Drug Intervention for Painkillers in Virginia
I was invited to Roanoke by the sister of an addict with the hopes of making some headway on the recovery side. This was what we call a tough case. The addict went by Jay. The sister was named Mary, and she was incredible to work with. In fact, the entire family was incredible to work with - very welcoming. The initial contact was made in our Miami office. I spent two weeks speaking with Mary about her brother. His problem was complex. He had been to rehab a few times and left. He was manic-depressive, but his life was manageable. He had a full-time job for the union, and they knew he was not going to be willing to leave it for a month to go to rehab. He also had a history of violence and a harsh temper towards his loved ones and co-workers. His real issue was his back. He fell once while working and badly injured his back. This injury was how he ended up dipping into the world of opiates. The drugs worked to relieve his pain, but he got hooked on them in the process - badly hooked. It had reached the point to where he would rob and steal daily to buy a handful of pills in the tough areas of Roanoke.
In the United States, 259 million opioid painkiller prescriptions were written in 2012. An estimated 2 million people later developed an addiction.https://www.addictioncenter.com/opiates/
Jay was only 25. I looked forward to this intervention because I had gotten clean at 23 and had 17 years clean, and I knew Jay and I would be able to relate to each other. Even if we couldn’t, even if it became a disaster, I was honored to be part of the family and trying to get Jay into rehab immediately. I flew up and met the entire family for the first day of the intervention while Jay was at work.
The family lived about an hour from Roanoke. We met at Mary and Jay’s grandmother’s home. They didn’t have any other siblings. Both their parents were there as well as both of their grandparents. I loved and cherished my deep conversations with the grandmother. Like all families, there was one tough member who couldn’t and wouldn’t be disrespected by anyone. That was the grandmother. Of course, her knowledge of drug addiction and alcoholism were very limited. That is why they had me. I had every intention of taking advantage of the grandmother’s power. She had read the Bible from cover to cover three times in her life. I didn’t plan to use religion to get Jay into rehab, but I was counting on using the grandmother as an emergency lever, should I need it. Along with the grandparents, parents, and Mary (our client) were Jay’s aunt and uncle. They were a great group. A day ahead of time I asked them to prepare a few snacks and some bottled water for when we take breaks. The grandmother went above and beyond, preparing homemade fried chicken, okra, gallons of homemade sweet tea, chips and salsa, candy, you name it. They were taking this very seriously, and I liked that.
Getting the Family on Board
Everyone went around the room and told me their major concerns about Jay and their efforts to help him. I wanted to find out why they needed me. It turns out the answer was simple. Jay was 100% sure that he didn’t have a drug problem. He felt that he needed the narcotics for his back. He had ignored the fact that during withdrawals he had beat up his wife. He wouldn’t admit to his family that he hurt his children physically. He claimed to not remember when he threatened his sister Mary – who was kind enough to hire us for the intervention out of love and understanding for her brother. This intervention was a classic case of the need for a third-party recovering addict to quickly break this young man’s thought pattern.
The wife refused to be present out of fear of Jay’s anger. So we had each family member write a short letter. I usually don’t need them, and we usually don’t even get to them, but I wanted them just in case there was a need and the time was right. The plan was for Jay’s family to come over to the grandmother’s house the next day for a morning brunch. Nobody was comfortable with their thoughts on how they were going to introduce this process to Jay and how we were going to make my presence relevant. See, I needed Jay to eat a full meal before we got into this process. Making a decision on an empty stomach is never wise. So we made the decision to come up with a story that Jay would not dispute. Mary wanted to introduce me as her boyfriend. She asked that during the intervention, I sat close to her, put my arm around her, and removed my wedding band. The truth is, I knew he would get upset regardless of what we did. This plan wasn’t for Jay - it was to keep the family calm, which I needed. I agreed to go forward with the plan and remove my wedding band as well. I really liked the idea. It actually made me calmer as well.
