The Center of Opioid Support launched a free online resource to help people coping with opioid misuse and those who have a relationship with someone with an opioid misuse disorder on August 31, 2018, International Overdose Awareness Day. The platform of resources is governed by a medical advisory board including nationally-renowned addiction experts. Vera Bullock, a co-founder, talked about her personal story of how she lost her 25 year old son to an opioid overdose and her mission to help others.
Vera Bullock lost her son, Justin, to a Fentanyl overdose. It is a pain no mother should have to endure. She founded the Opioid Center of Support to assist families in helping their loved ones cope with opioid misuse. Vera firmly believes there is no single organization or individual can cure the disease of addiction. It takes family, friends, colleagues, classmates, communities, treatment partners, and the commitment of government – in short, a village. Vera is also the Assistant Dean of Advancement and Assistant Vice-President for External Relations at Fordham Law School.
Neal Howard: Welcome to Health Professional Radio. I’m your host Neal Howard, thank you for
joining us on the program today. We’re going to have a conversation with Vera Bullock, she’s the co-founder of the non-profit organization The Center of Opioid Support and they’re going to be launching a free online resource to help folks coping with opioid misuse and those who have a relationship with someone that may be dealing with the misuse of opioids. And she’s joining us here on the program today to talk about a little bit of background about her son Justin and about The Center of Opioid Support. Welcome to the program Vera.
Vera Bullock: Thank you Neal, I’m thrilled to be here.
Neal: Great. A little bit of your background, are you a medical professional? How did you become interested in helping others who are dealing with the opioid epidemic other than the loss of your son?
Vera: I am not a health professional but what we realized through the journey that we had with Justin over seven years of his addiction and then his subsequent death, was that there are so many people out there across all socio-economic lines who are affected by this. And one of the catalysts for us specifically deciding to channel our resources and our energies into creating The Opioid Center of Support was that as we were going down the journey with Justin, we realized that so many of the information that we were looking for on the web because this is really what people are turning to these days is ‘find a rehab center near me. My son is addicted,
I’m addicted, what do I do?’ And that they were really not transparent in terms of who was actually paying for the websites. Was it the pharma companies? Was it third party people who were trying to funnel people towards the rehab centers? And once Justin had passed and we did some research, we realized that fewer than 8% of the resources are intended for those who are impacted by opioid misuse. And so we really wanted to provide an opportunity, a platform for friends or family members to be able to go and get credible information. We call ourselves the ‘honest brokers.’
Neal: Give our listeners a bit of background about Justin.
Vera: So Justin grew up in a middle to upper-class family. This as I said, this cuts across all lines I am an assistant dean at a law school, my husband is a professional in the finance industry. Justin went to great schools, had great friends. But he started smoking marijuana at age 16 and one thing led to another. Now it is important to note that Justin had only two years before his death so he had already been using for five years, was diagnosed with bipolar too, rapid cycling. But at that point, he had already been using heroin and cocaine and meth and there was no way for his body to be able to work with medical professionals for mental health professionals in order to be able to address that particular issue. And Justin, we tried. We tried many different rehabs, we tried giving him the support. We were grateful and thankful still to this day, to the medical professionals who offered us opportunities for Justin to be able to get the best treatment that he can. But I think it’s important to note that opioid addiction, towards the end, Justin was telling us that he really wasn’t doing it to get high – he was doing it to get from being dope sick. And so one of the future goals and objectives for the foundation that is funding The Opioid Center for Support is really to look at both conversations around medication assisted treatment as well as talking to the pharma companies and the medical professionals about changing the way in which we prescribe opioids. Giving my son recently, he’s certain years old and he had dental surgery and he was given 30 pills. He doesn’t need 30 pills at age 13 for dental surgery, he needed it for one day. But then to have the rest of those still sitting around is just not necessary.
Neal: How many people are are we talking about that are addicted to opioids? Or I guess even a greater number of family members and friends loved ones who are dealing with the person who is going through the the trauma of addiction?
