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Psychiatrists left to pick up the pieces of the opioid epidemic

Posted: 5:29 PM, Nov 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-22 19:00:36-05
Opioids

CLEVELAND — Terry Keith was struggling in silence with his addiction to prescription painkillers for years.

“There were times I would wake up in the hospital,” Keith said, “And they’d be telling me what happened and I would just be like, ‘Oh my God. This is ridiculous.’”

He said losing his job and nearly his family ended up saving his life.

“I was that person. I didn’t want to talk about it,” Keith said. “I didn’t want to get out of it. I just wanted to keep doing what I was doing.”

Mental healthcare professionals across the country say they are often left to pick up the shattered pieces of the opioid epidemic that is being called the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.

“Helping patients and families deal with that has been certainly one of the greatest challenges of my career,” Dr. David Streem said.

Streem, Chief of Psychiatry at Lutheran Hospital, said the psychological damage of opioid addiction can last forever.

“We’re often left with the grief, the chaos, the loss of function and the withdrawal,” Streem said.

Keith said he is familiar with that chaos.

“I was driving cars, you know, and taking those drugs,” Keith said, “And I would be found on the side of the road.”

His friends were his suppliers.

“It seemed like everybody had them and I worked with people that took them,” Keith said.

It wasn’t until he lost his job, and almost his life, that he took his recovery seriously with treatment programs offered through Cleveland Clinic.

“If they overdose and die, nobody can help them anymore,” Streem said, “So it’s really important that the first priority is doing whatever it takes to help folks stay alive.”

Streem said five times the amount of people addicted to opiates are sober 18 months into psychotherapy or medication assisted treatment than those who do not seek professional help.

Three years into Terry Keith’s recovery, he hopes his story of redemption will open the eyes of others who are struggling to find their way out of a dangerous lifestyle.

“It makes you realize that I’m lucky,” Keith said. “I got out with my life.”