Mary Paglia said she couldn’t sleep a wink the first night off of her medication following a two-year cancer battle.
By the fourth day, she plunged into a depression.
“I had been fighting cancer for two years. I had never cried one tear, and suddenly I was crying,” Paglia said.
Paglia discussed her own personal battle coming off of pain medication as part of the Partnership for Drug Free Hall’s forum Thursday night at First Baptist Church of Gainesville’s banquet hall.
“Opioids are like the mafia or a gang. Once you spend about a week or 10 days with them, they don't let you go. And just like the mafia, the longer time you spend with them, the tighter grip they have over your life,” Paglia said.
Two years after being diagnosed with a rare type of cancer, Paglia’s doctor said the scans indicated the tumors were shrinking and that Paglia could come off of her medication.
After the first restless night, she felt achy and uncomfortable before trying to take a walk for some fresh air.
“By the time I had walked to the back door and taken a couple of steps into the garden, I was so out of breath I sat down on the steps. Within minutes, I just laid over the ground. I couldn’t even breathe,” Paglia said.
Paglia, who is the executive director of the Jeffrey Dallas Gay Jr. Recovery Center, said the center would be opening Feb. 4 on Juanita Avenue.
Jeffrey Gay Jr. died in 2012 from an opioid overdose, and his grandfather Dallas Gay has become a staunch opioid safety advocate in the community.
Dallas Gay took the stage following Paglia to discuss opioids as the “greatest man-made health care crisis.” The number of drug overdose deaths from 1999-2017 is more than 700,000, a death count greater than the Civil War. The death count, however, is only one number that does not portray the depth of the epidemic, Gay said.
“Shame on you, shame on me, shame on our nation if we let this horrible epidemic pass down to our children and grandchildren simply because we didn’t have the will to change it,” he said.
The featured speakers include Dr. Anne Marie McKenzie-Brown, who is an associate professor of anesthesiology at the Emory University School of Medicine, and licensed professional counselor Anastasia Bean.
McKenzie-Brown discussed some health factors that may affect how we experience pain — such as obesity, diet and smoking — as well as items that may offer non-opioid pain solutions.
One such item was the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in tart cherry juice, which has been tested with marathon runners.
“The people who took the cherry juice had less of an increase in their inflammatory markers than the ones who didn’t,” McKenzie-Brown said.
Bean, of Connections Behavioral Health & Complex Pain Recovery in Marietta, explained the restructuring of thoughts through cognitive behavioral therapy also while leading the crowd in a mindfulness breathing exercise.
“Something that feels like it’s 100 percent true, 100 percent of the time, once we put it through the system and we re-evaluate it and restructure it, it’s maybe 50 percent true some of the time,” Bean said.