Nashville Mayor Urges Honest Conversations About Addiction

By Melissa Riddle Chalos

Addiction impacts everyone. Young and old people of every race, socio-economic strata and political persuasion. City dwellers, suburbanites and country folks. Your neighbors, loved ones and your kids.

lawn-chairs-600wRecently, the opioid epidemic waved its deadly hand over Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s family. Her only son, Max, 22, died of a drug overdose on July 29th in Littleton, Colorado. Paramedics administered Narcan — an anti-overdose medication — to no avail. Autopsy results revealed a lethal combination of Xanax, marijuana and two opioids, liquid methadone and hydromorphone in his system at the time of his death.1

Thousands of Music City citizens lined up to express their condolences to the mayor and her husband, Vanderbilt professor Bruce Barry. During an emotional memorial service, and in the days that followed, Nashville’s first family chose to be painfully transparent about their son’s death.

Mayor Barry held a press conference on her first day back at work and did interviews with several national media outlets to talk about her son’s death. “I don’t want his death to define his life,” Barry told National Public Radio, “but we have to have a frank conversation about how he died. The reality is that Max overdosed on drugs. My hope is that it may inspire and encourage other parents out there … and that if that saves one life, what a blessing.”

Now that she’s back at work, she’s determined to use both her voice and her platform to spread the word about the opioid addiction crisis.

Consider these staggering statistics:

  • Nearly one in three overdose deaths from prescription opioids involve benzodiazepines like Xanax.2
  • From 1998 to 2008 benzodiazepine-related admissions tripled, mostly from combining the drug with another substance: opioids, marijuana or alcohol. White males between the ages of 18 and 34 made up more than half of admissions, with white patients accounting for 85 percent of all admissions.3
  • A federal review of emergency room admissions found patients commonly combine benzodiazepines with pain relievers, and the number of people asking for help for this type of dual addiction rose 569.7 percent from 2000 to 2010.4
  • According to the CDC, opioid deaths increased 10-fold from 1999 to 2010, and 2014 was the deadliest year on record, with 28,647 deaths.5

Understanding the epidemic proportions of this crisis is important. But looking out for each other —and speaking out — may be the best way to prevent overdose among those who are struggling with addiction.

“If you see another child who is struggling, don’t ever hesitate to pick up the phone and call that parent,” Barry says, “because parents, you know, sometimes we don’t see everything that’s in front of us.”

Speak Out, Reach Out

If you have a friend or loved one abusing prescription drugs like Xanax or opioids, what can you do to help them?

First, recognize that addiction is more than just another problem. It’s a medically proven disease, as potentially fatal as cancer, diabetes and heart disease if left untreated. And someone doesn’t have to use drugs daily to be addicted.

Second, it’s important to focus on the behavior and the consequences. It’s never easy to confront someone you care about with a sensitive, personal issue. Don’t blame or criticize; just stick to what you’ve seen, how drugs have negatively impacted your friend and your relationship. Be specific. Give examples. Share your concerns, remind him that you value your friendship and are willing to help, when he is ready. Don’t expect immediate results. Planting a seed of reality and hope is enough.

Third, set boundaries for yourself to eliminate any codependency in your relationship with the person struggling with addiction. The last thing you want to do is make it easier for your friend to continue abusing.

The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open. Honest conversations about drug use break the stigma of addiction and the mental illness that often occurs with it. And when the stigma is broken, more people get help for their addictions and fewer people die.

If you have questions regarding drug treatment, we are always happy to help here at Lakeside. Call our 24-hour, toll free number, and let us help you find answers.

1 Garrison, Joey. “Max Barry died from combination of drugs including two opioids.” Tennessean. August  9, 2017. Web.

2 Thompson, Dennis. “Mixing Opioids and Popular Sedatives May Be Deadly.” September 1, 2016.

3 “Benzodiazepine abuse treatment admissions have tripled from 1998 to 2008.” SAMHSA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2011. Accessed August 29, 2017.

4 “Admissions Reporting Benzodiazepine and Narcotic Pain Reliever Abuse at Treatment Entry.” Treatment Episode Data Set. SAMHSA. October, 24 2016.

5 Rose A. Rudd, MSPH, etal. “Increases in Drug and Opioid Overdose Deaths — United States, 2000–2014.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). January 1, 2016.

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