Elina Curran is a mother and a founder.
She is the founder of the Eden Prairie based Chris Wivholm Foundation, which funds neuroscience research on addiction and attempts to eliminate the stigma attached to addiction.
Her son, Chris, died of a fentanyl overdose on March 30, 2018. He was 21.
From 1999 to 2019 in the US, nearly 450,000 people died from overdoses involving either prescription or illicit opioids, according to Centers for Disease Control and the National Center for Health Statistics. The Department of Health and Human Services reported that in 2018 two million people had an opioid use disorder.
While theories vary, susceptibility to addiction research points to genetics, circumstances, social conditions, and personal factors – and all of the above. Curran notes her son Chris was probably susceptible to addiction citing “underlying depression and anxiety” as well as traumatic life events. Chris was close to his grandmother who died when Chris was nine, said Curran. Also, a move from St. Paul to Eden Prairie, a marital separation may well have impacted Chris, she noted. Chris, said Curran “was bullied in high school. . .The drug dealers actually pretended to be his friends.”
Chris was treated with prescription opioids as part of an emergency surgery, which triggered a return to substance abuse, according to the Chris Wiholm Foundation website. He later died from an overdose of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.
“In the beginning,” said Curran, drug users can find a drug experience serves as a coping mechanism. But as a need for higher doses escalates “their brain… sending the signal” of urgent need, or addiction, to feel normal.
The stigmas of substance abuse and addiction is an issue, noted Curran. “When they have an addiction, there is a big stigma, even in the medical community” said Curran. “Even like paramedics get tired of them and call them names.”
“If we didn’t have this stigma in this society,” said Curran, addicts would “do much better because they would come out and tell their parents and whoever they need and seek help.”
The stigmas of drug addiction impacts family members, noted Curran. “Not only am I grieving him, the only child, I also have to defend him…he was a good person.”
Curran outlined steps communities like Eden Prairie can take to help address addiction:
- Eliminate the stigma
- Find a new therapy for the chemical dependency
- Provide social support for the addicts
Curran described an approach her foundation is working on. It is similar to the approach for patients after heart surgery, she noted, which includes follow-up exercise and rehabilitation. According to Curran, Senator Chris Eaton who is head of Minnesota Opioid Task Force, informed Curran that the Hennepin County Medical Center has a pilot program where an addict works with a “a group of people” to include “therapists, social workers.”
Curran noted that relapse into an addiction has “a lot of triggers.” However, she signalled hope for addicts and as well as the families and friends of those struggling with addiction. “There [are]good stories. . .That’s why a lot of it is psychological too. That’s why it’s not only medications. But that’s why we need a really good support system for people.”
The Chris Wivholm Foundation can be found on the internet at chriswivholm.org.