Zach is joined by Admiral James Winnefeld and former U.S. Representative Mary Bono on the show today. They discuss the Gone for Good campaign, where their goal is to rid the country of nearly 1.8 million prescription and over-the-counter medications.
Welcome to Recovery Radio by Landmark Recovery, with your host, Zach Crouch. In this program, we’ll discuss the root causes and treatments of alcohol and substance addiction, speak with experts in related fields and help navigate the road to recovery. Now here’s the host of Recovery Radio, Zach Crouch.
Zach: Hi. I’m Zach Crouch, and you’re listening to Landmark Recovery Radio, your source for Addiction and Recovery news and knowledge. Thanks for tuning in, everybody. You can find us online wherever you get your podcasts and don’t forget to subscribe to get the most up-to-date information from leading experts. We have two great guests today. We have new content every week, so please tune in subscribe. Love to have you.
We have guests, Admiral James Winnefeld and former U.S. Representative Mary Bono joining us on the show today. Admiral Winnefeld is a decorated Navy veteran. He’s a former Vice Chairman of the Defense Department’s Joint Chiefs of Staffs and is currently on the U.S. Commission on Synthetic Opioid Trafficking. Admiral Winnefeld and his wife created the safe pride project after losing their son, Jonathan to an accident opioid overdose.
Mary Bono was a former U.S. Representative who has been an advocate about prescription drug abuse prevention and treatment. She now serves on the board of directors for the safe project and is the maker of deterra, the at-home drug deactivation poutches. Together, they have joined forces for the Gone for Good campaign, where their goal is to rid the country of nearly 1.8 million prescription and over-the-counter medications. Admiral James, Mary, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
James: Great pleasure to be with you.
Zach: So, it’s interesting too, because we are in the middle still on a tail end if you all in pandemic have not necessarily forgotten about the opioid epidemic that’s still going on and I think it’s gained even more traction during this time. But you know, that’s still something I hear from colleagues, from people that I work with. And I hope that that’s something that doesn’t get forgotten that those people are still out there. And they are still struggling. Have you all seen kind of the same thing from your perspectives as well?
James: Absolutely. The pandemic has clearly exacerbated the opioid and overall addiction fatality epidemic. Over the last year, it could be as many as 90,000 people who have died from an overdose, which were actually making a tiny little bit of progress. It was 70,000 in 2019, which was bad enough. But the phenomenon of loneliness, isolation, anxiety associated with the COVID pandemic has only made this one worse.
Mary: Yeah, as Admiral Winnefeld said, that addiction and opioid use disorder and all, it come from what we call diseases of despair. And if this past year has been desperate enough for almost all of us, then I don’t know what could be it has been a tough year. You know, I see my grandkids for the second time in a year, this week, and that tough times are tough, and those numbers are a complete reflection of what we’ve been enduring for the past year.
Zach: Well, I want to talk to you guys about this Gone for Good campaign, and talk to me in the audience a little bit about what the process was behind creating this?
James: Okay. Well, you know, we have always believed that one of the major levers of course of ending the addiction crisis in the US is prevention. And one of the most important levers in prevention is getting prescription opioids that are unused, out of medicine cabinets and into responsible disposal. A Drug Enforcement Agency has a take back day twice a year which is great, people can drive to a location near their homes and drop off their unused prescription drugs.
But of course, that’s been made a lot more difficult. And in fact, DEA canceled their take back days because of COVID pandemic. So we teamed up with Mary and Tara and came up with a campaign in which people could go on a website and request a free disposal bag. And the terror was really great, we’ve committed 10s of 1000s of these bags for free. And people have been ordering them.
And as we’ve done several different times this particular instance, this April, we’re giving out 20,000 bags. And as of the 22nd, I think we’ve given out over 8,000 things and that’s going to get rid of that alone will be about a million prescription drugs. And we’re hoping to get up to the 1.8 million number that you mentioned earlier in the broadcast.
Mary: And also with the awareness that Admiral Winnefeld and his wife, Mary, and safe project are they’re raising the notions that we are all responsible for what is in our medicine chest. We’ve never had a discussion before that we’re, given a prescription and that we are responsible for its end of life. It just, you know, basically we all said, “Oh, I’m just gonna keep these for the rainy day or from the next injury,” or what’s gonna happen and we’ve never really thought about the diversion that comes out of the medicine chest.
So, the Gone for Good campaigns that safe project and doing just such a phenomenal job with is just really going to hopefully raise again, the notion that you’re responsible. And then that there are environmentally safe, easy ways to safely dispose of drugs forever. And so it’s just the beginning. But hopefully we get to a point in our country where everybody recognizes this and takes it upon themselves to have stewardship of their pills from start to finish.
