prescription addiction: small towns not immune to rising opioid epidemic, Part 2

By Jacki Wood, written for the Nodaway News Leader, March 2016

Editor’s note: this is the second part in the series; the names have been changed to protect their privacy.

“The opioid epidemic has been called the worst drug crisis in American history,” wrote Dan Nolan and Chris Amico in their Frontline special, “Chasing Heroin,” on February 23.

“Death rates now rival those of AIDS during the 1990s, and with overdoses from heroin and other opioids now killing more than 27,000 people a year, the crisis has led to urgent calls for action.”

***

Adrianna
After being diagnosed with the chronic illness, Adrianna’s mom received a prescription to deal with the pain and their way of life changed very quickly.

Gone were the days of shopping and getting their nails done together, doing makeovers, talking until two in the morning.

“I started noticing a real difference in her,” Adrianna said. “She would come home (from work) and go straight to bed.”

Barely 16, Adrianna wasn’t really sure what was happening.

“My mom was either yelling at me or ignoring me,” she said. “She would tell me she didn’t love me. And never did. She would tell me she never wanted to see me again.

“Then a couple of hours later, she would say she was sorry.”

And that was just the beginning.

***

Over the last 15 years, opioid deaths have jumped 369 percent while heroin deaths have risen 439 percent, the CDC reports.

Heroin use is growing in popularity as a direct result of prescription painkillers.

Ninety-four percent of people in treatment for opioid addiction said they started using heroin because it was far cheaper and easier to get than prescriptions painkillers.

Nolan and Amico wrote: “Over the course of more than a decade, it has grown into a problem destroying lives across the nation, regardless of age, race, wealth or location.

“Nearly 90 percent of the people who tried heroin for the first time in the past decade were white. And a growing number are middle-class or wealthy.”

The opioid epidemic is erasing the stereotypes of drug abuse. It’s soccer moms and CEOs and even grandmothers.

Last July, the CDC found “significant increases in heroin use were found in groups with historically low rates, including women and people with private insurance and higher incomes. The gaps between men and women, low and higher incomes and people with Medicaid and private insurance have narrowed.”

***

Emergency departments across the country are also feeling the effects of the growing problem.

Between 2005 and 2014, the rate of hospitalizations and emergency department visits from opioid overuse in Missouri has more than doubled, according to the Missouri Hospital Association.

Pat Giffin, RN and emergency department nurse manager at SSM Health St. Francis, said the hospital in Maryville is dealing with similar trends.

“We are seeing a lot of Norco (hydrocodone) use and abuse,” Giffin said. “It has substantially increased in the past couple of years.”

***

Bethany
More than 20 years after her step-father’s car accident, where he was initially prescribed opioids for the pain, Bethany’s younger brother finally learned the truth about those emergency room visits from his childhood.

The 30-year-old youth pastor and father of four was astounded by the revelation.

“Do you realize I spent most of my childhood in an emergency room?” he said to her. “Mom had to drag me along to the ER when he had to get a shot for the ‘pain.’ All the soccer and baseball and basketball games missed…

“All because he was a drug seeker? It was preventable? It was all a lie?”

While Bethany was saddened by his disappointment, she was not surprised.

“Those physician-prescribed drugs ruled our life, and sadly, destroyed relationships and severed family ties,” she said.

***

Missouri is the only state in the nation, Giffin said, without a prescription drug monitoring program.

She said MHA issued a policy in November stating: “The absence of a prescription drug monitoring program through a registry system impedes the ability of physicians, pharmacists and hospitals to evaluate patients’ complete prescription and utilization profile.

“The use of a prescription drug monitoring program may be one effective strategy to help identify patients who may be seeking multiple providers and would benefit from opioid diversion.”

***

The chronic illness became too much for Adrianna’s mom to handle.

“It felt like she gave up on everything,” she said.

And that’s when she started abusing the medicine prescribed by her doctors.

“She held herself differently and sometimes I could barely understand what she was saying,” Adrianna said. “I tried to talk to her about it but she didn’t care about me or my opinion.”

With her dad working long hours – and not feeling like she could share her situation with her friends – Adrianna began to feel very alone.

“My life wasn’t supposed to end up like this,” she said.

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