Thu. Nov 15th, 2018
Passing the torch for recovery: ‘There’s Hope Beyond Addiction’

Passing the torch for recovery: ‘There’s Hope Beyond Addiction’

Lisa Monteiro and her daughter Jackie Monteiro Above left, Lisa Monteiro and her daughter, Jackie, at right/Elizabeth Brooks photos When Lisa Monteiro was around 4 or 5, she had her first taste of beer. She liked the taste and continued drinking alcohol throughout her adult life, growing up thinking everyone drank alcohol when they wanted to have a good time. “People on both sides of my family drank alcohol,” said Monteiro, a Worcester resident. “When they had parties, they sometimes left partially-full beer cans on the table, and I used to clean off the table. One day, I tasted some beer and I liked what I tasted … I continued to drink it. I thought that everybody drank alcohol.” Lisa Monteiro Although many family members consumed alcohol, and some may have been considered alcoholics, Monteiro said they were hard workers and held down a job. As an adult, she worked for an oral surgeons’ group and loved her job. Her alcohol consumption never interfered with her job. One day, she was involved in a car accident and suffered a back injury. She had surgery, but it didn’t cure the problem. Like many physicians throughout the U.S., Monteiro’s doctor prescribed Oxycodone, along with other painkillers, for chronic pain. Her doctor continued to prescribe Oxycodone for the next eight years she said. Monteiro became addicted to the drug, which eventually stopped relieving her pain. She then turned to crack cocaine. She lost her job, which caused her to become more depressed, and started abusing drugs even more. “When I got addicted to Oxycodone, I didn’t think of myself as a drug addict because it was a prescription drug,” Monteiro said. “I never took pills until my back injury, so I was ignorant. I didn’t know that Oxycodone was addictive. I didn’t know how it could affect your life. “You look up to doctors and you think they’re there to help you. I received no education about the side effects of the drug or about the fact that it could be very addictive.” FACTORS IN ADDICTION According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.” The CDC reports that twice as many prescriptions for painkillers are written per person in the U.S. as are written in Canada. The CDC also reports increased prescribing of painkillers is associated with a greater number of overdose deaths. CDC statistics reveal 46 people die from prescription painkiller overdoses in the U.S. each day. Dr. Jeffrey Baxter, an addictions specialist with Spectrum Healthcare Systems, said in a 2014 interview with Worcester Magazine the phenomenon of becoming addicted to prescription medications is referred to as “iatrogenic addiction.” He said it is difficult to say how often that occurs. “Anyone who takes opioids daily for a few weeks will develop some degree of physical dependence and be at risk for some degree of withdrawal,” Baxter said. “But that physical dependence is not addiction. The same is true for other addictive chemicals, such as nicotine, alcohol, benzodiazepines and caffeine. “More severe risk comes with higher doses for longer periods of time. Even then, some people are able to stop and move on. Others either don’t or can’t stop using, and spiral out of control. Why is that? What is the difference?” According to Baxter, many factors influence whether an individual will become addicted to a prescription medication. “People with severe pain or severe withdrawal symptoms who are inadequately treated or monitored can progress to drug abuse,” he said. “Some people are genetically predisposed to addiction, or have addictions to other substances, and are more prone to developing opioid addiction.” Baxter said many people are now surrounded by other people using opioids, which makes it easy to sample medicine that is not prescribed for them. “Opioids have become part of the experimentation subculture in this country,” he said. “In many neighborhoods, it may almost look like normal behavior.” People with mental health issues, he added, may self-medicate with opioids, and could have a difficult time quitting.” “All of these factors,” Baxter said, “influence the likelihood that someone who gets a prescription could progress to drug abuse and addiction. Getting the prescription itself is only one piece of the puzzle.” Judith Galek, a Family Engagement Specialist at the New England Recovery Center. REALITY SETS IN According to Monteiro, as she became more bold in her use of illegal street drugs, she started realizing she had a problem. She said she started smoking crack cocaine in front of family members and other people from whom she would have normally hidden her habit. Around that time, her adult daughter, Jackie, who also experimented with drugs and alcohol from an early age, was going through recovery. Lisa Monteiro said she was so inspired by the changes and accomplishments in her daughter’s life, she decided to get help herself. “I called my mother and asked if she would help me,” she. Her mother’s response: “Absolutely.” Knowing she might not follow through if she admitted herself to a program voluntarily, Lisa Monteiro said she asked her family to get her “sectioned.” She explained that her