The US is currently entrenched in a prescription pill abuse epidemic. Prescription opioid abuse is a main contributor. Since protecting drug abuse is a main symptom of addiction, individuals with a prescription pill addiction (or any addiction) often need help from concerned family and friends. That help can come in the form of an intervention. An intervention can help a person who may be resistant to treatment to actually enter a program. Since prescription pill abuse can result in a fatal overdose, the sooner a person enters rehab, the safer the person will be.

The following facts and statistics about prescription drug abuse in the US may provide motivation for anyone who is thinking about staging an intervention to actually make a plan to do so.

An Intervention: Prescription Drugs

  • An estimated 52 million people in the US in the 12+ age group have used a prescription medication for a nonmedical purpose at least once in their lives.
  • Of all prescription medications, the most commonly abused are opioids (pain relievers), sleeping pills, sedatives, and stimulants.
  • In 2010, an estimated 8.76 million Americans were abusing prescription medications, including pain relievers, sedatives, and stimulants.
  • Regarding obtaining prescription medications, 52.4 percent of the time a person got the drug from a family member or friend compared to buying medications from a stranger (3.4 percent of the time).
  • In a 2013 survey, an estimated 6.1 million Americans used a prescription medication for a nonmedical purpose in the prior month.

The last fact highlights the importance of holding an intervention not only for the person abusing the prescription drugs, but also for family and friends who may be supplying, or have supplied, the drug. There like were not any negative intentions, but family and friends must awaken to the dangers of sharing drugs, and an intervention can help them in that regard.

Intervention Basics

Addiction counselor and interventionist Rosemary Munro explains the basics of an intervention in an easily accessible video format. In answering a fundamental question, “How can an intervention help a family get a loved one into treatment?” Munro offers the following insights:

  • Family and friends may know that they want a loved one to go to a rehab program but do not understand the process. For some people, it’s not as simple as researching treatment centers, contacting them, and selecting one. This is a highly charged emotional process for many. Organizing an intervention can bring other concerned people into the process, and they can help share the work, as well as provide each other with comfort.
  • People may know that someone whom they care about is using drugs, but the drug abuse is the elephant in the room. It’s simply not discussed. This silence can deepen over time, to the point where a family may feel that they need an expert to help them talk about it among themselves and vis-à-vis the person who is abusing drugs, such as prescription drugs.
  • Family and friends may not have the skills and tools necessary to deal with the affected person’s refusal to get help. The refusal may also serve as a trigger for anger, and conflict may erupt during an informal intervention or talk. Even though the family and other concerned people had the best intentions, emotions can derail the process. There is less chance of this happening when a skilled interventionist leads and moderates the meeting.
  • An interventionist will prepare the intervention for as many hours as necessary. Munro usually spends 6-9 hours helping to prep a group for an intervention. In this time, the interventionist will offer educational information about addiction, such as highlighting that it is a brain disease.
  • The interventionist will create a rehab plan with the family involved in that part of the process. The offer for rehab treatment that is presented to the person in need of help must be immediately actionable, so a plan must already be in place.
  • The interventionist can help family and friends cope with any guilt they may have about the addiction. For instance, a person in the group may have given prescription pills to the affected person without realizing the true risk for addiction. Parents often feel an acute responsibility for a child’s drug abuse. Rather than agonize over the drug abuse, a parent can work with an interventionist to stay on track with the goal of getting the loved one into a rehab program.
  • An interventionist can help each member of the intervention group to write a letter to the loved one (described in greater detail below). The letter may need to be discussed and edited to promote the recovery process. For instance, a letter that cites grievances and the past will not likely serve to give the loved one the push needed to enter rehab after the intervention.
  • The interventionist will preside over the meeting and act as a professional and compassionate leader and moderator. Having an impartial person at an intervention can be an asset for the person who needs help. If only family and friends are present, the person may feel as if the group is ganging up on them.

A review of the basic principles at work during an intervention illustrates that this meeting is not solely about the person who is experiencing prescription pill (or other drug) abuse. Family members often experience burnout, which can keep them in a reactionary position. Prepping for an intervention gives everyone some room to stop and think about what’s been happening. From that vantage point, the healing can more effectively begin.