James: And you know, most people, our numbers are clear. Most people who become dependent on opioids begin with prescription medicines and most of the people who begin with prescription medicines begin with a drug given to them by a family or a friend.
Zach: That’s right. I want to ask question, and it may seem silly to ask this. But, what happens when people just flush the pills, is that not a viable option for people?
James: Well, certainly better than giving it to a family member or a friend but it’s not environmentally responsible. We do not want these medications in our sanitation systems, it’s not good for the environment, so it makes sense to do this in an environmentally responsible way as Mary just mentioned a moment ago, and the deterra bags are perfect at that.
Zach: So again, kind of help the audience understand to, you know, Mary what is the deterra bag actually do?
Mary: It’s a green bag actually, it’s manufactured entirely in a green process. The magic in it is activated charcoal, so if you think about a stomach lavage or if you’re sent to an emergency room somebody’s overdosing or ingesting poison, they pump your stomach full of activated carbon, which then binds to it actually absorbed the drug and makes it completely irretrievable, and it just completely wipes it out.
So to mix the active ingredients whether it can be anything by the way, it doesn’t have to just be opioids, can be anything as long as not a metal feel like a one a day with iron wouldn’t work on the iron substance then you add warm waters, feel the bag, shake it up 30 seconds later and drop it in the household trash. The good thing about it is people cannot go drug seeking they cannot rip it open and find that there’s still whole pills intact that are contained in some sort of a solution or, at the FDA says just mix up your unwanted medications with kitty litter and coffee grounds and throw it in the trash.
If you’ve ever known anybody who’s going through withdrawals, and isn’t that terrible pain, kitty litter and coffee grounds are not going to stop them. I mean, it’s kind of ludicrous to think that they would.
Mary: Yeah, they wouldn’t, the pain of withdrawal is so terrible that there isn’t anything that they won’t do to ease the pain. So the deterra pouch is a quick answer. I know that they’ve worked very hard to make sure that it is green and to make sure that it is environmentally safe and it’s Admiral Winnefeld talks about too, the fact that there are two days, maybe two take back days a year what he’s telling everybody, “Okay but hang on to your pills in between those two days and you know we’re back.”
It’s like a vicious cycle. Now people are hanging on to these drugs waiting for the next take back day. And it just doesn’t make sense, every day should be take back day. If you have unused, unwanted and dangerous medications in your cabinet. You should be able to have effective drug disposal the activation at your fingertips.
Zach: Appreciate all that and as I mentioned in, I appreciate, your speed back to about the trend of opioid use in our country, pre pandemic, and now during the pandemic, too. So, obviously, it’s something that needs a lot of attention, this country’s opioid crisis. And I’m wondering just what resources are available for communities that are especially hard hit by this, because even in Louisville, Kentucky, we’re in our city that’s been hit pretty hard.
I think a lot of people were struggling, especially throughout this pandemic, because there was a lack, or maybe even no resources available for like 12-step meetings or people who needed a place to go to talk about these things. So maybe you all have some thoughts on that.
James: But we do I know, our nonprofit, safe project, we focus very hard on helping communities and a lot of different ways. We do have six things we think that the country needs to do in order to get this epidemic under control. But there really are for audiences that you apply those six things to and their campuses, communities, workplaces, and veterans. The ladder partly because of veterans more than twice as likely to die of an overdose as any other sector of our society.
And on our website, community can go to our playbook that we have, that gives them sort of a menu aligned along those six lines of operation that we have, that will help them work together with all the different stakeholders in the community. And there are many more stakeholders than most people think, whether it’s law enforcement, the medical community, the education community, the amateur athletics community, the religious communities, all of those can work together on these things and make a big difference.
Mary: When you look at safe project, it really is a great example of boots on the ground that they have identified needs out in the community, and they’re meeting those needs. You know, we have the governmental sort of top
down approach, we have a lot of funding coming out from the federal government, out to the states and the municipalities trying to do what they can. But when you actually look at safe project, it is actually it’s on a program level, it knows its people, it recognizes who needs help the most. And they’re meeting those needs. So, I think that people need to look to what resource is similar to safe project there are and there are a lot of really good ones that you can.
You can find partnership, whatever it is used to be called partnership or drugs and American the new iteration. But that’s one great example. Good filled with good resources with good faith, it’s really come in. I’m really impressed to be working with Admiral, Mrs. Winnefeld, because they have a great opportunity. They come in, they find a need, and they just hammer it and they get it done.
