DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - During an opiate addiction conference Thursday, experts discussed rising accidental drug overdose deaths, and the number of babies born addicted to opiates in Northeast Ohio and across the state.
St. Vincent Charity Medical Center hosted dozens of medical professionals at an opiate addiction conference in Cleveland. Several speakers addressed the crowd and touched on issues that affect the person addicted, their family, and the greater overall community. Dr. Thomas Gilson told those in attendance that in his 22 years as a medical examiner, the number of opiate overdose deaths are about the worst thing he's seen.
He went on to say that accidental drug overdose deaths are on track to hit 650 in 2016, nearly doubling the number in 2015.
"If this doesn't scare you I don't know what will," he said.
Gilson said the people who die of accidental drug overdoses are typically white men. He said that the victims tend to live fairly equally in urban and suburban areas. Outside of Cuyahoga County, the numbers shift slightly in favor of suburban victims.
Dr. Ted Parran, another presenter at the conference, said he wasn't surprised to hear one Cleveland hospital is on track to see a record number of babies born addicted when asked about the problem.
"Up to 50 percent of the neonatal intensive care unit beds in the state of Ohio are taken up by babies going through opiate withdrawal," said Parran, the associate medical director of Rosary Hall at St. Vincent Charity. "Opiate addiction tends to affect people in their teens, in their 20s, in their 30s, and in their 40s -- all of which tend to be potentially child bearing years, and a lot of women are finding themselves opiate addicted and then their babies are born in opiate withdrawal."
Parran also said that he understands it's hard for a person who doesn't suffer from addiction to relate to what it's like for a person who does.
"When a mother has an active addiction in her brain she really has two brains. One brain is her same old wonderful brain that cares deeply about her children and herself, and the other is an out of control brain which is causing her to participate in things she would never do normally and willfully on her own and that's really the dual or split personality when addiction is out of control," said Parran.
Another message at Thursday's conference was the disease of addiction is just that, a disease, meaning the experts say those afflicted can't just stop on their own.
"Is that something they can easily do on their own willpower? Absolutely not. They have to make the choice to get help, but beyond that, a diabetic has to go to the doctor to get help with their sugar. They may not feel sick but they may be very sick," said Gilson.
That's something that Rob Brandt is very familiar with. His son, Robby, died of a heroin overdose about five years ago. He spoke to the conference about what the family of an addict goes through when a loved one has a problem.
"Addiction is a family disease. It impacts every member of the family across the board," said Brandt. "I've been that parent who says this isn't going to happen to my kid."
He said his son had his wisdom teeth taken out while he was in high school, and even thought his son was only on opiate painkillers for a few days -- he became hooked.
"It's important for people to understand how addiction happens, and how young people go from being not addicts to addicts - understanding that these are good kids. They're kids, they're young people -- everybody says kids make bad choices, they don't. Kids make kid decisions based on the information they have at hand," said Brandt.
He said he and his family didn't know how to deal with his son's addiction. That's part of the reason he started the non-profit 'Robby's Voice' after his son's death. The mission of the organization is to help prevent and deal with drug addiction, and Brandt said in his opinion the only way to fight the opiate epidemic is through awareness and education.
Brandt said he didn't believe at first that addiction was a disease -- until his family went through it.
"If you would have asked me that six years ago, I would have said and then I learned. I got educated. I saw the science, the medical science, and I learned about how the disease and what was happening and now my mind is different because I know the facts," said Brandt. "We want to say it's just as easy as saying, 'stop' because that's the easy way to say, but the reality is, the psychology of the brain changes, the brain chemistry changes. The simplest way I can put it is your brain moves to a point in time where it tells you if you don't get that chemical into me you're going to die. So that pain of using the drug is far greater than the pain of any consequence willpower doesn't come into play."
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