Dana’s Story and How a Pill Addiction Intervention Helped Her

The television documentary series Intervention, on A&E network, has always maintained a journalistic objectiveness in its storytelling approach. The show is noted for how it brings the audience into the realities of the featured person’s addiction, how family and friends are affected, and ultimately how the person experiencing drug abuse is provided with an intervention and offer for drug rehab. According to a Frank Picard, author of Family Intervention, 90 percent of individuals who are faced with an intervention will agree to go into treatment after the event.

Pill Addiction Intervention

In an episode of Intervention that aired on June 13, 2013, viewers were introduced to Dana, a mother who had experienced one of the greatest traumas. About 20 months before the show aired, Dana (then about 31 years of age) and her four children were asleep in their home in Alvin, Texas, when it caught fire (likely due to a wiring issue). Dana was burned on her mouth, legs, and back, and down her esophagus. When she regained consciousness in the hospital, she learned that three of her children did not survive. One of her sons, who was around 2 years old at the time, had survived. Dana immediately began to abuse the prescription opioids she received for the pain for the burns. Dana told the show that she would take more opioid pills than she needed because higher doses lessened her anxiety. Eventually, Dana also started using crack. Dana was in a free fall. She had lost the ability to care for her surviving son and was taking up to 200 pills a day (such as Vicodin and Lortab), plus crack, and spending about $500 each day on these substances.

The show provided Dana’s family with help from family therapist and interventionist Candy Finnegan. Finnegan organized a pre-intervention with Dana’s family. Finnegan teamed with Judy Crane, director of a drug rehab facility in Florida. Crane has been in recovery for the last 36 years and counting. Finnegan’s methods during the pre-intervention shed light on the process as well as provide tips for people who are not working with an interventionist. The following are some highlights of Finnegan’s pre-intervention:

  • The interventionist (Finnegan) asked each person in Dana’s family to think about how her addiction had affected them and their feelings overall.
  • Finnegan listened to the family members and suggested ways to frame their thoughts in a manner that would motivate Dana to accept the upcoming offer for rehab treatment. Finnegan explained how to use affirmations when speaking to Dana, like reminding her of her strength and telling her she has the ability to recover.
  • Finnegan helped the family to see how they were also in need of help and offered them therapy sessions. As therapist Darlene Lancer explains, a person who loves someone addicted to drugs may become codependent on the addiction. Enabling the addiction, such as by giving a person a place to live and money, is a main part of codependency. Though the practice is understandable, it is ultimately unhelpful and can unwittingly keep a person in a pattern of addiction.
  • The interventionist (Finnegan) asked each concerned person present to read the letter they had prepared for Dana. The letters followed the same format: open with observations, explain how the addiction makes them feel, and give an ultimatum, such as “If you do not accept the gift of rehab treatment, starting today, then I will take away your car and work with the courts to end your parental rights.”
  • After some of the family had read Dana their letters, and Dana verbalized her resistance to go to treatment, Judy Crane stepped in. Crane briefly explained her own history of addiction and recovery and told Dana that she is also a mother, one who achieved abstinence in order to be a fulltime mom again.
  • Dana’s brother, as previously decided, led the way in explaining to Dana that everyone had arranged a spot at a drug rehab for her and asked her to go immediately after this meeting.
  • When Dana resisted, Finnegan stepped in, as an interventionist would. Finnegan skillfully brought Dana’s attention to her son and explained that he was also traumatized and needs his mother to be healthy. Dana was persuaded and agreed to go to rehab immediately.

When the show followed-up with Dana and her family six months later, the news was good. Dana had completed the 90-day program (which was at Judy Crane’s center in Florida) and at that point had been drug-free for six months. The family had left Texas and moved to a farm in Arkansas. Dana and her son were living in Arkansas with the family as Dana rebuilt her life. This episode did a good job of showing how many important steps are involved in the rehab process. The recovery process, for Dana and the family, really started before the intervention: when the family made a commitment to get help for Dana. Though the story is Dana’s, it could be that of anyone who faces an addiction to prescription pills, alcohol, or any other drug.