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From pain to purpose: How a mother who lost her son to addiction is now fighting the US opioid epidemic

“It didn’t have to happen.”

This was the conclusion that Cammie Wolf Rice came to when recounting the death of her son Christopher who, after 15 years, lost his battle against opioid addiction.

Speaking at the FCC on October 8th, Cammie went into detail about her son’s death, and how it moved her to become an activist fighting the United States’ ongoing opioid epidemic, which has taken an estimated 500,000 lives since Christopher passed away in 2016. Moderating the talk was Anna Healy Fenton, an Addiction and Relationships Counsellor at OT&P and former FCC President.

It started with Christopher being diagnosed with a colon disease in middle school and then the removal of his colon before he finished high school. After his operation, Christopher’s doctor recommended he take painkillers every 4 hours, and Cammie simply followed the doctor’s instructions.

Anna Healy Fenton and Cammie Wolf Rice. Photo: FCC

“I didn’t even think to ask questions [about] if it was ok or if it was safe,” she said.

Cammie explained that 80% of heroin users start with painkillers, and that even just one dose is enough to get someone addicted.

“People don’t wake up and say, ‘Oh, I want to be an addict.’ No one asks to become addicted to opioids, but literally it can happen with one prescription,” she said.

After 15 years, Christopher died from an overdose. The loss of her son initially left Cammie unable to admit what happened to her loved ones, for fear of being stigmatized.

“It took me two years to say that Christopher overdosed,” she said. “Why is that? It’s not cancer, right? If you say your kid has cancer, you have people coming to your house and bringing you casserole dishes. But with addiction, you hide it under the rug because you don’t want to be looked at as a failure as a parent.”

Cammie Wolf Rice. Photo: FCC

After finding the courage to be honest about what happened to Christopher, Cammie made it her life mission to educate people about the dangers of opioids. She created her foundation, the Christopher Wolf Crusade (CwC), which advises patients on non-opioid pain treatments and has helped establish “Life Care Specialists” at hospitals in the US who coach people through their pain.

“Look at our society. We use coaches for everything,” she said. “But you don’t have a coach when you have a health crisis. And that’s the most critical time that you need a coach.”

In her opinion, opioids do have their place — like when treating victims of car accidents or amputees — but people must “taper off” opioids quickly before it’s too late.

Cammie also explained the differences between opioids and fentanyl, why everyone should carry Narcan, and talked about her book, The Flight, which tells her and Christopher’s story.

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

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