James: You know, one of the things that really intriguing. Oh, I’m sorry Mary.
Mary: No, it’s okay. I’m just really proud to work with you.
James: We’re delighted to have you on the board. Of course, it goes without saying we’ve got a great thing going here that one of the things that has been intriguing for us is something we call bridging, prevention, and recovery, because it turns out that a lot of the prevention efforts in communities, sort of clash sometimes with the recovery efforts. And that doesn’t need to be the case. So for example, if you’re thinking about having somebody come in and talk to the high school, a lot of people would recoil from the notion of having somebody who’s in recovery, who was a former drug addict, come in and talk, but it’s one of the most powerful things you can have.
These are people who have been through a real crucible, it’s not a moral failing, it’s a disease that they’ve come through. And they can be very powerful speakers to young people and some of the most powerful things we see or when the law enforcement community works together with the harm reduction committee, we call that meat eaters talking to leaf eaters. And it’s just amazing how effective that can be in helping a community overcome this horrible epidemic.
Zach: We all need to work together, we have to, because this isn’t just like, you get top 10 stakeholders that are going to be able to sort of combat this epidemic. Now, it takes everybody, you mentioned Mary, I think it was you that mentioned like clergy, or maybe it was you Admiral Winnefeld. But, so my wife is in the pistol priest and she will get these stories coming to her. She can’t tell me specifics, but she’ll tell me these things, where it’s as though these people are coming to her because they trust her and because nobody up to that point have they ever felt comfortable talking to somebody else.
Because they feel like they’re gonna get judged. They feel like they’re gonna be told the right act on you know, you should do this or that. And really they were there just to simply tell them, “Hey, we’re scared, we need some help.” And, I’m so happy to hear this because it’s people like her, people in the community that folks look up to, that they’re gonna come to, it might not necessarily be a treatment center, they go to first.
James: Well, you know, and you’re eloquently describing something called stigma. And that is public enemy number one for this crisis. And when you have somebody like Mary Bono who’s a former US Congress person, who was very prominent, is standing up and saying, “Look, this happened to my family.” Then, that is powerful message to people it’s like, “Hey, if she will stand up and talk about this, then then maybe it’s okay to talk about it. And let’s overcome this, and let’s learn more about and see what this whole thing is about. So we can do pull on those levers to get this thing overcome.”
Zach: So, go ahead. Go ahead, Mary.
Mary: Oh, he’s right. I mean, it’s amazing to think that there’s as much stigma as there is, if I post something on my Facebook page, with anything about this, I still get a bunch of comments back, it’s a choice, it’s a failing, just choose not to. And I know people’s hearts and minds will eventually change. For the most part, and I think we’ve come a long way. But we have so far to go on this. And as you know, as a parent of somebody who’s in recovery, I’ve been told straight out, it’s my failure as a parent. That’s pretty stigmatizing. So, we have a long way to go, but I think we’re on the right path just wishing to be a bit faster.
Zach: Same and here’s the other thing too, I would have had a brother-in-law, okay. But he also died of an overdose and I was talking to my father-in-law the other day about this, because I work in the field. And he just looked at me and he was like, “Listen man, you know, whatever you need to do, I will support you 100%.” So that family members don’t have to get that phone call, right? The one that everybody never wants to get now. And so he has a lot, he’s a lawyer and three of the people that he worked with in his law firm.
Okay, three of the partners, okay. All three of them have had sons or daughters that have died from this disease. Okay. So, you know, you’re right, it does not have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. It seems silly, right? To be like, you know, I would never ask for, I would never feel stigmatized by asking for help for a medical condition. And this is truly, it is qualifies under that.
James: Well, one of the things I tell high school kids, if you had a friend who was in a swimming pool and was drowning. Would you throw them a lifeline? Would you jump in the pool and do everything you could to save their life? Well, that’s kind of what this is about. And it’s so important for families to educate themselves on the side. I was talking to Mary earlier today, it’s like, if I only knew then what I know now about this crisis, I’d still have my son with me. And that’s a terrible thing to wake up to that. I just didn’t, I wasn’t armed with the knowledge that I needed and I was not, and I sort of had hope as a strategy of you want to believe in your kids that they’re going to do the right thing. But they’re in the grips of a disease. They’re not in the grips of a moral failing at this point that they need, they desperately need help.
And sometimes they don’t know they need help and that’s the difference in this swimming pool analogy is that the person in the pool is drowning knows they need help, and willingly accept help. But somebody who’s in the throes of substance dependence doesn’t necessarily know that they need help and they certainly have a hard time asking you for it.