Vera: So this is really a crisis. This is an epidemic and our feeble attempts of the current administration to address this are not going to address this. We send aids off to for Ebola and yet we had how many cases. And there are over 14 million people who are dealing with opioid addiction and my partners at the Resource Center have come up with an algorithm that then says that it touches, if you count in the family members and the friends who are trying to help the addict, 213 million people in the U.S. That’s 66 percent of our population. This is an epidemic of proportions that we haven’t seen before and it really, we need to be thinking about it. We need to be talking about it, we need to be de-stigmatizing it, we need to realize that this is something that is really, it is not a moral failing – it really is a disease and we need to be able to allow people to get the help for it and in an area and in an arena of not judging them.
Neal: Let’s talk about some of the backing that you’ve received at The Center of Opioid Support. Let’s talk about some of the folks who are actually supporting you and joining in this fight against this epidemic.
Vera: Absolutely. So what we did is we created a Medical Advisory Board because in order to be able to list whether it’s a website for a treatment center, for a hospital, for a rehab, or actually even talking about ways in which to treat, whether it’s medically assisted, etc. So we put together Medical Advisory Board and was fortunate enough to really have leaders in the nation who are talking about this and who are not just talking about it but actually doing things to gather around and say “Yes, these are good sites. These are how people should be getting treatment. This is where you should be sending them.” So one of them is Mark Gold, he’s the Chairman of Rivermend Health’s Scientific Advisory Board, he’s associated with the University of Miami, Florida. They have one of the pioneering programs in this particular area, he speaks all over the country. He actually worked with Justin and towards the end really got just into a good place. We also have Dr. Andrew Kolodny, he used to be at Phoenix House which many people know about, he was the Chief Medical Officer. Now he’s a faculty member at Brandeis University and helping to run their … Center. Again, a very well-known and prominent physician who was working on the opioid crisis and Dr. Mike Lesser who really has helped to spearhead this and has helped to bring the Medical Advisory Board together. He is the former medical director for New York City in New York State and he now runs, he’s the executive director and medical director at the Risk Assistance Network which really helps companies, organizations deal with addiction within their ranks of employees. So we have a good backing, it was something that we really wanted to ensure that every single site that we were sending people to, every single article that was posted was a trustworthy resources for all stages of addiction. To be the caregiver is extraordinarily challenging because an addict, a mis-user can either be cooperative and you never quite know why they’re being cooperative. Are they being cooperative because they have no place to sleep that night? They want to have a good meal. It all depends on family and friend dynamics around them. But we should not be having to, as those people who are supporting addict, we should not be thinking and wondering ‘Is this a credible site?’ And so that’s what we hope that listeners and people who visit the site will realize is that ‘These are credible sources. I can trust this treatment center. I can trust this doctor. I can go to this rehab and get the treatment for my loved one that I need,’
Neal: Well September is National Recovery Month. Give us a website where we can learn more about The Center of Opioid Support.
Vera: The website is opioidcenterofsupport.org and it really is the place that we hope that many people will be visiting and going to see. It’s constantly updated, we have from present to identifying, to diagnosing, to self-help, to treatment, to recovery. You go, it’s very simply laid out. It’s for all stages of people so whether you think that you might have a loved one or a family member who may be addicted or you yourself are questioning ‘Am I addicted?’ to a person who is for the first time seeking treatment, to a person who is seeking treatment for the eighth, ninth or tenth time.There is research out there that it takes 8 rehab attempts and over six years for a heroin or fentanyl user, an opioid user to be able to get a year of sobriety. This is a long journey, it’s a marathon and we want to be there to help people and know that they can trust us.
Neal: Great. Vera Bullock, thank you so much for talking with us today here on Health Professional Radio, it’s been a pleasure. Lots of great information and I wish you the best as The Center for Opioid Support progresses and digs deeper in this opioid fight. Thank you so much for joining us.
Vera: Thank you Neal.
Neal: You’ve been listening to Health Professional Radio, I’m your host Neal Howard. Transcripts and audio of this program are available at healthprofessionalradio.com.au and also at hpr.fm. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, listen in and download at SoundCloud and be sure and visit our Affiliate Page at hpr.fm