According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids, a two-fold increase in a decade. Opioids include prescription opioids and methadone, heroin, and other synthetic narcotics like fentanyl.
Bob Paff has directly suffered the casualties of this epidemic. On January 21 of this year he lost his son Zach to an accidental overdose of fentanyl. A highly sought-after communications expert, business leader, and internationally recognized author, Bob now uses his communications platform to bring awareness to the problem of synthetic opioids in this country and to explore solutions to end the opioid crisis. Bob recently spoke with PsychCentral about Zach’s death, what he wants people to know about opioids, and on his mission to educate.
Bob Paff: Yes, Zach’s battle with depression started at age 13, after his mother and I divorced. For 20 years he suffered with the grips of depression that later turned into a substance abuse nightmare. Twelve-step support groups do a lot to help those with addiction and family members, however, to be honest, I think we need to lose the anonymity of these groups because it contributes to the stigma associated with both addiction and depression. We need to be able to openly talk about it. There is too much shame.
I am involved in the horse industry and two prominent trainers died of a drug overdose. People blamed their deaths on accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. They didn’t want the word to get out. Why can’t we openly to say to one another, “I’m suffering”? We are too hung up on what people think, and we need to talk about it. We need to make it okay to talk about pain. Twelve-step support groups are a start, but we need to go farther. We need to bring the conversation started in those rooms out into the world, where other people can know they aren’t alone.
PC: What is one of the problems you faced as a parent with an addicted child?
BP: There are simply not enough recovery resources. We have 28-day rehab programs. 28 DAYS. That is not enough. They come back, get into their routine of things, and then go back out. It’s not enough time to beat back the cravings and learn a new way of living. We need something like a St. Jude Center that is open 24/7 to help addicts when they are especially vulnerable and fragile. Part of the problem, of course, is the price of good, consistent care. Our healthcare system needs to be overhauled so that insurance offsets the costs.
Let’s be clear about something. Opioids alter your brain. There is no question about that. It takes a person to a euphoric state and then drops him into reality. The pain is unbearable and a person feels he has no option but to return to that euphoric state. We need resources available that help addicts during this period of detox and brain re-regulation — as well as with the transition back to reality — so that they aren’t forced to lie, cheat, and steal to achieve a high. We need to help those who want to be helped, not just within a four-week time period, but whenever they need it.
PC: Tell us about the foundation you set up on Zach’s behalf.
BP: The foundation, for which we have set up a GoFundMe page, will raise awareness of issues surrounding addiction, suicide prevention, and suicide. For too long these three things have remained silent killers, with individuals and their families afraid, embarrassed, ashamed or just too paralyzed to come forward. If we are ever to conquer them, the dialogue must start now.
Myself, family members, and friends of Zach hope to collaborate with policy makers to diminish the flow of synthetic fentanyl and to campaign for more regulation of opioids — to expose the over-prescription of them by doctors. If I had a tagline, it would be: “I want to bring practical, simple solutions to the opioid crisis.” Zach’s death will not go in vain. We are inspired by his loving memory to tackle this global crisis.