by Hannah Allen

For nearly four decades the opioid crisis has continued to thrive in the United states, costing the country billions of dollars and causing countless deaths. On Monday, nurses and other medical practitioners gathered together in Gulfport for the 2019 Substance Abuse Disorder Conference to discuss addiction and the effect of these opiates in Mississippi.

In the last two years alone, more Americans were lost to opiate overdoses than in the entirety of the Vietnam War. While the fight against opioid addiction has been a long-standing one, efforts to end the pandemic continue to prevail.

The openers of the conference, a married couple by the name of Claudia and Rodrigo Garcia, were able to testify to the damaging effects addiction can have on ones life. The Garcias were registered nurses who lived a happy life with their four children.

However, after breaking his ankle and being prescribed opiates for the pain, Rodrigo developed an opiate addiction that claimed his life for nearly a year. During this period, he lost his nursing license, his career, and almost his marriage. Rather than letting his addiction ruin his entire living, he has gone on to teach others about addiction, including the signs of addiction and the best ways to address such a perilous disease.

After being clean for 8 years, Rodrigo and Claudia now run an addiction treatment center that specializes in aiding addicted health care providers. The pair advocates for a mix of medical treatment coupled with monitoring, which is shown to be the most effective approach to treating addiction. During his testimonial, Rodrigo notes, “I got better because they took care of me and treated me like a patient, but I stayed better because there were consequences [to not getting sober].”

Director of Mississippi’s Bureau of Narcotics, John Dowdy, who also spoke at the conference stated: “We’re concerned about [opiates] and we have reason to.” Between 2012 and 2016, there was a 300% increase in the number of heroin cases that were inspected by the Bureau of Narcotics.

Dowdy went on to say “You never saw people in Mississippi with heroin…but now you can find them in Hancock County, Harrison County, Pearl River County…” Gone are the days of Nancy Raegan’s “Just say no” campaign, Dowdy explained. Instead, he says that we need to work to “break the stigma that is associated with addiction, [because addiction] is a disease and needs to be treated like a disease.

Mississippi is currently working towards a multi-faceted legislature that will lessen opiate addiction. These laws would lessen the number of opiates distributed—which has dramatically increased in the past decade—in addition increasing funding for building centers to help treat addicts. Dowdy concluded by explaining statistics that showed Mississippi was, indeed, getting better in terms of opiate addiction and arrests. He noted, “We’re in a new day in terms of how we have to deal with [addiction].”