Heroes Of The Opioid Crisis: “Let’s Start With I understand” With Author Shea C. Megale and Marco Derhy

I would like a social movement to prompt a political movement, and I’d like it to start with everyone — you, me, and those who this doesn’t affect (it must be very few of you!) — to say, as individuals and communities, “I understand.”

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I would like a social movement to prompt a political movement, and I’d like it to start with everyone — you, me, and those who this doesn’t affect (it must be very few of you!) — to say, as individuals and communities, “I understand.” And then let’s take it further. Let’s protest and reform in the ways I suggested above and more. Let’s make this our priority and not let the cameras pivot to another task until we solve this. We want to make #iunderstand our movement. Because we are Americans, and we can solve anything when we are united.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Shea C. Megale, twenty-three-year-old author and activist from Virginia. Megale is a prolific YA writer and current student of history. Her first published novel, This is Not a Love Scene, is a 2019 release with Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press, and her firsthand biography, American Boy, chronicles her older brother’s battle with and eventual loss to opioid addiction.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?

I’m the youngest child of three, and my brother, Matt, related to me. He related to me because he felt I had a special understanding of pain; I’ve a neuromuscular disease that is progressive, and this frequently required Matt’s care. Carrying me, retrieving late night snacks for me, moving my foot this way or that. I don’t think I ever was as conflicted inside as Matt thought I was, but I struggled just enough that when he spiraled into opioid addiction, he felt we could struggle through our separate demons together. No matter what happened, I loved that I was always the little sister who could make him feel like a big brother.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with opioid addiction?

Yes. March 4, 2017. The night he died.

Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?

I can’t speak to each individual’s prompting to turn to drugs. Certainly social factors and personal traumas encourage that first try that leads to devastation, but I’m sure happenstance and curiosity occur too. What I can speak to is how this became an epidemic. It became an epidemic because when our coworkers, neighbors, friends, cousins, siblings, and parents — but mostly our young people — fell so deep into their addictions that they were arrested or hospitalized, what’s on the lips of the community and the black and white of local newspapers is judgment. That boy or girl you saw riding bikes down the street five years ago, who you bought Girl Scout cookies from, whose big sister plays on the soccer team, is the one you’re making newsworthy because of their downfall to something totally larger than themselves. Something chemical. Something mental. The outcry and attention the epidemic is now getting is vital, but it’s an epidemic because it came too late. We’ve lost more people to overdose than the entire Vietnam War. What needs to change right now?

Can you describe how your work is making an impact battling this epidemic?

It’s in your face, take no prisoners, get this done now messaging. I hope that my book conveys just that, and I hope the realness of it will wake sleeping giants and incite hope in those who think the end can only be a black tunnel. When things change, I’ll sit down. Metaphorically.

If the individual is willing to accept it, American Boy would like to use its first scholarship to fund the rehabilitation of the person we know to have provided Matt the ride to retrieve his fatal dose.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

I’m proud that the skills I’ve acquired as a writer can provide articulation and relief to the pain my family can’t put into words. In other works, I wrote because what I had to share with the world was important. Here, I write because what Matt has to share still is.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this problem? Can you give some examples?

1) So we’re talking roots. Tertiary prevention remains important in communities. Let’s involve togetherness and individual value in tribe-like qualities again. Let’s involve nature, art, and music. Matt responded extremely well to one rehab that emphasized belonging in a tribe-like setting, and expressed this one way through drum circles. More programs that give each person in the community an essential and unique role (especially for adolescents) is vital. Matt belonged. Matt was equal. Not every community is up for a cultural challenge like that, but getting to the roots of what makes us human is healthy and preventative in its own right. All of us are responsible for the outcome of one of us.

2) Corporate initiatives. While coming from a place of altruism, many in our neighborhood reached out and offered what some might call “blue collar” work for Matt to do — digging ditches for piping or shoveling snow. This is a wonderful gesture, this work equal value, and it might be extremely uplifting to some, but to others, this may not be the type of work they dream of. Few stopped to listen to what Matt really wanted to do with his life. If a variety of corporate enterprises were willing to make bold leaps and offer something along the lines of training, guaranteed paid internships, or entry level employment for qualifying addicts who completed one-to-two years of treatment, the image of the future could forever change for the people with addictions in our communities.

