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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Kelsey: Opiate Addiction Workshop

I didn't know that the current opiate crisis is actually the third such epidemic in our nation’s history. Nor did I know that genetic factors account for between 40 to 60 percent of a person’s vulnerability to addiction - or that Fentanyl and Carfentanyl are making heroin use more dangerous. But now I do, because recently I attended an Understanding Opiate Addiction workshop at the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center with 20 other participants. It was part of a series that the Vermont Department of Health is offering throughout the state to address what I'd been seeing as an overwhelming issue.

With daily news of overdose deaths, grieving families, and traumatized first responders, I’d been struggling to make sense of the situation, let alone believe I could make a difference.

But on three Tuesday evenings this spring, I set off to the tech center, where my classmates and I shared a simple dinner prepared by culinary students before we delved into such topics as the evolution of the crisis; the nature of addiction; and possible solutions to this vast problem.

The course was designed for the non-professional, but because our instructors encouraged us to share personal stories and perspectives, it would have benefited anyone. Between short lectures and video clips, we met briefly, one on one, to listen to each other describe how addiction affects our lives, or which factors in our upbringing may have protected us from turning to substances ourselves. As a group, we discussed why the opiate crisis has had such an impact on society when comparatively few are using; and why many people are offended by the term “addict.”

We also explored ways to address the epidemic in our own communities, like: volunteer at Dismas house, become a youth mentor, or join a support group. And we vowed to stay in touch.

For me, the series provided manageable access into a complex subject. More surprising than what I learned, though, was that the knowledge was so easy to retain because it was emotional, personal.

I’d already had a vague understanding of the epidemic, but this workshop allowed me to move closer. From the conversations we had, I could now connect any given issue to a particular face. And seeing the opiate crisis as a mosaic of many individual pieces enabled me to accept that I was one of them.

Elizabeth Kelsey is a freelance writer who specializes in mental health topics. She writes for hospitals and prevention coalitions. Her essays and articles have appeared in O, the Oprah Magazine; the Boston Globe; Eating Well; Runner’s World; and other publications.
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