Inspiring Leader Takes an Up-Close Look at Addiction

February 20, 2018

Three ODs. Within three miles. In three hours’ time.

It sounds like the start of an episode of Chicago Fire, but sadly, that’s becoming just another shift for paramedic Kelly Russ, BS, NRP, PI. Russ, who is attending graduate school while also teaching courses at the Indianapolis EMS Headquarters (affiliated with the IU School of Medicine), has seen the darkest moments of a person’s life… but she’s also seen many of them overcome.

Russ, a member of the Inspiring Leaders class of 2017, feels a personal connection to patients struggling with addiction, because she’s been up close and personal with the disease a number of times. Addiction to painkillers, heroin and other opioids have impacted members of Kelly’s family, often turning their lives – and by proximity, her own – upside down.

There was a time, Kelly recalls, when she could have given in to the temptation of drugs – could have stopped fighting to save the people she cared about and started down the path to addiction herself. Instead, she plunged forward with her education, enrolling herself in EMS classes to give her mind something else on which to focus.

And it worked. Kelly is now on her way to a Master’s degree, and intends to continue helping others pursue their education in Prehospital Emergency Medicine. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always, as Kelly says, been worth it.

Today, Kelly and her family are past the darkest days. She and her husband have their own personal Brady Bunch, with six children ranging in age from 11-19. She and her loved ones are healthy, happy and successful – but it isn’t something she takes for granted.

While addiction touched Kelly’s extended family, she was grateful that those family members had access to the resources and care they needed to fight their battle. However, Kelly understands that it isn’t an easy journey, for those struggling with the addiction, or those trying to support them.

“As easy as it is to give up on them, don’t. I’m not saying enable them or make it easy for them. But if they start showing even just the smallest sign of progress, celebrate it. Show them their efforts are appreciated and noticed. It’s always the smallest victories that create the biggest steps.”

As Kelly says, addiction is a growing crisis, but it’s also slowly becoming less stigmatized. The introduction and accessibility of Naloxone (Narcan) has allowed more drug users to come forward and eventually seek treatment. But it’s slow progress, especially for the many people who don’t have access to the right kind of facilities, aren’t covered by health insurance, or struggle with other mental and physical health problems.

Kelly, who has conducted research into addiction and treatment accessibility, says the future for many users depends on access to dual diagnosis facilities (those that diagnose and treat both mental illness and addiction). However, her studies have shown that where many drug users are concentrated, there are no facilities in a nearby radius.

But Kelly remains hopeful. She’s been close to addiction, and she’s seen the heartbreak it causes. But she’s also seen the pride and peace that come with reaching sobriety. As for the three ODs in three hours? They all made it. Kelly hopes they, and the other patients she treats, will have another chance to fight back against addiction.

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