Zach: I’m curious, Mary and Admiral, wouldn’t feel too just your lives have been affected obviously, by this directly. Did your perspective shift at all? When that happened to either softening your stance on just like people who have this or be more understanding or empathetic or whatever it is? Did any of that happen for you? When you lost one of your loved ones?
Mary: Sure. Can I set the record straight? My late husband did not die in overdose, he died in an accident. It was my one of my children who was suffering with this opioid use disorder. But I grew up with an alcoholic mother, so I had learned long ago about compassion and the disease side of it. My father was a professor was a professor of medicine, he taught me the child that it was a disease, they was lucky I think that I was taught that early on, so I never had that.
And I think that’s my son was able to come to me and ask me for help, and I’m not trying to. I was lucky, but he knew because he’d seen how I reacted with my mom and my mom’s recovery. He knew how I would be. But it’s funny, I started more just really angry because legal drug companies, we’re selling this, we’re making money off of it. They knew what they were doing, spoke to that earlier. So I really started up as an angry mom.
This was happening, and we couldn’t do a better job. So I think I had the compassion, the understanding, what happened to me when it really hit not only my family, but my community, I just got mad.
James: You know on my journey on overcoming stigma, it didn’t start after my son died. It started really once we got him into treatment because before that, personal I didn’t know yet an opioid, issue is mostly alcohol, and weed, and Xanax. And I was very stigmatized in the sense of why is he a dirtbag? Why is he doing this? And then when he got into treatment and I started to do a better job of educating myself on what was really going on in his brain and how the anxiety he had was essentially treated by these drugs that he ended up getting addicted to. I started to understand what a fight for his own life he was in and I think of him more of a warrior than an addict and that’s what was so sad about losing him is that he was winning this fight.
But this molecule is so powerful that it can reverse very, very, quickly and that’s what happened to him. He wanted to live, he became an emergency medical technician. He was going to go to college, he was actually on his fourth day of college when we lost him and that’s what’s so sad. So the journey of stigma to me ended when he went into treatment.
Zach: Got it. Well, and to your point, there is absolutely no telling these days what’s in these substances? You know, I had a lady that I was talking to earlier. And she was just like, “Well, I’ve just been purchasing these pills, these pain pills off the street.” And I’m just kind of like, “Well, do you know what’s in those?” And she says, “Oh, yeah, it says that they’re on the pill.” And I’m like, she has no idea. You know, she has no idea.
Because there is stuff that’s made to look just like the manufacturers pills. And they are stamped and laced with all kinds of substances that have nothing to do with a lab that they were constructed in by pharmaceutical companies, these are powerful substances that to your point can kill people.
James: Well, and fentanyl has gotten so ubiquitous, and so powerful. And it’s finding its way into methamphetamine, it’s finding its way into other drugs, cocaine, and it’s no longer just the risk of being addicted and dying from that addiction, you can die on your first attempt, your first use of what you think is a benign drug, cocaine or methamphetamine or something like that. It can be laced with fentanyl, and kill you that first time. That’s what’s so dangerous about these drugs.
Zach: So, I’m wondering from both perspectives now, is we sort of, hopefully on the tail end of this pandemic if you are struggling still with an opiate problem, and maybe some, there’s some more resources now available that were not there before. Do you guys get phone calls? You know, I mean, on your web, on your phone and your website, about what to do? I mean, are these family members that are calling you guys that are asking for help?
And we talked a little bit about this, but, you know, sort of, as we are now in 2021. Where do people go to? Is it just like? Is it a hospital? Is it a treatment center? I mean, where do people go?
James: Well, there are a couple of answers to that. One, yes, we do get calls very often somebody will refer a parent to us, who has a child in trouble. And that’s our opportunity to really shine and just patiently walk them through all the things that we wish we had known that we didn’t know, way back when and we believe we’ve save some lives that way, helping people think through an intervention for example, or just walking them through the process of getting there loved one into treatment, which is not necessarily an easy thing to do. And unfortunately, there aren’t enough treatment assets in our country. And not all of them are great.
And, they can be very expensive and insurance doesn’t necessarily pay for them. So that’s a tremendous, one of the many different levers we need to pull to resolve this thing. But it’s a very, very important lever. And that’s one of the things about removing signals, we might be able to get the American people behind us to get more treatment facilities to make them more affordable, and make them better.
Zach: Mary, what do you think?
Mary: Well, I think he’s absolutely right. And the key to me is that we as a nation invest in recovery, in treatment, not just for opioids, but for anything, any substance whatsoever, that we investing in a long lasting system, that’s here to stay, we can’t think that this opioid use epidemic is going to go away. And that we can just put away our armament here. I mean, we need to invest in this long term.
