Pam's son is in long-term recovery from addiction, including heroin use.
When he first sought treatment more than a decade ago, Pam says there were few places for her to turn for help in New Hampshire. Today, she's glad there's more public awareness and slightly less stigma around addiction
— but she says there's still a long way to go.
(The audio and transcript below have been lightly edited for clarity.)
Pam's Story, In Her Own Words
I am in recovery from the effects of a family member’s addiction. In this case, my son’s, which included long-term heroin use.
The most important moment for me was when I was able to accept that my son has a chronic relapsing brain disease — and that what I could do was to let him know that I would never lose hope for his recovery, that I had confidence in his ability to get well, and that I’d always be there for him.
What worked for me was being able to talk about this stuff without shame and secrecy, because those two things are the main ingredients in stigma. And stigma is what keeps people who have this disorder from coming forward to get the help they need.
What didn’t work for me was having to listen to other people talk about, for example, some young person who’d just been arrested on drug charges, and to hear them speculate in such a judgmental and shocked way about what a horrible home life or what terrible parents this kid must have. Because I knew that my kids were loved and nurtured and protected. And I knew that my home was safe and sound. But I also realized that I was surrounded by a lot of ignorance — and that even though I believe ignorance is a curable disorder, the people who have it need to be interested in curing their ignorance. And many were not.
I wish more people realized that addiction is a disorder. It’s not a choice. It’s not a moral failing. Even when I listen to well-intentioned news programs or forums about the opioid epidemic, I hear the interviewer probing one of the panelists for juicy stories about his or her years of active use and addiction for entertainment value. And it’s about time that we focus on treatment and recovery. I mean, do we dwell on how someone with obesity-related diabetes used to have binge-eating episodes or how they had out of control weight gain or were unable to follow a sensible diet? I mean, we don’t want to hear those war stories.
I also wish that more people understood that this is a chronic disorder. And that means like other chronic disorders, such as heart disease, asthma, I mean hypertension and of course diabetes, they have to be treated with long-term management, and not just acute care.
I’ve learned over the years of my encounters with this disease that opinion cannot hold a candle to those with experience. We have to listen to those with experience. And not to those who have only theories and opinions to offer.
These Days, Pam Sees 'A Lot of Lip Service' From Policymakers
What I see, unfortunately, I see a lot of lip service among our policymakers, our politicians, our public officials. Because they recognize that there is a grassroots movement for addiction recovery support and services, and they recognize that it is a healthcare crisis. They recognize that there's an opioid disaster going on, in this state and certainly other states. So they talk the talk.
But then you see what agenda they're actually pushing or legislating, and it turns out they really want more law enforcement. They really want to get those bad drug pushers off the street. It's a very popular, sadly popular, stance. And that, mostly, I attribute to ignorance. Because people haven't really taken the time to think about how our war on drugs, which has been going on for 100 years, is a total failure.
If you look at the prohibition of alcohol, you can see all the bad things that came from that. We have the same thing going on. You have the illegal trade, which is hugely lucrative, and you have a huge demand. As long as you have a demand, I don't care how many drug pushers you pick off the streets. A lot of these dealers are really just small-time dealers and they're just selling to feed their own habits. They're not the big pushers.
So we have a program in New Hampshire called 'Granite Hammer,' which is just going to put more money into law enforcement, which is so expensive. Not only law enforcement, but going through the courts — I know the process, since I worked in the courts — and it's just not the way to deal with this. People don't get healthy and don't get into recovery by being shamed or by being punished.
It's just not how you treat somebody with a disease.