Episode 5 - Turning Grief into Purpose
How My Company Transformed to Take On the Opioid Crisis
Turning Grief into Purpose
How My Company Transformed to Take On the Opioid Crisis
If there ever was a charmed life, I was sure that I was living it. I grew up in the perfect small town, raised by the picture-perfect parents. My grades were outstanding, and I breezed through college, married the popular guy from my hometown and settled into having it all....2 beautiful kids, a loving husband and a technology career.
But sometimes life throws you curve balls, and it threw me some big ones that hit me right between the eyes and knocked me for a loop. My handsome husband descended into alcoholism leading to a divorce when I turned 40. Not understanding that we were dealing with addiction, a disease that runs in families, I was blindsided when my 14-year-old daughter began using drugs that took us on a 15-year journey of rehab, relapse and more treatment.
I got educated through my experience with Laura, even opening a licensed therapeutic program for adolescents, but I was not prepared for the knock on the door that came at 4:00 AM when two very nervous and uncomfortable Roswell police officers let me know Laura had overdosed and had been “transported”. For two agonizing days we watched her struggle on life support only to learn what I already had accepted that she had been without oxygen for too long and her brain had lost the ability to tell her body what to do...she was dying from the inside.
Although many friends and family held vigil with us at the hospital, one conversation stood out with a friend Laura had met in treatment who found her path to recovery after a serious heroin addiction. She said something surprising as we passed time in the waiting room, “You know, Carolyn, you and I are now in a position of privilege.” She went on to explain that we had a story to tell, an experience we had learned from, and the ability to change lives to prevent other families from experiencing the heartache of drug addiction and overdose. And that was the moment that everything changed for me.
Starting the Journey
Being the businessperson that I am, I started researching, reading, writing and thinking. Some of what I found shocked me. Laura was not alone in being on the hamster wheel of treatment and relapse. 85% of those that go to rehab relapse in the first year, often in the first few months after treatment. Laura was back in treatment over 10 times during the years. People were treating her addiction as an acute disease – 30 days and you’re good to go. But in reality, this disease is chronic, just like diabetes, and needs management over a lifetime. And treatment providers did a great job stabilizing the patient but didn’t continue to work with or follow them, despite research that proved a significant reduction in relapse if they did.
The importance of connections
After talking to a number of people in long-term recovery, in collegiate recovery communities and those running treatment programs, I realized that “connections” were a strong indicator of those that could make the move from rehab to long term recovery. So, what do people suffering from addiction need to be connected to?
Let’s start with their treatment program. My daughter checked in and almost always developed trusted relationships with the program, got help getting sober, and bared her soul to her recovery coaches and therapists. Staying connected to those that helped her in the most critical time of need could have helped Laura craft a plan to recover. 30 days of rehab was not enough time and the structure, accountability and on-going education she needed was not there once she checked out. Government research indicates that individuals who stay connected to their treatment program for at least 6 consecutive months following rehab have a much lower rate of relapse.
Addictions treatment depends heavily on group support, a very important way those having gone through treatment recover. The most successful group support organizations are AA and NA, Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous. If patients could stay connected to the same groups of people they bonded with in acute treatment or rehab, then those trusted relationships could be extended offering comfort in a shared experience. But sometimes making and keeping those connections are problematic because individuals may not have transportation, are worried about their privacy or just ashamed of their disease.
And what about the connection to family? Many families became disconnected as they tried to navigate the difficulties in helping their loved one manage a disease they just didn’t understand. But family understanding, help and support is critical to recovery. So, what if those connections could be repaired and strengthened? When a family has an addicted loved one, the family system becomes dysfunctional, under attacked, stressed beyond belief, so finding a way to reconnect needs to be addressed and prioritized.
As we can see, connections to treatment, support communities and family can make all the difference in helping people sustain recovery. As it just happened, I own a technology company that makes connections possible every day in the business world. We use our portals to connect vendors to channel sellers, educate them and inspire them to action. So, I started asking myself a number of “what if” questions.
What if the same technology could be used to create connections for those that had been in addictions treatment?
What if we could use our services to educate and engage families?
What if we could help treatment programs automate and keep their patients connected longer so they could get the extended treatment they needed without having to be in in-patient care?
What if we could provide the desperately needed accountability, structure and education individuals so desperately needed?
The answers were right in front of me. Our technology was built for this purpose and had all of the features and capabilities that we needed. And that’s when we decided to create InterAct LifeLine to take the technology that had served the business world so well and repurpose it in service of addiction treatment and recovery.
One of the things I’ve been able to do in my long career is use technology to change processes with the best example coming from my time the audio teleconferencing industry. The addictions treatment industry is right for a process change. And that’s where InterAct comes in.
I found lots of mobile apps floating around the addiction world, most of them attempting to bypass the treatment provider and go straight to the individual. I decided that partnership with providers was a better strategy and that offering services using technology could extend the relationship with the patient and their family, offer education and understanding, add accountability and structure and create connections to support communities.
Here is our vision for InterAct LifeLine to support extended treatment, reduce relapse and improve recovery.
- Every treatment program using InterAct gets their own portal, an online location to house education, support connections, and outreaches to patients and families.
- Program portals are connected to a centralized content library where the best resources from around the country on addiction, recovery, family support and wellness strategies automatically refresh portals with current content.
- Structure and accountability are achieved with personal calendars, appointment reminders, and check-ins. Clients commit to a schedule and we help them keep it.
- Families participate in discussion forums, attend virtual support groups and are offered telehealth connections to family therapists.
- Mobile technology can keep patients located and monitor their vitals to detect overdose.
In 2019, we’re testing with addictions treatment programs and collegiate recovery communities and getting great results. Our hope is to reach as many programs as possible, increase access to treatment, take on the opioid crisis, and help people understand and manage this chronic disease.
Back to Laura for a minute. It’s heartbreaking to think what might have happened if she had these tools available when she struggled so hard to turn things around. I’m committed to the goal of helping families with other loved ones like Laura not go through the grief and suffering that addiction brings. We make strides with other diseases all the time...AIDS is no longer a death sentence....cancer is being beaten back.....and certainly we can do the same thing with addiction.