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OnePath is your toolkit for helping to combat the opioid epidemic as a member of the medical community with empathy, mindfulness, and a big-picture perspective.

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E10: Matthew's Story

Ohio is referred to as “ground zero” of the opioid epidemic for a reason. However, there are tools and support available to those who are ready to defeat their addiction-- and Matthew Hawkins is someone who utilized those resources to their fullest extent. He found his way into the MetroHealth community by way of pursuing treatment for his opioid use disorder. After a long struggle, Matthew was able to obtain his goal of sobriety with the help of MetroHealth.

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E10: Matthew Hawkins

This is OnePath with Metrohealth, your toolkit for helping to combat the opioid epidemic as a member of the medical community with empathy, mindfulness, and a big-picture perspective. I’m Libbey Pelaia, educator within Metrohealth’s department of Opioid Safety. Thanks for joining us.

The opioid epidemic has impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, and not just those experiencing addiction firsthand-- families, partners, friends, classmates, and entire communities at large have been hit by the destructive wave of opioid use disorder, reeling from the loss of beloved individuals at the hands of these powerful drugs. This is especially true in the greater Cleveland area and in Ohio at large-- the state is referred to as the “ground zero” of the opioid epidemic for a reason.

However, there are tools and support available to those who are ready to defeat their addiction-- and Matthew Hawkins is someone who utilized those resources to their fullest extent. Matthew was born and raised in the Cleveland area, and first found his way into the MetroHealth community by way of pursuing treatment for his opioid use disorder. After a long struggle, Matthew was able to get into an intensive outpatient program-- the ExAM program-- through Metro. Through that program, Matthew reached his goal of sobriety.

Matthew told us that the origins of his opioid use disorder go all the way back to 2009, around the time when his mother passed away from cancer.

Matthew Hawkins:

That's when I started messing around with different drugs or certain other substances. I happened to try oxycodone from a dentist is actually where I first got it. I had some dental work done and they gave me a prescription for Percocet. I took it and it was crazy because the first time I took it I was like, "wow." It instantly took away the stress I was feeling over my life. It took away some of just the grief I was feeling. I was like, "Wow, this would be great if I felt like this all the time."

Matthew Hawkins:

I was probably prescribed too much. I was given it for a couple months when I probably should have been only given it for a week or something like that. That's where it started.

Matthew says that over the years, things slowly snowballed. This is a very common story for those experiencing addiction. They start with prescription painkillers, and inevitably encounter barriers to obtaining more of those painkillers, only to resort to heroin or fentanyl. Matthew started using heroin in 2017, and that’s when he found himself in county jail. Fortunately, this is how Matthew connected with MetroHealth.

Matthew Hawkins:

They did a task assessment for me through the county jail that I was in for some drug issues or whatever. They did an assessment and as soon as I got out, they got me into the program. It was awesome. There was no lag time so it really helped me. It gave me hope too, which was funny.

Matthew Hawkins:

When you're going through that, it's really hard to find help. A lot of people want it, but they just don't know how to get it. That's the disconnect I see with opiate use disorders, substance use disorder in general, is people want help but they don't know how to get it. And they're afraid to get it or go through withdrawal. That's the big disconnect that I think the exam program specifically helps a lot and connects people with the resources that they need to get help. It's really amazing what Metro is doing through the exam program with the Cuyahoga County Jail, it's great.

Matthew shared that MetroHealth is a bit different than most other healthcare systems when it comes to their attitude toward, and treatment of, opioid use disorder. Metro’s stigma-reducing approach is especially meaningful.

Matthew Hawkins:

There's definitely a lot of stigma and I don't want to just say healthcare, but just in general with substance use. People are made to feel like they have a moral fault within them when we know that's not true. We know it's a disease and it's got a lot of the things in your brain that need fixing and therapy. But some people think it's just a moral deficiency. That's what's great with educating people and healthcare providers or just with everything.

Matthew Hawkins:

I've gone to the emergency room in a local ER, and I would tell them what I was going through. "Hey, I'm going through opiate withdrawal. I really ..." You want help. You don't know where to go. They really, I think the only thing, they gave me paper with a couple of phone numbers to call, but at that time I didn't have health insurance. I didn't have a job. Most people going through that lose a lot of things along the way.

