got here.