My name is Justin Phillips and I am the mother of three children Bryan, Aaron and Audrey. Tragically I am here today because Aaron, at the early age of 20, overdosed on heroin in October of 2013 and lost his life.
My professional career was spent preventing unintentional injuries and deaths and I had a masters in nonprofit management so when I became faced with this life altering experience I knew what had to be done.
I am now the Founder and Executive Director of an Indiana based nonprofit dedicated to providing hope to families and most importantly eliminating the shame and stigma associated with the chronic disease of addiction. Many of Overdose Lifeline’s programs are designed to specifically address the current opioid public health crisis – working to reduce the effects of the opioid epidemic through education, prevention, harm reduction and treatment and recovery resources.
Some people will say I went to war and I guess that is what I did. I realized how little we knew about opioids and the large gaps that exist in addressing opioid use disorder.
You see Aaron grew up in a home with two parents in long term recovery. I had 24 years of continuous long-term recovery and knew nothing about opioids and prescription pain medication. But Aaron knew about the family disease, he knew recovery was possible and he had stability. We ate dinner together every night just like they suggest, even when he thought it was stupid. But he also had some anxiety issues and numerous sports injuries and I know he self-medicated. So, when he told me he was struggling and could not quit on his own I knew nothing about overdose, overdose reversal drugs, and I did not know of the likelihood of his death if he should relapse. And I did not talk about it or ask for help. I didn’t seek out the best treatment for him or treat him the way I would had he been diagnosed with another life threatening chronic disease because of shame and stigma and denial. I know those things contributed to his death and I do not say that to be mean to myself or to take on extra guilt. I say that because it’s the truth. The day he went to treatment I went to work. I wouldn’t have gone to work had he been going to treatment for cancer. And I would have talked to you about it and you would have brought me casseroles. But we don’t do that for families who suffer from the disease of addiction.
“Some people will say I went to war and I guess that is what I did. I went to war to fill the gaps I discovered in awareness, information, prevention and treatment. I like to call it my imperfect storm, I had the professional skills to prevent unintentional deaths and I needed to prevent this from happening to others. “
In three short years we have accomplished a lot. Overdose Lifeline has developed the only youth awareness prevention program to address the dangers of opioids. Our program is now used in more than a dozen states. We are helping raise youth awareness to the risks of misusing prescription opioids. How misusing prescription opioids can lead to addiction, heroin use and overdose. The lesson encourages students to make good choices and provides the student with skills to combat peer pressure, gain support, and resources for making decisions about their own body and health. We passed a law named after my son Aaron allowing for over the counter Naloxone (brand name NARCAN®) and we have distributed over 13,000 kits to first responders and the public across the state for free through grant funding and private donations. Recently we became the first organization in the US to be trained in a new evidence-based program for youth that teaches coping skills. Lastly, we have effective evidence informed on line courses addressing the opioid crisis. When deployed across a community, or state, it results in all key stakeholders carrying the same awareness and knowledge level and improves cross-channel collaboration and results.
Aaron lost a friend, Jake, in the February before Aaron lost his own life. I asked Aaron, can we go after the dealer now. And Aaron said, “You know Mom there’s always going to be another dealer.” So I decided for Overdose Lifeline that we would do our best to try to address the demand and stop the stream coming down to prescription opioid misuse and later potential transition to heroin use.
I worry about our state and the nation and the individuals who are now preying on desperate families to gain from this crisis. We need effective leaders such as your selves to create effective guidelines and solutions to address this epidemic.
We also need continued support of the grassroots efforts such as Overdose Lifeline. The work of the commission and your report to the President will allow work like ours to have a bigger impact and together we will save more lives than we are losing. Addiction needs to be treated like the other chronic diseases, realizing the immediate, accessible care and continuation of services required for positive and successful outcomes. We need to remove the shame and stigma associated to this disease –so that it does not stop individuals and families from seeking help.
Thank you for your dedication and your time today.