Matthew Hawkins:

I remember another thing they told me was, and I've talked about this a lot too, but they said, "Oh, well, the only thing we can do here is really make sure you don't die." That stuck with me at first. I think about that almost every day is that's what the ER doctor told me. This is while I was like withdrawing. I feel terrible. I'm sweating and sort of shaking. I'm like, "Oh, I wonder what they're going to do." They're like, "Well, we can make sure you don't die." I'm like, "Oh, that's nice."

Experiences like this-- being belittled by those who are supposed to be helpful to folks experiencing illness-- are, understandably, a cause of mistrust between those seeking help and those willing to provide it. Matthew says that this is a standard feature of the lived experience of opioid addiction.

Matthew Hawkins:

You're used to authority figures like police or this, you're used to being talked down to, and you're automatically on the defensive. When you could break down that wall and just be like, "Hey, we have these options. We could help you." That's like one of the best things I think that. Before speaking with a Metro representatives, I never had that before. It was more of just the clock-in, clock-out, no emotion to it. That connection is I think, a really big part of the success in the exam program and the IOP programs that Metro is providing.

Even with Metro’s comprehensive programs, AND with staff being as well-trained and empathetic as they are, accepting help and getting on the path towards sobriety can be a challenge. Matthew was at the end of his rope when he finally decided to pursue recovery.

Matthew Hawkins:

I was just losing everything in my life. I mean, not being able to keep a job steadily, because the first thing you think of and you need to get this opioid so you don't feel sick all day. When I knew it was a problem was once I got to the point where I needed this to just function through my day. I couldn't even, I wasn't even getting high at a certain, I was just trying to not get sick, which probably a lot of people talk about that. That point is probably when I knew, I was like, "Okay, I need some help."

Matthew Hawkins:

Going to jail is a big, that's a big problem. That's not good. I guess you would say that was my sort of rock bottom where that made me realize, "Okay, you need to change things or else you're not going down a good path. You're going to end up in jail or end up dead from an overdose." That happens all the time. It's terrible. That's when I came to the realization. That was, I think, like the kick in my pants to get me going and see what I need to do. That's what helped me personally, which is sort of counterintuitive, but being in jail helped me get sober.

While Matthew’s time in jail was not fun by any means, he believes that the period of forced sobriety is what moved him-- and moves many others-- towards pursuing it as a lifestyle.

Matthew Hawkins:

A lot of people going through that will end up in jail, maybe not for long, but they'll end up there for a variety of issues. That point when they're in the jail and they're forced to be sober. They have that clear mind for that short space window, and that's when I was reached out to from Metro staff. They got their prongs. They got to me right at that point where I could understand I needed help. I think that fails to happen a lot. Just doing that, I think, you can, you can capture so many people when they're clear minded and they know, "Okay, I need help," I could get help, and getting them that help right when they get out, with the Medicated Assisted Treatment, if they need. I think that's what is reaching so many people that were just forgotten before.

Matthew Hawkins:

When I was in the jail... they came in and did a assessment, just asking, almost not exactly like this, but just asking my background of opioid use and what got me to where I'm at, and all these different questions. They asked, it was like I said, it was about an hour long. It was very long and informative. They gave me the opportunity. They said, we have this IOP program, this MAT program, Medicated Assisted Treatment. You could be offered Vivitrol. It's the newer opioid treatment or Suboxone is sort of, that's been around longer. But they just gave me options really

Matthew Hawkins:

During that window, it was like, it felt amazing just to be sober. Even though I was in a bad environment, I was still happy because I hadn't been sober in so long. Just being able to think clearly, and then to be given that option to get help. Then, the kicker was just the extras that they threw in like helping me get insurance to help pay for everything. They helped me get Medicaid. Because that's the biggest thing. You could be told, "You can do this or that," but if you don't have the money to pay for it, that's not going to help you much. They really walked me through everything.

Matthew Hawkins:

They gave me everything I needed. I didn't have a transportation at the time. Metro has a deal with Lyft where they can get patients to rides to and from whatever they need in their treatments or their IOP classes. I've never heard of that, anyone doing that before, and that's a big thing. I think probably over 50% of the people in those IOP groups utilize that tool because they've lost their license or they don't have transportation. They don't have the family support to get them to those places.

Matthew Hawkins:

They just ticked off all the marks that I needed to get me to the treatment. They took away all the walls in a way, if that makes sense. They really helped. It was amazing.

