My entire adult life I have volunteered in politics, which is odd. I do not come from a family that voted, as a matter of fact, I remember encouraging my mother to vote the first time. But sadly, that was the only time my mom was allowed to vote. She was about to become part of the opioid epidemic plaguing America.

A couple of years after my first campaign I was graduating high school, and while I was going through that life change, my mother was going through a lot more. The year I graduated high school my grandmother was dying of cancer. As cancer ravaged my grandmother’s body and mind, her pain grew unbearable. She would lay on the floor and cry out in agony, and the hospice care seemed unwilling to act in those final months.

My mother was also working as a pharmacy technician at the time and made the terrible mistake to try to create her own Ponzi-scheme to get more pills. She would take a few extra for my grandmother and then hope to refill them with the next prescription. It went downhill from there.

I come from a family of robust, hard-working women. My great-grandmother worked at Roses’ until she died. My grandmother was a feisty red-headed woman (looking back I see what a terrible dye job it was) who would punch your lights out and make you a glass of ice tea. And my mother is a sweet hard worker with a long southern drawl. When I was young, she would work a regular job and then clean houses on the side to keep up with the bills and take care of her family with little assistance.

In May, a week before I graduated high school my grandmother died. I gave the eulogy at her funeral. In July, my mother turned herself into her employer and faced the consequences of her actions, and they turned her over to the police. She lost her job and her right to vote.

My grandmother was not the only one addicted to opioids due to pain. In 1996, my mother began taking hydrocodone for back pain. Over the years she would get off them and fall back on. Thankfully, since my grandmother died, she has been able to fight that addiction. Today, she has to tell every doctor and dentist she sees not to give her opioids as that might trigger a relapse.

It took a while, but she pulled her life back together. She ended up marrying a retired police officer, and now she runs her own business with several employees. She got lucky. A lot of addicts don’t.

When people think of addicts, it is not people like my mom they picture. It’s street thugs or heroin addicts. But many of the faces affected are just like the ones staring back in the mirror. It is the mother that was just trying to overcome a hurting back. It is the veteran trying to get over losing his arm. It is the teenager with cancer just hoping to make it to graduation. These are the people affected by opioid addiction in America.

Our government has tried to squelch these addictions by limiting how many opioid pills someone can receive, but this has only made it worse. When prescriptions are not available, heroin is, and it has similar effects at a much lower cost. This policy turns these people already dealing with pain and addiction into criminals hunted by the police.

Instead, we need to consider real solutions to the opioid epidemic and how to save people from an opiate overdose.

6 Steps To Help End The Opioid Epidemic

1. To End The Opioid Epidemic You Must Remove the stigma.

If you are suffering from an addiction to painkillers or other opioids, there is nothing of which to be ashamed. You are in the same situation as millions of other Americans. It is okay to seek help and be honest. Only fools will judge you.

2. Stop calling addiction a disease.

While some may be more prone to addiction due to biological circumstances, it is not an identity of which someone should take hold. In Psychology Today, Dr. Stanton Peele writes:
Make clear that addiction is not a disease and therefore, that it is escapable and not a lifelong identity. Instead, point out, it is a phenomenon driven by psychological and social factors, and therefore inseparable from the realities of people’s daily lives. Publicly tell politicians that if they really care about reducing addiction, taking meaningful steps to address inequality and absence of opportunity and to rebuild meaningful community would be the single best thing they could do.

3. Regulate and decriminalize minor drug offenses.

One reason we see opioid deaths is due to a mixing of street drugs and people having fear or reporting possible overdoses. The British Medical Journal wrote in their analysis of the war on drugs: “…a thorough review of the international evidence concluded that governments should decriminalize minor drug offenses, strengthen health and social sector approaches, move cautiously towards regulated drug markets where possible.”

4. Encourage access to physical therapy. 

A study posted in May of this year from the National Center for Biotechnological Institute showed only 10% of patients with lower back pain were referred to physical therapy while 15-25% were prescribed painkillers. Patients deserve real non-medicinal long-term solutions to their pain issues.

5. Encourage first responders to carry naloxone.

Naloxone is a life­saving antidote to opioid overdose. If administered quickly it does save lives.

6. Teach people opioids are addictive.

This is not that complicated. Patients must be clearly and emphatically informed of the possible addiction side effects of opioids. This information should be a priority for doctors and pharmacists. They must also be alternatives to these drugs. Opioids should be the last line of defense against pain, not the first. Patients should have a real choice and not quick medicinal fixes. Governmental regulations should be few and far between. We need people helping one another instead and be a helping hand for our neighbor. You may not know someone effect by the opioid epidemic today. Yet, they are likely there. These are not evil people that “got what they asked for.” These are hurting people that made bad decisions. The same poor choices we may have made in their situation. Let us be a people of open hearts and minds. That is an excellent step in solving the opioid epidemic.

Jason Vaughn is the Membership Director of RAMP and actively involved in the Texas Young Republicans. This post was originally made at While I Breathe.