Stigma about addiction keeps many from seeking help

Photos by Tom Rivers: JJ Crane, center, shared how his life became embroiled in addiction and how he has worked to overcome it. He is joined as a panelist by his brother Cody and mother Chris Crane.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 January 2018 at 11:22 am

MEDINA – Cody Crane urged his Medina classmates to educate themselves about the dangers of addiction, and say no to popping pills, underage drinking and drugs.

Crane, a senior at Medina, worked with GCASA to put on a 2-hour forum about the opioid epidemic on Tuesday evening.

Crane nearly lost his brother to an overdose. JJ Crane was a panelist at the forum, and he shared how he started drinking and using drugs in high school. It escalated to cocaine and heroin after high school, and nearly killed him on Aug. 1 when he had an overdose.

JJ hasn’t used drugs since then. He is nearly six months without using, and currently stays in a halfway house in Niagara County.

“I was scared one day I would wake up and my older brother who I love so much wouldn’t be here,” Cody told about 50 people at the forum. “I’m proud of how far he has come. He has worked so hard.”

JJ said he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with anxiety and depression. The addiction grew more compulsive. He would work and use own money to buy drugs, and he often stole to get drugs or ran up big debts with drug dealers.

“It’s who you know and how far are you willing to go,” he said. “I needed the drug because without it I would have withdrawals and would shake to the point of almost being in a seizure.”

JJ said the addiction took over his life.

“I’m an addict,” he said. “I’m sorry for what I’ve put my family through.”

JJ’s mother Chris urged parents to be aware of what’s going on in their children’s lives, even if that means searching their rooms.

“Don’t pretend,” she said.

Sherri Bensley, assistant director of prevention for GCASA, said stigmas can push many addicts from seeking treatment.

JJ said the judgement he feels from many in the community steered him away from seeking treatment when he knew he was in trouble with his addiction almost three years ago. After a near fatal overdose on Aug. 1, he had enough.

JJ said he knows people look down on him because of his past drug use.

“Once I started recovery, I knew it would change the way people look at me,” he said. “To them I’m an addict or a junkie. I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want people to think so little of me.”

GCASA prevention educators said that stigma prevents many from seeking treatment, or having a relapse.

Sherri Bensley, assistant director of prevention for GCASA, said addiction doesn’t discriminate. She urged people to be compassionate to addicts and their families.

“Addiction is a disease,” she said. “That is somebody’s child, or somebody’s mom or dad.”

JJ Crane said he no longer worries too much about other opinions. He is committed to fighting his addiction.

“Now I tell myself it doesn’t matter what other people think,” he said. “It only matters what your family thinks and your real, true friends.”

GCASA urged people to seek help. They can walk into the GCASA clinic on Route 31 in Albion.

Kathy Hodgins, the treatment coordinator in Albion, said the addicts and their families show courage and resilience in seeking treatment and fighting the addictions.

“A lot of families get tired and want to give up,” she said. “They need strength, because even recovery takes a toll.”

GCASA shared this slide showing when people start using drugs. If people can get through their early 20s without trying drugs, they almost always will never start using them.

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