The highly accessible, patient-affirming, and foundationally empathetic approach that MetroHealth employs with those in recovery made all the difference to Matthew in his journey towards sobriety.

In the past, when I lived in Florida for a few years, I went to a Suboxone clinic. He talked to me for five minutes and he's like, "Okay, here's your prescription?" That was it.

Matthew Hawkins:

There was no therapy and it didn't really help me. I got the prescription and I didn't learn anything about opioid use. I didn't learn why I was dealing with things the way I was. It ended up turning out bad in the end. That's the only other experience I have with an actual other treatment facility.

Matthew Hawkins:

Because I think the hardest part is just getting into a treatment facility. Even around here, before I got in trouble with the law and got into the Metro health treatment, I would call other places and they'd say, "Oh, we're full. Unless you have cash. If you want to pay cash, we could help you." I'm like, "I don't have cash right now." It's hard. I know a lot of people too, who have been through that where they want help and they're like, "Oh, I give up. I'll take help if I could get it, I'll take it." But they just don't have that opportunity think giving people that opportunity and just giving them the options and it's just an amazing thing and it doesn't happen often.

In his new sober life, Matthew has been pursuing ways to help others who are experiencing opioid addiction. In fact…

Matthew Hawkins:

I'm actually taking courses for my CDCA, which is a Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant… I actually just got my certificate two days ago.

Matthew Hawkins:

I've been lucky to have a lot of role models at Metro and a lot of really nice people at all the different campuses that I've been to. I mean, I've gotten my Vivitrol shot on the east side at the Broadway location. I did my IOP in Parma and the main campus branch. Everywhere in the office for Opiate Safety, people are so nice and they really care is the big difference that I see. It's a personal ... It's not like a clock in clock out type of a job. It makes it easy to connect with people, which is a big thing when you're trying to help people with opiate use disorder.

Matthew’s time working with the team in the office of opioid safety has inspired him to do similar work.

Matthew Hawkins:

When I've gone there and I see how everybody acts and everyone's having a good time and discussing things and making real-time decisions that affect a lot of people, but doing it in a healthy way that everyone's doing it for the right reasons and not just doing it for whatever there is, a check or other things. But yeah, it's helped me a lot. Hopefully, I want to end up getting back into college and I'm thinking, I'll try to get my bachelor's and a specific behavioral science with treatment options and with addiction medicine

Matthew Hawkins: I mean, it affected me so much and I know so many people now through the treatments I've been in and how many other people it's helping get their families back together, getting their children back. It does so many good things that people don't realize. It's really awesome to see and just be involved in that.

Matthew is a great example of how someone can use the resources available to them to turn their life around. His generosity with his story and his experiences is greatly appreciated, and we cannot wait to see what Matthew does next.

But as we arrive at the end of this first season of OnePath… what have we learned? What steps can medical professionals take to ensure that Matthew sharing his story impacts the practices of those with prescribing power, and not just those being prescribed to?

Ask questions. Seek help when confused or unsure about how to provide the best pain management options for a patient. Use the resources available to you, and if they’re not available at your healthcare system, be the one who begins advocating for change. The defeat of the opioid epidemic will be nothing if not a team effort, and change happens outside of one’s comfort zone: now it’s your turn to get uncomfortable, get curious, and help reduce the power of opioids in your community.

OnePath with Metrohealth is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, produced, written, and engineered by Hannah Rae Leach and mixed by Sean Rule-Hoffman. Special thanks to Mike Tobin, Karolyn Tibayan, Joan Papp, Joya Riffe, and the entire Department of Opioid Safety in making this show possible.

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The Team

Libbey Pelaia

Libbey Pelaia (host) is an educator within the Office of Opioid Safety and has a demonstrated history of leading initiatives within the healthcare, research, and higher education sectors.

Hannah Rae Leach

Producer & Engineer
Hannah Rae Leach (producer and engineer) is a Cleveland-based audio producer, writer, musician, and newly-minted advocate for opioid safety.

Joan Papp, MD FACEP

Joan Papp, MD FACEP is the founder and Medical Director of the Office of Opioid Safety at MetroHealth Medical Center.

Karolyn Tibayan

Karolyn Tibayan is the Director of the Office of Opioid Safety at MetroHealth Medical Center.

Sean Rule-Hoffman

Mix Engineer
Sean Rule-Hoffman (mix engineer) earned a degree in Music Technology with a minor in Electronic Media and Film from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio.

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