Though Americans make up only about 5% of the world’s population, we consume over 80% of the world’s opioid supply and according to the Centers for Disease Control, the amount of opioid prescriptions has quadrupled over the past 15 years. To illustrate, in 2013, physicians prescribed enough opioids for every American adult to possess his or her own bottle.
Every September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) leads National Recovery Month in an effort to increase awareness about and empathy toward those who struggle with addiction and their journey through recovery. This year’s theme is Join the Voices of Recovery, and today we’ll hear Kassi Carter’s voice as she bravely shares her story.
“I was on and off of pain [and anxiety] medicine for 8 years of my life,” she said. “I used lortab, oxy, Xanax, and clonazepam. It was all I ever thought of.”
Kassi isn’t alone. Every day, more than 115 Americans die as a result of this disease.
“I would get sober for a week or two and then I would think, one won’t kill me,” Kassi said. “And then, one would turn into 30 lortabs per day plus 10 Xanax. I would literally have 5 lortabs beside my bed with water every morning and immediately take all 5 as soon as I woke up.”
This pattern of abuse is attributed to the development of tolerance, or the need for more drugs to achieve the same effect. The brain cells that express opioid receptors and respond favorably to the drug become less sensitive over time, creating an insatiable hunger. These physiologic changes of the brain are the neurological basis for addiction.
“The rest of the day I popped them like skittles,” Kassi said. “I would look at my 4-year-old daughter and cry and think she deserves so much better, yet I was consumed with it so much I couldn’t control it.”
Kassi’s inability to control her actions is commonly expressed by others in active addiction. The drug high-jacks the brain’s natural reward system and triggers compulsive drug-seeking behaviors- behaviors the person would never willingly engage in.
“Finally at 81 pounds, on suboxone and clonazepam, I went into a store and stole a five dollar Christmas ornament and was immediately arrested,” Kassi said. “My daughter was with me and my family had to come get her so that I could go to jail. I spent 36 hours in jail. Freezing cold because it was November and I was so thin and basically dying.”
This was a defining, divine moment in Kassi’s life.
“I prayed that entire 36 hours and cried to God to please either let me die or take the addiction from me,” she said. “My aunt bailed me out after 36 hours and she asked did I need my medicine or did I want food. I chose food and ever since that day not even one thought has ever crossed my mind to use again. Not even one. That’s a miracle in itself!”
Today, Kassi decorates her Christmas tree with beautiful ornaments to remind her of where she’s been. She will celebrate 5 years clean in November and shares a wonderful, Blessed life with her daughter.
“As a recovered drug addict our society teaches to be ashamed & for sure not speak of our terrible pasts,” she said. “As a saved child of God I am taught to share every single struggle to prove to this world that change does happen through the Lord. He has made me unashamed of it all! So, today be grateful for your past, use it as a tool of proof that miracles do happen!”
If you, or a loved one is in active addiction, please know you are not alone, you are not less than, you are not unworthy. Please seek help from the following resource:
SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
p.s. Love Kassi’s lip colors? check her out over on her SeneSite!