In opening a community forum Wednesday evening on the opioid crisis and what it means for families and communities, Yakima psychologist Dr. Bridget Beachy said the event would center on three words — connect, context and coping.
All are important areas of focus in the battle against a drug epidemic with profound medical and social impacts. Opioid overdoses claim the lives of approximately 130 people in the United States every day, and countless others are affected physically, mentally and emotionally.
To help those dealing with the crisis, it’s important to connect with the human in front of you, Beachy said. Others need to take into account the context of that person’s life and understand what those struggling with addiction might be coping with.
Along with those themes, throughout the panel discussion and question-and-answer session, another word kept coming up — communication. Over and over, approximately 40 audience members heard Beachy and three panelists stress the importance of taking a real interest in and listening to those who are part of our lives. They also talked about bridging communication gaps among educators, medical professionals and therapists.
“I was a kid in a dark place. If somebody would have just taken the time to say, ‘I saw you crying; what’s going on?’” said panelist Amanda Rodriguez, whose addiction struggles stemmed from a traumatic home life. She put up a strong front except in sports, where she allowed her emotions to spill over.
“Or if a teacher would have just sat me down when I was being ornery and just asked me, ‘Why are you doing this?’” she added. “Just ask me.”
Rodriguez joined Chris Colasurdo, who also struggled with addiction, and Katie Buckman, who has suffered from severe migraines for much of her life. The three answered questions from Beachy and guests to offer insight into why they became addicted and how they have lived with physical and emotional pain.
Wednesday’s event kicked off a summit that will continue Thursday and Friday at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences. Regional speakers and national experts on the opioid epidemic have gathered for “Trauma and the Opioid Crisis: Coming Together to Advance Prevention, Care, and Recovery.” The school is hosting the opioid summit in collaboration with Greater Columbia Accountable Communities of Health and Catholic Charities of Central Washington. The summit will focus on Opioid Use Disorder and Trauma-Informed Care in the Yakima area.
All events are open to the public, with registration required.
Topics include the origins of addiction, medication myths, implementation of opioid prevention and treatment initiatives, innovative models of care, nontraditional treatments for pain, and resilience training for physicians. Among the presenters are renowned physician and researcher Dr. Vincent Felliti, one of the world’s foremost experts on childhood trauma and the co-
principal investigator on the A.C.E. (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study.
Adverse Childhood Experiences, commonly referred to as ACEs, are traumatic events in a child’s life, such as suffering physical or emotional abuse at home or witnessing it, that are so profound that they can impact a person into adulthood, with the potential for physical impacts as well, such as disease.
“Who here is familiar with ACEs research?” Beachy asked Wednesday evening, with most in the Eisenhower auditorium raising a hand.
Childhood trauma of various kinds came up steadily throughout the forum. As an adult, Rodriguez said, she realized that trauma experienced by other family members, such as her father being homeless at age 13, prompted their struggles, which impacted her and others.
“Everybody’s escaping a trauma. Everybody’s escaping something,” she said.
Overcoming traumatic childhoods may seem insurmountable, but even a single caring person can make a difference, Beachy said.
“We are not destined by our ACEs. Just one adult ... that you’re able to connect with makes you less susceptible,” she said.
“Every time we connect with somebody, we are building up resiliency,” she added.
While Rodriguez and Colasurdo talked about various forms of trauma in their homes growing up — he expressed a desire for a closer emotional connection with his family, though he said they did the best he could in dealing with his addictions — both stressed that they enjoy much better connections with relatives now.
Adulthood gave them all better insight into their younger selves. Buckman praised her parents for their patience through her battles with chronic pain.
“I’m beyond fortunate to have the family I have,” she said. “I was a horrible teenager. ... Having my parents just keep a cool head with me, that I think helped a lot.”
Beachy, who supports a holistic approach to helping those struggling with addiction or other issues, doesn’t believe there are bad teenagers. She wants to see her fellow practitioners move more to a model of humanity in treating others.
“We have to try different things to figure out what works,” she said.