“Opioid Crisis: Is your family at risk?” symposium of Humanity Working to End Genocide held Feb. 25 at St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota.

Opioid crisis takes center stage at symposium

Sarasota | The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that overdoses kill five people every hour across the United States, or 5,400 per year in Florida. In addition, the percentage of opioid-related emergency room visits jumped 30 percent in one year.

This is a national and local issue which is why the Diocese of Venice, along with the Sarasota Ministerial Association, the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, and the Florida Studio Theatre, hosted a symposium with Humanity Working to End Genocide titled “Opioid Crisis: Is your family at risk?” on Feb. 25 at the Zazarino Center of St. Martha Catholic School in Sarasota. The event included personal testimonies and a panel discussion.

The most poignant talk was from Lisa Brandy who shared the heartbreaking story of how her daughter, Brandi, died in 2011 at the age of 18 due to prescription drug poisoning. The story was even more powerful as Lisa Brandy shared samples from Brandi’s journal as she struggled with addiction, stayed sober for long periods, but sadly relapsed before taking opiates one more time.

“That night her decision to use a prescription opiate resulted in tragedy and we lost the daughter we loved so much, and alongside whom we fought so diligently, to accidental drug poisoning,” Lisa Brandy said. “She didn’t expect to die. She didn’t believe she would die. Nobody who dies this way ever thinks they won’t wake up again.”

Her advice is to increase resources at all levels to provide support for those who are facing addiction and for the families who also struggle. “Addiction is not a choice. It is a disease. Please don’t judge them. There is not one young person who wants to be an addict. Not one, I can guarantee you. This is a man-made epidemic. Opioids were created for end-of-life transition — a terminally ill cancer patient for example — not for your wisdom tooth, not for menstrual cramps and not for a sprained ankle.”
Bishop Frank J. Dewane delivered the invocation and expressed his prayers that everyone work together to find a solution to this crisis which rips apart families each day.

The symposium grew out of the Opioid Crisis Clergy Conference in September 2017, which included religious leaders from all faiths. It was decided then that due to the serious and deadly nature of the local and national opioid crisis, important information needed to reach their respective congregations.

A panel discussion addressed the harsh reality of the problems facing the community where addiction to opioids is overwhelming first responders, emergency rooms and treatment facilities and families. On the panel were: Dr. Russell S. Vega, chief medical examiner of District 12 which includes Sarasota and Manatee counties; Pastor Lynette McCleland of the Sarasota Ministerial Association; P.J. Brooks, Vice President of First Step; and Dr. Eddy Regnier, a member of the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology and the Florida Psychological Association.

It was generally agreed that there needs to be a greater awareness about the opioid crisis. The panel recommended better integration of addiction treatment into the health care system. For example, emergency room staff need better training to make sure addicts get follow-up addiction treatment. Too often, addicts are simply revived and sent home without follow-up care, only to overdose again. Intervention is needed in the face of this opioid crisis.