Local author and crisis coach Scott Silverman, 67, who grew up in La Mesa, wrote “The Opioid Epidemic” to build awareness around death due to opioid abuse, and hopes local families will use his book as a conversation starting point.
Apart from having authored The Opioid Epidemic, Silverman is Chief Executive Officer at Confidential Recovery, a San Diego-based long term outpatient center for addiction treatment.
Credentialed staff at the facility include a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction and a marriage and family therapist as well as other therapists who deal one-on-one with patients while Silverman, a 31-year recovering addict himself, advocates for education to reduce overdose rates.
San Diego county, he said, has seen a significant increase in overdoses. According to the County Office of Communications, there were 457 fentanyl-related overdose deaths alone in 2020 across San Diego county, a 202% increase from 151 recorded deaths in 2019.
He noted that most of the data surrounding opioid abuse comes by way of the county Medical Examiner, not a source that touts positive recovery numbers but a source that confirms the reason for death.
A businessman who wryly says he was an “unlicensed practicing pharmacist” who simultaneously struggled with addiction and depression until he hit rock bottom, Silverman said he believes society needs to look at addiction like a disease.
“We need to take a better look at how we’re approaching this problem. If someone suffers from diabetes, we don’t brand them. ‘I need help’ are three of the hardest words in the English language,” Silverman said.
He believes a conversation about opioids has to be educational, rather than punitive to accomplish anything, especially with young users.
“The scariest piece to talk about is the counterfeit medication. Why should a 19 year-old’s life be depleted because they took a pill at a party? Mixed messages are confusing but if you talk to your kids, you will be amazed at how much they know,” Silverman said.
He said the combination of recreation and prescription drugs can prove deadly but also can be prevented with education and open conversation.
He gave the example of smoking marijuana along with taking Adderall, a stimulant that is often prescribed for attention disorders but is sometimes abused for methamphetamine-like highs.
“The prescription meds kids are taking, mixed with other toxins— the body doesn’t have the capacity for those combinations. There’s no science around that yet, there’s no longitudinal study for Lexapro with methamphetamine,” Silverman said.
He believes his book is “a roadmap for families to have conversations, build awareness” that young people can take something that looks like Xanax, a prescription-strength sedative thinking they are going to feel mellowed out for a few hours. Instead, he said, a pill that looks like Xanax might be laced with Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can bedeadly when consumed with alcohol and is a major contributor to the opioid overdose rate.
As a secondary problem, he said, the demand for unprescribed opioids drives crime in an almost unnoticed way.
“About two years ago, the San Diego Association of Realtors reported that people were going into open houses and stealing prescription Oxycontin pills. They weren’t looking for jewelry or cash— they wanted your meds. An 80 milligram pill of Oxycontin is worth $80 on the street,” Silverman said.
“Opioid abuse impacts our whole region and approaches like ‘Just Say No’ or ‘Scared Straight’ don’t work. Education works,” Silverman said.
Although the opioid epidemic is a nationwide issue, he said there are complicating drug factors in this region, including easy access to now-legal marijuana sold in stronger doses than before that lend themselves to unforeseen overdoses.
“Someone takes a marijuana edible and after 45 minutes it does nothing so they take another and potentially, you could overdose with legal marijuana simply because it’s so strong today,” Silverman said.
There is also “a pretty significant homeless problem” that “can’t be solved by bringing someone in for half a day and expecting them to go back and well” without treating underlying mental health issues.
“The things we’re talking about aren’t law enforcement issues, they’re community issues,” Silverman said.
Santee and El Cajon were considered the meth capitals of the world up until a few years ago, Silverman said, when people started talking about the problem at the community level.
The Opioid Epidemic “gets me in front of people to meet with school boards, nonprofits, rotary clubs” and opens up a conversation that might not otherwise happen.