+
Family

The surgeon general wants to permanently change the way we think about addiction.

Jess Keefe didn't know her brother Matt had a drug problem until he was rushed to the hospital in 2011.

His hand was swelling up, he was in pain, and no one knew what it was. After days of tests and close watching, Matt was diagnosed with an infection caused by intravenous drug use. A brain scan revealed the culprit: heroin.

"He was very much in denial," Jess explains. "He didn’t want to acknowledge what was happening and was very resistant to treatment of any kind."


Matt Keefe. Photo courtesy of Jess Keefe.

In the coming weeks, Jess and her family tried as hard as they could to get Matt into a recovery center but to no avail. None of the detox and rehab centers in their area had space for him. Matt was sent home to his parents with a firm verbal prescription: Stop doing drugs.

Tragically, it didn't work. Matt recovered temporarily, but eventually started using again and died of an overdose on Oct. 5, 2015, at the age of 26.

Despite the fact that drug addiction affects tens of millions of Americans every year, treatment for it is remarkably hard to come by.

More than 100 Americans die from drug overdoses every day, making it the number one cause of accidental death in the United States — more than car accidents and gun deaths, according to CDC reports. Overdoses from opiates like heroin and prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999.

This neighborhood in Staten Island has a high rate of heroin use. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Despite those high numbers, only about 10% of people with substance abuse disorders receive specialty treatment for their addictions.

Filling the enormous gap between the necessity and availability of treatment requires a massive overhaul of our medical, educational, and criminal justice systems. The first step, though, is the same one that people have to take when they enter addiction recovery: We have to acknowledge that we have a problem.

In a new landmark report, Vivek Murthy became the first U.S. surgeon general to call America's addiction problem what it is: a public health crisis.

The report, released in November 2016, urges a paradigm shift in the way we think of and treat addiction. In it, Murthy calls on the United States to stop thinking of substance abuse as a "moral failing" and approach it instead it as a brain disease that is identifiable, preventable, and treatable.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy speaking with President Obama in 2015. Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images.

"We must help everyone see that addiction is not a character flaw," the report says. "It is a chronic illness that we must approach with the same skill and compassion with which we approach heart disease, diabetes, and cancer."

Jess Keefe, who now works as an editor for Shatterproof, an addiction-focused nonprofit, says she is "thrilled" by the report, which was released a little over a year after her brother's overdose. "I can’t emphasize enough how exciting that is to people who are affected by this disease personally, and people who work in the sort of space that I do."

Addiction in America has reached critical mass, and it's taken decades to fully acknowledge it. So what's been holding us back?

People don't die from addiction, Jess says. They die from shame. "That's the thing that really kills people. They feel like they can’t reach out or get resources when they need them because its something that's driven into the dark corners."

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images.

Jess' brother, Matt, for example, hid his addiction from his family until it landed him in the emergency room. Even after, he continued hiding it, holding down a nine-to-five job all the way until the day he died.

Human beings have a long history of stigmatizing diseases we don't fully understand — from leprosy, to cancer, to AIDS in the 1980s. The results of that stigma can be devastating and far-reaching, especially when it persists for generations. Stigma and shame are what keep people with addictions from coming forward to seek help and why doctors and recovery systems can be unprepared to handle those patients when they do.

Until the systems are fixed, until the stigma is addressed, people like Matt will continue to feel discouraged from asking for help, and people will continue to die.

Like any massive problem, solving America's addiction crisis will require a lot of time and dedication, but Murthy has taken a major step forward.

The surgeon general is the highest ranking doctor in the United States, and his acknowledgement of addiction as a public health epidemic will no doubt lead to the medical community having more of the resources and training necessary to fight it

Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images.

The surgeon general's report, however, is just the beginning. The rest of the fight is largely up to us.

Our part in destigmatizing addiction begins with the words we use, says Jess. Instead of calling someone an "addict," for example, which can carry harmful connotations, we can say "person with addiction" or "person with a substance abuse disorder." That small shift in language helps recontextualize addiction as a disease that a person has, rather than their unshakable identity.

When someone stops doing drugs, calling them "clean" carries an implication that the alternative is dirty. "If someone's not using, they’re 'in recovery,'" suggests Jess. "Stuff like that actually has a big impact on how society perceives people with these problems and also how people with these problems perceive themselves."

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

The real battle is the one that needs to happen in our minds and in our hearts. Chances are we all know someone, or will know someone, who will face a substance abuse disorder. Thinking of that individual not as someone who's made terrible judgements but as someone with a treatable disease of the brain will help us all provide support and empathy for people in need.

Treating addiction with compassion instead of judgment isn't just the right thing to do; it could be life-saving.

Nature

Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave that’s been closed for 70 years

You can only access the cave from the basement of the home and it’s open for business.

This Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave.

Have you ever seen something in a movie or online and thought, "That's totally fake," only to find out it's absolutely a real thing? That's sort of how this house in Pennsylvania comes across. It just seems too fantastical to be real, and yet somehow it actually exists.

