I understand people cannot be expected to know what they don’t know. However, in light of your recent discovery of the depth of the opioid epidemic, I do hope you, as well as the members of your team, are committed to learning and having an open-minded approach to finding solutions. After all, rule number one of brainstorming is there are no “dumb-ideas.” I implore you, please, listen to all options and leave no stone unturned … 142 people today were counting on you, along with another 142 tomorrow, and 142 the day after that.
Mr. Christie, simply attempting to understand something foreign to you is a step in the right direction. So today, on behalf of 60,000 or more people who will die this year, I am begging you … put everything you think you know aside for just a few minutes and read our story.
The Story Of An Opiate Survivor
I met my husband, Gary, in the summer of 2012. We were both hard-working, Midwesterners; I had been climbing the corporate ladder for the better part of two decades, and he had spent 15 years doing grueling, physical labor at a factory in Iowa.
Over the course of that 15 years, the job took a toll on Gary’s health. Repetitive factory labor wore down the discs in his neck, and eventually he had to have surgery. Unfortunately, just a couple of weeks out of surgery, Gary slipped and fell, and his neck will never be the same. He was always in constant pain, but the doctors had no problem keeping him readily supplied with plenty of opiates. In fact, I attended several appointments with him before we were even married where the doctor simply told him, “You’ll probably have to take these the rest of your life.”
We were married in the spring of 2013, just a few days after we moved to the state of Minnesota for a promotion in my career; I was going to manage the IT department for a large, affluent suburb of Minneapolis. This was a huge break in my career and a big step for us. However, what should’ve been the best years of our life together, ended in nightmare.
Moving to Minnesota meant finding a new doctor for Gary. He couldn’t function without opiates, and a lapse in his prescriptions would most certainly result in withdrawal sickness – pain, nausea, vomiting, tremors, mood swings, muscle spasms, and insomnia. Getting a new doctor, in a new state, meant we had to go through several medical procedures to “prove” Gary’s need. Costly MRI’s and several x-rays later, the doctors told us he would have to be seen at a pain clinic to get the medication he needs.
We spent two years and several thousand dollars out-of-pocket, only to have Minnesota doctors nearly kill him with prescriptions.
At one point in time he was prescribed 4 hydrocodone, 4 Percocet, and 2 fentanyl patches EVERY DAY. The drugs were killing him, but the side effects were killing me. Under the influence of this number of opiates, my husband couldn’t work, he couldn’t legally drive, and the mind-altering effects of the drug often turned him into a monster. I was married to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and after a long, stressful day at the office, I rarely knew which I was going to face when I got home.
By January of 2016, I couldn’t continue to live the way were living. I left my husband, my home, my career, and everything I had. I couldn’t break the pattern without drastic measures … so I paid Gary’s bills ahead, packed what I could carry in my car, and left. I had no idea where I was going, or what I was going to do. I just knew I had to get out.
Go West, My Dear, Go West
My only goal when I left the house was to drive south until there was no snow, and then head west. I had no particular destination in mind.
My brakes went out just north of Denver.
Homeless and alone in a city where I knew no one at all, my only priority was getting a job. Any job, I didn’t care if I was washing dishes, I had to eat. On day six, I met a woman over lunch who offered me the opportunity to interview for a job in a new cannabis dispensary. Long story short … I got the job … and what I would learn over the course of the next several weeks would save my marriage and my husband’s life.
‘We Have Hope’
After landing in the cannabis industry, as any good employee would do at a new job, I was reading and researching everything I could get my hands on. I was reading psychology reviews, scientific studies, and anecdotal stories. I wanted to learn as much as I could.
By week six, I reached out to Gary, and told him… “We have hope.”
I told him what I had learned and said, “Come to Colorado, leave the opiates in Minnesota, and let’s give this a try.”
On March 18th, 2016, Gary took his last opiate painkiller he will ever take. According to science, quitting a 10-year opiate addiction cold-turkey could’ve killed him and it certainly wasn’t supposed to be easy. Although he had managed to stop taking everything except the hydrocodone, he should’ve gone through at least some symptoms of withdrawal, but with the use of responsible cannabis therapy, not only did my husband survive opiate withdrawal, he thrived. I have pictures of him on day 10 of no opiates hiking the Garden of the Gods.
Today, Gary is healthy, happy, and doesn’t rely on any prescription medications, including high blood pressure, cholesterol, and anxiety medications his doctors have had him on. He has lost 85 pounds. He has type 2 diabetes under control; and he hasn’t had the need to see a doctor in 18 months. He is active, alert, and engaged in his life, which is something that was missing when he was STONED on opiates all day long.
He still has episodes of pain, don’t get me wrong, nothing will ever completely heal Gary’s problems with his neck and spine. However, instead of taking a myriad of pills that interact with each other, cause issues with organs, and could potentially cause his death … today he uses cannabis, responsibly. A bite or two of a brownie here and there is all it takes. He’s not getting “high” from his medicine anymore and the assurance we get with knowing he can never overdose and die from his medicine helps put us both at ease.
Mr. Christie, I am not saying that cannabis is the answer for everyone, although I do believe it has a wide-range of benefits for a plethora of ailments. However, my question is this… why can it not be the right solution for some? Why do we have to FORCE people to use pharmaceuticals when cannabis clearly works better in some circumstances?
Of the 60,000 people who died in 2016, how many of them COULD’VE been saved had they had the same opportunity my husband did? If it worked for him, it will clearly work for someone else.
What will you tell their families now that we have spoken, you have heard my husband’s story, and you have seen evidence that cannabis MAY have been the solution that their loved one needed before they died?
Can you face someone who has lost a son, a daughter, a sister, a brother, or any other close family or friend to overdose … look them in the eye, and tell them, beyond the shadow of a doubt, there’s no way cannabis would’ve helped?
As I stated at the beginning of my letter, there is no way for someone to know what they don’t know or aren’t willing to learn, so Mr. Christie, my letter now becomes an invitation.
My husband and I own a beautiful ranch in the Rocky Mountains, just west of Pikes Peak. We would love to host you and your entire committee on our ranch. I want to introduce ourselves to you as human beings, as Americans, and as forthright cannabis users. I want you to see the story the papers in front of you don’t tell. I want you to put a face to the issue at hand, I want you to see that not all people who use cannabis are bad people.
More than anything, Mr. Christie, I want you to show me that we – hard-working, American citizens, matter to you. I want YOU, Mr. Christie, to have the opportunity to show the nation that you can hear us. Right now, you and your team, as well as, the entire federal government is being chastised for not listening to your constituents.
I urge you, take me up on this offer, Mr. Christie. Come to our ranch, enjoy the peace and quiet of being nestled away from it all in the Rocky Mountains, watch the mule deer wander through our yard, or wake up early enough to see the sunrise over Pikes Peak.
Send your security out, let them do their thing … you can keep this very private or you can make it a media spectacle to show voters you are at least considering all options and trying to learn from the very people that the opioid epidemic has impacted. We really just want the opportunity to show you another side to responsible cannabis therapy than you may be considering.
Come to Colorado, Mr. Christie … you still have something to learn.
Kristina Etter is a Colorado-based writer focusing on cannabis and mindfulness. Her writing helps dispel the stereotypes and stigmas associated with cannabis consumption.
This story first appeared on the SKOL Ranch blog.