For Christian Smith, 37, developing a dependency on prescription opioid painkillers after a serious car accident in his 20s led to a more than decade-long struggle with heroin. He lost his home and cars and was incarcerated twice before he was able to sustain long-term abstinence from opioids.
“The second time I learned that is not what I wanted,” Smith said. Along the way, his mother, Sharon LeGore, who had already lost her daughter to an opioid overdose, was his most faithful supporter. Those experiences turned LeGore into a dedicated supporter for families coping with young people with substance use disorder.
“Recovery goes beyond just the person with an addiction; it is a family disease and we as families have to get into recovery, as well,” LeGore said.
She explained that it is critical that families recover from the trauma of having a loved one with a substance use disorder. They must learn how to help rather than make things worse, and they need information about effective treatment and recovery services. Yet many families do not know where to turn or are deterred from seeking help by the negative attitudes associated with dependency.
In 2009, LeGore worked with SAMHSA to establish the National Family Dialogue, a nationwide network of resources to support families as they work toward recovery. Her website, Moms Tell, provides resources on substance use treatment and recovery for families, and she hosts the National Family Dialogue on Facebook, where users must login to access the site.
In addition to acting as a switchboard connecting families with resources, the National Family Dialogue recommends for improved treatment and policies that support individuals and families in recovery. In 2009, LeGore joined 65 family members of youth with substance use disorders from 34 states and 4 tribal nations in Washington, DC, at a meeting hosted by the SAMHSA Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). The meeting resulted in a 2010 report based on family members’ recommendations for improving youth substance use services.
“We continue to infuse the family’s voice in treatment and recovery,” said LeGore, who is a family involvement consultant for SAMHSA.
Sharing stories about recovery can be a powerful and empowering source of hope for families as they cope with the challenges of substance use and recovery, said LeGore.
“Living it is hell at times,” she said. “You desperately want to save your children and see them in recovery.”
Smith said he takes pride in the work his mother is doing to help others and his own role encouraging her speaking. “I had a big role in teaching her to just go for it,” he said.
He said he has watched her grow from someone who was very shy into a well-known national supporter. Smith hopes to follow in her footsteps and share his story with youth to help them understand the costs of drug misuse.
Like most people in recovery, Smith continues to work through the challenges of staying off of opioids and rebuilding his life. Smith said he is painfully aware of the risk of relapse, having known individuals who succumbed after years of sobriety.
“There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about [using heroin],” he said. “That is one of the hardest things. If I can just make it through today, that is all that matters. So far, that has worked.”