According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol misuse contributes to 88,000 deaths in the United States each year and, along with misuse of medications and substance use disorders, costs the United States more than an estimated $400 billion on lost work productivity, health care and criminal justice costs, among other expenses. At this point, it’s safe to say that as a nation we have a serious addiction problem on our hands.
So what do we do? Cali Estes, a celebrity addiction specialist and life coach, believes that change begins with educating those who are on the frontlines of addiction: first responders. That’s why she has partnered up with Don Prince, an ex-fire chief who lost his job due to alcohol, in creating a free intervention course specifically for the police, firefighter and paramedic community.
“When I start talking about addiction, they don’t even know where to start, or why one person’s an addict and why one isn’t,” Estes explains. “Part of the training is to explain to them why people are different, metabolic rates are different, systems are different, and people have different coping skills and life skills.”
Besides just a basic background on the disease, the course also covers the concept of recovery—the practical next step for someone who’s just survived an overdose. “There’s such a lack in our system of quality,” she says. “A disconnect between what we do once we save them and how we actually get them the help they need.”
That’s why Estes thinks it’s also important to provide all first responders with a list of local resources, something that’s currently not done on any level. “We’re giving them names and numbers of places to call or to give to that person when they meet them in real-time.” Now, with this system, first responders can direct addicts where to go for help instead of just flushing them clean and having them naturally fall back into the cycle again.
The five-hour intervention course is completely free to the public and strictly specific to what first responders encounter and their needs. Estes herself goes to each department to teach the course. So far, the response has been huge. “People are very excited we’re doing something outside the box and are excited to host us.”
While some may think that this is all a lot to ask from a first responder, Estes would argue something different. “Police officers were originally created as peace officers,” she says. “They weren’t created to throw people in jail—they were created to handle issues.” Since addiction is a bigger problem than just breaking the law, Estes looks at the whole situation as part of their public service duty to “understand what’s going on with the public and what’s going on with drugs and alcohol to help.”
Though this course is just a small step forward in a growing national crisis, it is one that can fundamentally change the way our society has approached and treated overdoses. Now, officers have a chance of not only saving people from a near-death experience, but putting them in the right hands of care afterwards.
Even if realistically not everyone will take the help that is being offered to them, Prince says that’s besides the point. At the end of the day, proper addiction education is priceless (and, in this case, free) because, as he puts it, “Maybe you can give that cop a chance to save a life in a way that he didn’t know how to do before.” And that’s progress that everyone can get behind.
For more information on the course and having Cali Estes come to your city, visit the The Addictions Academy or call 1-800-706-0318.