Program Report: Renee Hodges: Saving Bobby

When Renee Hodges impulsively invited her 28-year-old nephew Bobby to stay in her family’s Durham home, they knew he was struggling with an opiod addiction that began years earlier when a physician prescribed medications for his chronic back pain. What she discovered, as the anticipated two-week’s stay stretched into 16 months, was the extent of Bobby’s addiction and the toll it was taking on his mental health. She hadn’t realized, given her family history of alcoholism, the predisposition to addiction that she and Bobby shared. Renee also discovered, much to her horror, the true extent of opiod addiction in our country and the dearth of resources available for rehabilitation and recovery that are available.

In her best-selling book “Saving Bobby: Heroes and Heroin in One Small Community,” Renee describes her experiences with “a disease that’s not a parenting problem, it’s not a character flaw, nor something to be ashamed of” but is still stigmatized as such. “When Bobby came to live with us, there was virtually no awareness, nothing in the media, about the abuse of commonly prescribed pain medications such as OxyContin,” she explains. “Heroin and opiods work on the human brain in the same way, but “Oxy” is somehow acceptable in the American mainstream.” Sadly, many addicts turn to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to get than prescription medications, and laws have tightened on physicians over-prescribing opiates for their patients – some suffering no more discomfort than having had wisdom teeth removed.

Fentanyl is a drug that has recently become popular with users seeking to supplement their heroin highs. Dealers use it to manufacture counterfeit prescription opiods; it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Deaths from drug overdose are now the leading cause of death among Americans under age 50, exceeding 59,000 mortalities in 2016. The statistics are staggering: the New York Times attributes more deaths to opiate overdose than victims of the Vietnam, Iraqi, and Afghanistan wars combined (1). Every three weeks, more people die from these drugs than everyone who perished in the 9/11 attacks. The United States comprises five percent of the world’s population, yet consumes eighty percent of the world’s opiod drugs.

Bobby has said that he knew as soon as he used his first doctor-prescribed pain medications in 2006 that they were his “drug of choice.” Years later, deep in the throes of addiction, Bobby was filled with shame and floundering in a pattern of learned helplessness. With no friends, no college degree, and no job skills or training, Bobby confessed to his Aunt Renee, “I know I can’t start getting better until I can believe in myself.”

With Bobby’s permission, Renee reached out to her broad community of friends, colleagues, tennis pals, and church members, asking them to include her nephew in their lives and activities and surround him in a network of support. Bobby received invitations to sporting events, church socials, and family gatherings. One of the first odd jobs he was offered, which made a huge impact, was to simply walk a neighbor’s dog. “No one has trusted me with anything since I became an addict in college,” he confessed sorrowfully to his aunt.

Having bounced in and out of rehabilitation facilities, halfway houses, and treatment centers for years, Bobby himself was a statistic: ninety percent of opiate drug addicts relapse after their first rehabilitation; fifty-nine percent relapse within the first week. “Recovery really begins after individuals leave rehab,” Renee comments. “But being part of a loving community lessens the stigma and shame of addiction.”

Little by little, Bobby began making progress. He ultimately returned to college, where he graduated at the top of his class. He earned his Masters in Social Work, and specializes in addiction counseling in Renee’s home state of Louisiana. A happy ending to a story that could have ended tragically but for the hand outstretched by a loving aunt and the arms of a supportive community and network of friends.

Ms Hodges was introduced by her friend and our Program Committee Chair, Steed Rollins.

  • New York Times, June 5, 2017: “Drug Deaths in American Are Rising Faster Than Ever,” by Josh Katz.

Rotary Bulletin report submitted by:
Carver Weaver

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