3) This is a more radical idea and follows the thread of the first point: I also believe that, following extensive outreach of education and awareness to the community members, local, neighborhood-run boards should be erected to, in a concerned and compassionate manner, evaluate (and maybe criticize) their role in the struggle and outcome of addicted individuals in their community; likewise, in some cases, the local community should be asked to intervene and provide support to the person with addiction in their community and hold themselves responsible if reasonable humanitarian efforts are neglected or fail to follow through. Obviously, the addicted individual and his or her family would reserve the right to be left alone if requested, but this way, the addict knows that the community is behind them, and his or her success is their success too.

If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

I’m frustrated with any legislative idea that begins with “Crack down on…” This isn’t a problem that fiercer this or tighter that can solve, just like how no patriarchal figure could have invited Matt into his office and had a “hard talk” with him that would have changed his addiction. This kind of language, besides simply not working, focuses only on preventionArrests before the drugs hit your neighborhood, and scrutiny of medical prescriptions. What does this say about the government’s plans for those already addicted? Are they fallen? Are we not obligated to help them because their disease forces them into a poor relationship with our society’s laws? The legal action I’d like to see I’ll list from most effective (but least likely to be passed) to elementarily effective (and most likely to be passed).

1) Safe and legal doses of the drug for those whose odds of recovery are prognosed to be very low. This has been done in Portugal and saw a catastrophic drop in overdose deaths.

2) Legal immunity of past offenses for addicts for the duration of their time in treatment, with opportunity to pardon drug offenses if compliant with said treatment, so that the law does not extract an addicted person from where they really need to be.

3) Prison reforms that separate drug offenders from other criminal offenders in a treatment-based rehabilitative environment. This will avoid hardening soft criminals in the justice system.

I know that this is not easy work. What keep you going?

Life is still beautiful — for me, and for brave, struggling addicts fighting to be a part of it. There are tiny crayfish in the stream that scratch away the sediment. There is delicious food sizzling out there somewhere for me to taste. There are degrees to earn and pretty things to buy and people to love. I am haunted by many things, but I believe there is still worth to this world, and those distractions are just enough to focus me.

Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?

Yes. But it’s going to take a revolution, and we are moving too slow. How quickly did we make enormous decisions in the wake of the 9/11 disaster? This disaster isn’t building — it has occurred. It has happened. The faces of opioid deaths can make a collage of the American flag too. This is the time.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

You know what’s interesting about leadership? Mental opposition and even illness are positive elements to assist meeting the enduring, motivating, and empathetic criteria necessary to being a leader. Martin Luther King, Jr. attempted suicide in his youth. Abraham Lincoln likely had major depressive disorder. Isn’t it clear by now that the only way to lead is for someone to look into your eyes and see that you have been where they are now? These people with opioid addictions are leaders in the making. I would be glad to learn of the world they have survived, of the humanity and the horror. This is also why I am taking my heartbreak and trying to chisel a gateway out of it. If I can lead with a limp, I will.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) They’re not making addiction-driven choices and doing this to you, because of you, or in spite of you.

2) It’s normal to feel love and hate all at once. But love them as much as you can.

3) Every disciplinary action should not have the goal of punishing a behavior, but propelling the desire of sobriety

4) Twenty-eight days is not enough. Short-term rehabs do not return your sibling or child to you as you remember; this journey is longer, and needs to have elements of hope and attractiveness to the addicted person to give them the purchase they need to keep climbing

5) Society’s impulse to judge is natural. We cannot begrudge our communities their initial reactions, but we can be teachers and inspirers and encourage our society to be on the right side of history

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like a social movement to prompt a political movement, and I’d like it to start with everyone — you, me, and those who this doesn’t affect (it must be very few of you!) — to say, as individuals and communities, “I understand.” And then let’s take it further. Let’s protest and reform in the ways I suggested above and more. Let’s make this our priority and not let the cameras pivot to another task until we solve this. We want to make #iunderstand our movement. Because we are Americans, and we can solve anything when we are united.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

When Matt packed his bags to leave the house one night after Mom and Dad found drugs in his room, my young self did not understand. I went to him, hugged him, and he put his hand on my head. “Don’t leave me,” I said.

He replied, “I won’t.”

People with this long and difficult journey in front of them are asking the same of us. “Don’t leave me.”

Let’s reply, “I won’t.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Pope Francis, Jeff Bezos, and Ellen DeGeneres and I could get a lot of work done over a single stack of pancakes. Many of these figures’ followings are suffering with opioid addiction right now. This problem can be solved when powerful, forward-thinking minds with large followings in kindness come together with determination and urgency. I think we could do that here.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My Facebook is followable: Shea C. Megale

My Twitter: Shea_Megale

My website: www.scmegale.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

— Published on November 3, 2018 at medium.com

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