family obtained a court order to have her admitted to a detox unit, where she stayed for about a month. She said she relapsed when she returned to her previous home, where she had some issues to deal with. However, in September 2016 she returned to the detox unit and was successful in recovering from her addictions. “When I went back to the detox unit,” she said, “I was admitted to the exact same room and had the exact same therapist. It was like God was saying He knew that I was coming back and He wasn’t done with me.” Lisa Monteiro has now been in recovery more than eight months. She volunteers at Everyday Miracles Peer Recovery Center, 25 Pleasant St., Worcester, where she offers support to other people struggling with addictions. She recently received her certification as a recovery coach and is interested in pursuing career training in the recovery field. She was recently selected to speak on behalf of EDM at a Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery conference in Worcester. “That was an honor,” Lisa Monteiro said. “I’ve been so blessed in the last year. I now live in a beautiful SMOC home with two other women who are also in recovery.” Both Lisa Monteiro and her daughter are active in the recovery field. They recently shared their stories with a women’s group in Worcester. Even though she was first exposed to drugs and alcohol through her mother, Jackie Monteiro said she holds no ill feelings towards her today. She said being a single mother herself, she realizes her mother worked with what she had to work with. Jackie Monteiro said she experimented with prescription and street drugs, but her drug of choice was always alcohol. She said she was drinking alcohol all day long, every day, before she finally decided to get help. Her aunt and uncle, she said, cared for her son while she went through detox. However, she later lost custody of him and he now lives with his father. Jackie Monteiro said she is still sad about that today, but is happy that her son has settled into a good home. She is also still able to see him. “Addiction is not prejudiced,” Jackie Monteiro said. “Addicts can be doctors or lawyers or mothers or teens … Anyone can get addicted.” THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE ADDICT The support of family members is an important factor in recovery. However, according to Judith Galek, a family engagement specialist for Spectrum Healthcare Systems, family members can’t take responsibility for the actions of relatives suffering from an addiction. “Family members,” she said, “must realize that the only ones they can change are themselves.” At the same time, Galek said, family members changing behaviors they need to change can have a positive impact on the individual suffering from addiction. “Recovery is the responsibility of the person with the addiction,” said Galek, “and they’re the only ones who can control their recovery.” Galek runs a family renewal program, through which she educates family members about addiction and teaches them how to respond to other family members with addiction. She leads a group for families of addicted persons on Sunday afternoons and welcomes new families, but requests they let her know ahead of time if they plan to attend. “The families are also in recovery and families also work through their program,” said Galek. “Only when both units effectively work through their program, can they collaborate together and grow.” While the support of families is important during recovery, “There’s a fine line between support and enabling,” said Galek. “It’s important for families to set boundaries and to be firm about enforcing those boundaries.” Peer coordinator Joe Tobin stands in the lounge of Everyday Miracles Peer Recovery Support Center. PASSING THE TORCH Another Worcester resident who offers a message of hope to people with struggling with addictions is Joe Tobin, who recovered from a heroin addiction. Tobin works as a peer coordinator at the Everyday Miracles Peer Recovery Center. He said they accept clients on a walk-in basis and offer multiple pathways to recovery, supports and resources. Tobin was formerly employed in the broadcasting and movie theater industries for about 30 years, while struggling with addiction. He said he has been “clean” for about seven years. After attempting to detox several times and relapsing, Tobin said he entered the hospital because of a very elevated blood pressure. He said while he was there a doctor reached out to him –– and asked whether there was anything else with which he needed help. Tobin shared with the doctor about his heroin addiction and later entered into a recovery program. He said that, besides the doctor, the other people who helped him to recover were nurses on staff who were in recovery themselves. “Narcotics Anonymous says that the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel,” Tobin said. “Empathy goes a long way in helping a person to recover from addiction.” According to Tobin, the good news is many people are able to recover from addictions if they have a supportive network. He said he enjoys his work as a peer coordinator because he considers it a way to give back what was given to him when he was recovering from addiction. Said Tobin: “It’s like passing the torch.”