The home sits between Greencastle and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and houses a pretty unique public secret. There's a cave in the basement. Not a man cave or a basement that makes you feel like you're in a cave, but an actual cave that you can't get to unless you go through the house.

Turns out the cave was discovered in the 1830s on the land of John Coffey, according to Uncovering PA, but the story of how it was found is unclear. People would climb down into the cave to explore occasionally until the land was leased about 100 years later and a small structure was built over the cave opening.

Keep ReadingShow less
via Pexels

A couple celebrates while packing their home.

One of the topics that we like to highlight on Upworthy is people who are redefining what it means to be in a relationship. Recently, we’ve shared the stories of platonic life partners, moms who work together as part of a “mommune” and a polyamorous family with four equally-committed parents.

A growing number of people are reevaluating traditional relationships and entering lifestyles that work for them instead of trying to fit into preexisting roles. It makes sense because the more lifestyle options that are available, the greater chance we have to be happy.

A recent trend in unconventional relationships is married couples "living apart together," or LATs as they are known among mental health professionals.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter and director Tim Burton, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and producer Brad Falchuk, and photographer Annie Leibovitz and activist Susan Sontag are all high-profile couples who’ve embraced the LAT lifestyle.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

Professional tidier Marie Kondo says she's 'kind of given up' after having three kids

Hearing Kondo say, 'My home is messy,' is sparking joy for moms everywhere.

Marie Kondo playing with her daughters.

Marie Kondo's book, "The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up," has repeatedly made huge waves around the world since it came out in 2010. From eliminating anything that didn't "spark joy" from your house to folding clothes into tiny rectangles and storing them vertically, the KonMari method of maintaining an organized home hit the mark for millions of people. The success of her book even led to two Netflix series.

It also sparked backlash from parents who insisted that keeping a tidy home with children was not so simple. It's one thing to get rid of an old sweater that no longer brings you joy. It's entirely another to toss an old, empty cereal box that sparks zero joy for you, but that your 2-year-old is inexplicably attached to.

To be fair, Kondo never forced her way into anyone's home and made them organize it her way. But also to be fair, she didn't have kids when she wrote her best-selling book on keeping a tidy home. The reality is that keeping a home organized and tidy with children living in it is a whole other ballgame, as Kondo has discovered now that she has three kids of her own.

Keep ReadingShow less
Pop Culture

YouTube star MrBeast sponsors 1,000 people's cataract surgery to help them see again

"I had never heard of MrBeast so I almost hung up. But gratefully did not hang up."

YouTube star sponsors 1,000 people's cataract surgery

Blindness touches people's lives around the world and YouTube star Jimmy Donaldson, more popularly known as MrBeast, is trying to do something about it. Donaldson made it his mission to help 1,000 people regain their eyesight with the help of Dr. Jeff Levenson, an ophthalmologist and surgeon in Jacksonville, Florida.

Levenson has been operating a program called "Gift of Sight" for over 20 years. The program provides free cataract surgery to uninsured people who are legally blind for free, so long as they meet certain criteria. Levenson had never heard of Donaldson, and he almost hung up on him when the YouTube star called to ask about a partnership.

"I had never heard of MrBeast so I almost hung up. But gratefully did not hang up," Levenson told CNN.

After figuring out that Donaldson was indeed a real person who wanted to help others, the duo called around the Jacksonville area to determine the people who needed help the most. They got their list of clients from free clinics and homeless shelters, which covered the United States portion of the surgeries.

Keep ReadingShow less

A mom makes sensory sand by putting Cheerios in a blender.

A parenting influencer who goes by the name @ellethevirgo on TikTok has shared a brilliant hack that can turn a simple box of Cheerios into a fun sensory sand experience. The great part is that the sand is edible, so you don’t have to worry if your child puts some in their mouth, which they will inevitably do.

The recipe for Cheerios sensory sand is pretty simple:

Keep ReadingShow less

Gaël Monfils makes tennis a must-see.

Tennis isn't always the most entertaining sport to watch, especially if you're not particularly interested in seeing a ball get slapped across a net at 1,000,000 mph approximately 17,000 times. You could probably get whiplash or eye strain if you focused too hard on it. While some people love the sport, others need a little more than grunts and sneaker sounds to capture their attention.

If you're in the group of people who need to be entertained, look no further than Gaël Monfils, a professional French tennis player that has earned the nickname, "The Entertainer." Monfils turned pro in 2004 and has multiple championship matches under his belt, and yet he still takes the time to be...extra while playing.

In a compilation video uploaded to TikTok, we see the 36-year-old tennis player dancing after hitting the ball across the net just out of his opponent's reach. But of course, he also doesn't hit the ball like your average player, either. In one part of the video, Monfils jumps up extremely high and bicycle kicks as he hits the ball with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.

Keep ReadingShow less