Recovering Addicts Rise to Fight Addiction

Recovery activists that want to help people struggling with addiction by sharing their journeys.

by Jenna Park

“On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose,” according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The waves of opioid addiction are increasing the numbers of overdose-related deaths, as the growth of readily available synthetic opioids become increasingly harmful.

Last year, 72,000 people in the United States died from a drug overdose, according to The Washington Post. Brett Bramble, a former heroin addict, has begun not only raising awareness about this public health emergency but also targeting an effort for change.

Bramble, a recovering addict, lost his sister Brittany four years ago to an opioid overdose after she started using prescription medication for back pain. After his sister’s death, Bramble started his initiative for change – not just in himself, but among other people too, becoming a ‘recovery activist.’

In January 2018, Bramble set off with a few fellow activists on a 2,400-mile journey from Florida to Maine. The purpose of his walk is to raise awareness, start conversations and hopefully find a solution to the ever-growing opioid addiction emergency across the country.

“Recovery activists” are not the only ones who have been hoping to find a solution to the current opioid epidemic. Christopher Kirincic, a 25-year-old FDNY firefighter from Southold, NY, has also been a paramedic in the town of Southold for four years. His occupation has put him directly in the field of responding to overdoses and drug-related calls. According to Kirincic, “There are two types of opioid overdoses. One to get a high and the second is accidental. I work in lower Manhattan in a very bad area. The drug use is out of hand. There is a lot of poverty in my area of lower Manhattan, so people are getting into drugs that are cheap, including heroin.”

Street drugs are not the only issue in this matter. According to The National Institute of Drug Abuse, roughly “21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed to opioids for chronic pain misuse them.” In the past few years, obtaining opioids has been easier than ever for addicts. People who are being prescribed to opioids from their doctors for pain management with no intention of misusing the drug could be introduced to a slippery slope of addiction.

According to Kirincic, “The town of Southold’s population is more geriatric. Elderly people tend to get hurt more easily. Once they get injured they go to their doctor and get prescribed opioids, typically. In quite a few cases I’ve had older people overdose on opioids because they either forgot they took their medications already or the doctor may have given the patient too high of a dose.”

Nan Goldin, an activist and a photographer, has been in recovery from an addiction to OxyCotin. According to Waging Nonviolence, Goldin and her group, Prescription Addiction Intervention Now, or PAIN, launched a petition targeting Purdue Pharma and its owners, the multi-billion dollar Sackler family.

Christopher Kirincic is a firefighter in the FDNY and paramedic in the town of Southold. He assists and answers calls related to dozens of opioid-related overdoses and emergencies. photo courtesy of FDNY

Activists are looking at pharmaceutical companies to fund recovery services, opioid addiction education and public dispensers of Narcan, an emergency medicine used to counter a drug overdose. Goldin’s petition which has received over 25,000 signatures thus far, and Bramble’s “recovery activist” walk are signs that members of the community who have either been personally affected by opioid addiction or have lost a family member or friend are taking action.

Paramedics and members of fire departments in New York City and the Eastern End of Long Island have been focusing their efforts into the assistance of managing overdose and opioid-related emergencies.

“As an EMT in both Suffolk County and New York City we have protocols that we must follow. All paramedics are trained in the use of Nasal Narcan.” However, even emergency volunteers see the need for a greater level of change and education within this public health emergency.

“I do think the public needs to see the cold hard facts about the opioid epidemic. I have also seen more and more people including police officers, teachers and bus drivers getting training to being able to administer Narcan. I think that’s important because most people who overdose on opioids will do it again. If we can educate more people on the administration of Naloxone [Narcan] and the signs of overdosing, we can beat the epidemic,” Kirincic said.

When President Donald Trump entered the White House, he declared the opioid epidemic to be a public health emergency, but no further emergency funding was provided from Congress.

According to USA Today, on Sept. 17, 2018, “Senators voted 99-1 for a sweeping, bipartisan package that would tackle the crisis on multiple fronts, including new steps to stop prescription painkillers from flowing into the U.S. illegally and providing Americans addicted to the drugs with better access to treatment and prevention programs.”

The “recovery activist movement” motivates positive change in opioid recovery and education. While recovery activists are continuing to reach out and contribute to assisting in the healing of those who suffer from addiction, a call for further action to implement policies and government funding is necessary in order to change the way that substance abuse is stigmatized in our current society.