I assigned the grandmother to the tough task because I knew she was tough, smart, and well-respected. Her job was to follow Jay outside when he ran away, and scream at him to come back inside. The rest of the family was to read their letters, but only if Jay remained in the living room. Nobody was to press him, block him from leaving, or propose anything. My job was to witness the process and take it as it came, like always. Mary, a brilliant anesthesiologist who dealt with hard drugs all day, was the calm one and the one who knew everything would work out. Their parents, who dealt with this trauma in the past, were confident but sad and a bit withdrawn from the group. I closed out the family day after six hours of planning. I was loved and appreciated, and nobody disputed my plans. They all assured me that they would let me do my job the following day.
It was intervention day. My rented truck was a clear match for the Appalachian foothills. I arrived at the home, and the grandmother was cooking away and singing. She reminded me of Evander Holyfield who would resort to religious songs as he jogged down to the ring as a way of coping with pressure. Mary was around the corner and gave me a hug and a smile accompanied by a “Don’t forget the plan.” The rest of the family was very calm. The purpose of the family day is to get people to be calm and have confidence in me. The job was done. I warned the family to remember that if Jay flipped, they should just leave him alone and let me do the talking. So Jay made his way over, an hour late. He was sober at least. He came in for the weekly family breakfast and made his rounds saying hello to everyone. I introduced myself as a friend of his sister from work. He didn’t seem to care. We all sat around eating and talking about life. I sat next to Mary, and she backed her body into mine as if we were an engaged couple. I put an arm around her. Mary announced, “So everyone, I would like to make an important announcement. Bobby here is my new man, and you may be seeing more and more of him,” and she kissed me on the cheek. Everyone nodded while they ate. Jay didn’t react.
You see, they say that addicts are the most selfish people in the world. So why would Jay care about his successful sister’s new boyfriend? He didn’t until I said, “So Mary’s the doctor who gives people drugs before surgery?” The whole room proudly said, “Uh-huh.” I replied, “Well, too bad you didn’t meet me years ago. I would have wanted to be your number one patient. But now I am in recovery and spend all my time saving the lives of other addicts.” Jay’s chewing got slower and slower, and then he dropped his spoon in his eggs. I immediately went over to him and whispered in his ear, “Don’t worry Brother, your family is just worried about the painkillers. Will you give us a few minutes to talk to you?” He put his hand up to me – asking me to stop – and I sat back down with Mary to give him a few minutes to digest the situation. He took his spoon and tossed it at the brick wall saying, “You mother f-ing a-holes!!” and flew out the screen door. I directed his grandmother to go outside and use her magic on her grandson as we had discussed and agreed on.
Recovery: Life After Rehab
I hid behind an old broken down RV and listened to Jay plead with his grandmother like he was a young boy. She stuck to her guns and leaned on him hard. It was time for me to enter the conversation. He was feeling better. She got him calm. I knew he had a pistol on him because it was showing under his shirt when he was sitting down, so my approach was a delicate one. “Hey Jay,” with my hands in the air, I approached him. I lifted up my shirt to show him I wasn’t armed. “YOU ARE THE LAST PERSON I WANT TO SPEAK WITH RIGHT NOW, MAN!!!” He bellowed. I replied, “I don’t want to talk to you, I just want to listen.” I leaned against my truck and stared at him. He sat down in the driveway and cried for fifteen minutes. In the window was his whole family. I directed them to come outside and embrace him. I then asked Jay to come inside. I resorted to the letter reading process with each family member, as Jay had become willing.
After each member read their part and expressed their concern, I took a long walk with Jay and his sister. We discussed fishing, hunting, and drugs. We then discussed his wife and kids and drugs. We discussed traveling, and girls, and more drugs. We finally stopped walking and stared at each other. He knew exactly what I was waiting for. “Y’all have a good place for me to detox and start over?” His sister leaned forward and hugged him, and then she gave me a kiss on the cheek. “They are the best place in the nation, but your gun needs to stay in my truck. I will bring it to your home,” I replied. Jay smiled and slapped me on the back. We told dirty jokes all the way to rehab. Jay is sober to this day and found alternative pain management, so he no longer needs illegal painkillers. He has restored his marriage.