And I don’t care if at the end of the day, if it’s again, opioid, cocaine, if it’s alcohol, we need to have facilities treatment, and a system in place that handles all of it. And that’s what we need to do now is start the groundwork, the foundation of a lasting system that actually provides results to save lives.
Zach: Yeah. And to your point, too, I think that one thing that I think that gets missed a lot of while a person’s in treatment is the work with the family, right? Because, I mean, that is something that, you know, just it for me, it’s like, it’s so critical, right? You know, the family needs to be treated the same way that the person in treatment does, right? Because if they’re not, then it’s like almost as though it’s a setup for the family, because they’ve been so used to the chaos.
And now it’s like, “Okay, we’ve got this person back, we want to trust that they’re sober,” and we just don’t know how to even act because we’re not sure when the shoe is gonna drop now, like, they promise so many different times that they’re gonna be sober, but they start to go down that road, again, of drinking, using whatever it was.
James: And well, there’s even more than that. For particularly for opioid addiction, when you come out of out of a long term treatment program, brain has healed basically, literally, physically heal the opioid receptors in your brain, have reset themselves back to their original sensitivity, because part of being addicted as they became desensitized, so you write more, and all that. So now, if you’re in that reset state, and you’re using the same dose of the drug that you needed in order to meet your needs, when you were fully addicted, that’s the quickest way to kill yourself. And that’s actually what happened to our son. So just, that’s just one of many, many pieces of knowledge that a family needs to have.
So they know that when this person comes out of treatment, it’s a great thing that they are in recovery, but they’re also extremely vulnerable at that point to a relapse and a fatal relapse. There’s just so much knowledge that needs to be imparted to families, in addition to the love and care and compassion that’s required to understand what a loved one is going through, is actually a lot of technical things they need to understand this process.
Zach: For sure. And, the thing that I think also that I think needs to be said, too, is with families, especially developing new rituals, if you will, new ways of interacting with this person, now that they’re newly sober, right? Because so many of the rituals that were, you know, let’s just say Christmases, Thanksgivings. Whatever, everybody was walking on eggshells for such a long time with this person, like, what are they going to do next? Is everything okay?
You know, and making the family a part of that person’s life. But also, I think, involving the family in their own, you know, whether that’s Allen on families anonymous, whatever it looks like, because they need to have some healing as well as anybody. So I just, anyway, I’m a marriage and family therapist, and that’s a big piece for me. I think so.
Zach: Anyway, Mary, any thoughts?
Mary: You’re right. Oh, you’re 100% right. It’s important to treat the family I think for me, the family weeks were very important, very eye opening. I used to say you know, when you’re a young mom, you’re pregnant with your first child or these great books you go out and buy what you expect when you’re expecting. But when you find yourself in a situation of loving somebody with an STD, there really isn’t this definitive book what to do, your life is falling apart and we’re getting there. But it’s not.
It’s not like any other traditional disease or mental problems, it really is so completely different that you need health and guidance, people who know what you’re doing, they know what you’re going through. I am a codependent with a big old capital C, that’s why I was really good effective member of Congress because like I just love all of you, problems for all of you. But, it’s important to recognize that it is a family disease, and you have to treat the family, and you know what? It’s not horrible and painful generally speaking, it’s enlightening, it’s loving, it’s hard relapsed are hard absolutely but you have to do it, and you have to do with professional help and good guidance who knows those diseases and knows how to work through it.
Zach: Absolutely! Well, Admiral James and Mary, I just want to thank you guys for your time to come on the show today. This have been a really great discussion. I think that the families that the people that have listened to this, know where to go and is there a website that they can go to? To learn more about the safe projects and anything else that we discussed today?
James: Well, there are several websites.
James: I’ll start off with safeproject.us, it’s one word safeproject.us, and of course, the deterra has a website that you can go to, even easy to Google deterra but it’s deterrasystem.com.
Zach: And it’s spelled, d-e-t-e-r-r-a by the way guys.
James: Right. And then, if you can do it the next couple of days if you put a slash safe after that then you can get a free deterra bag.
Zach: Nice. Very cool. Awesome. Well, I was in the show by saying as well, listen, if you know someone struggling with an addiction and you are searching for answers, you can also visit us at landmarkrecovery.com, in there you can you’re gonna learn more about substance abuse programs that are both saving lives and empowering families. Until next week, I’m Zach Crouch with Landmark Recovery Radio wishing everybody well. Thanks a lot.
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