MaryBeth Cichocki doesn’t want her son to be forgotten – especially by the president of the United States.
Like many moms nationwide, she fears that the focus of the opioid epidemic has shifted from treating addiction like a disease to an indictment of drug dealers and sellers. But those most at fault, Cichocki said, are the large pharmaceutical companies legally allowed to operate here.
In response, she joined the rally cries of mothers throughout America who flooded Trump’s mailbox with handwritten letters, stories and photos of the thousands of children and loved ones who have died from addiction.
“It breaks my heart that my son died of a treatable disease that the system has made a terminal disease,” Cichocki said. “I don’t know how that’s allowed to happen in our country.”
This mother – who started a support group soon after the accidental fatal overdose of her 37-year-old son, Matt – called upon other mothers to do the same. She posted it on Facebook and started the movement in Delaware, knowing far too well how many parents go without children here in the First State.
The goal was for Valentine’s Day cards to flood Trump’s office just in time for the holiday meant to honor loved ones. These cards obviously carry a different meaning than traditional love notes stamped with hearts, Cichocki said.
In 2016, 308 people died from drug-related overdoses. Last year’s numbers aren’t in yet for the state, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated more than 64,000 Americans died in 2016. That number – partially due to the increased use of the synthetic painkiller fentanyl – is expected to rise with 2017’s statistics.
The time to take action is now, said Paula Mattson, a mother from Prices Corner who lost her 26-year-old son, Michael, to addiction.
She has two grandchildren and fears for what they may encounter if educators and society don’t start treating addiction like a disease. Mattson has already lost far too much, including a son and other family members, to the pull of addiction.
“Just saying, ‘Don’t do it’ — my kids all had the ‘just say no.’ That doesn’t work,” she said. “There needs to be more education for parents.”
Already, Mattson said, a counselor informed her to speak with her grandchildren when they can begin to understand that some kids may be able to try things that they can’t themselves. Their brains may be different due to the inherited nature of addiction, she stressed.
Treatment also has to be more accessible, Mattson said. Not all families have health insurance that will cover 30 days, and even then, 30 days is too little time to reverse ingrained addiction, she said. It’s what she wants Trump to take from her letter.
“You don’t get over addiction in 30 days,” she said.
Nor do you forget what it’s like to attend a funeral, especially when they haven’t stopped. Mattson recalled burying her son and her friend’s son – and now, years later, saying goodbye to more and more kids.
Anything, at this point, is better than nothing, she stressed.
The state Department of Health and Social Services announced last week that it plans to treat 900 new patients struggling with addiction in the next year through “Centers of Excellence” community hubs that will further the addiction care system. They plan to use peer recovery coaches – people who have experienced the throes of addiction themselves – to help those struggling now.
In Cichocki’s letter, she similarly encouraged Trump to talk to parents of children who have gone through this tragedy. Cichocki, who formerly worked as a nurse, said those who have been in the trenches fighting through insurance barriers and other obstacles know what it’s like and what must be done.
“You really need to talk to us who are on the front lives of saving our children’s lives,” she said of Trump.
Until then, she plans to keep spreading Matt’s story.
“To not fight back would mean that it’s OK,” she said, “that it’s OK that this happened to him. … I have to try to get our president’s attention.”
By Brittany Horn: firstname.lastname@example.org. @brittanyhorn