AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF)– Ninety-one Americans die everyday from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And in August, President Trump informally declared the opioid overdose epidemic a National Emergency.
“I saw his leg on the ground… and a needle on the floor,” Jennifer Dawson told me. Her fiance, Jeremy, died of a heroin overdose just ten months ago.
“He had such a great heart. He was a person that I could be around that made me feel important. He always put me in the front,” Dawson described Jeremy. “I know he would want me to tell his story… so that no one else would have to feel this way.”
Opioids are drugs including heroin and powerful pain killers prescribed legally, like codeine, oxycodone and morphine. The Centers for Disease Control reports that overdose deaths involving prescription pills have quadrupled since 1999, and nearly 3 out of 4 people abuse prescription opioids before using heroin.
Dawson’s fiance wasn’t alone in using the drugs, though. “I was ashamed if anyone ever found out what I was doing because no one would believe that someone like me would be living that way,” Dawson told me. “And that’s the thing: It does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone.”
Ken Wilson, Director of Stepping Stones to Recovery in Augusta, has been working in the rehabilitation field for more than 30 years. He told me all addictions are not to drugs, but most are to a change of feeling.
“The feeling one gets from opioid use is just tremendous tranquility, relaxation.,” Wilson explained. “Pain goes away. Depression goes away, and you just don’t have a care in the world.”
But, with that high comes a tolerance. After some time, opioid users have to start taking increasingly higher doses to get the same effect.
Wilson said on the street, pain pills cost nearly 1 dollar per milligram. “It’s not uncommon for an opioid addict to use 100, 200, 250 milligrams per day,” Wilson told me. “This is not about using drugs or not using drugs. The opioid and heroin addiction is choosing to live… or to die.”
The insanity of the disease of addiction is that you can’t see that yes, you’ll get sick, you’ll get through it. It’s not like that,” Dawson admitted. “At the time it made sense to me. Stop going to the doctor and buy heroin off the street.”
And heroin is cheaper than pain pills. Wilson said you never know what you are buying off the streets, though: “You can cheapen the heroin by cutting with inherent materials. They’re putting the normal amount of heroin in the needle up their arm, but dying because of the other additives.”
“He used a little bit because what he used in the past is a massive amount. It was the fentanyl that took his life,” Dawson told me. “Everyone needs to know that chance is out there. It is Russian roulette.”
Experts say the opioid epidemic is hitting Georgia harder than most states. Earlier this year, Governor Nathan Deal made it legal to carry Narcan, the opioid reversal drug. And just last month, a statewide opioid task force was announced to combat the issue.
I had no idea the toll pain pills, a gateway drug to heroin, has on thousands in the CSRA.
It can happen to anyone.
Opioid addiction doesn’t discriminate, and for some, it starts with an injury– a doctor prescribes a months worth of pain pills, like percocet.
Well, Ken Wilson, Director of Stepping Stones Recovery in Augusta, told me that simple “short-term” prescriptions can dramatically turn into a lifestyle– where one physically craves the drug… just to fulfill day-to-day routines.
“The addiction is to a change of feeling,” Wilson told me.
I asked him, “What is the rage of pain pills? Why, according to the CDC, are opioids (pain pills and heroin) the main driver of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. right now?”
Wilson explained, “The feeling one gets from opioid use is just tremendous tranquility: Relaxaltion. Pain goes away, depression goes away, and you just dont have a care in the world.”
But, I learned, there’s a steep downfall. Once that initial pain goes away, the reason opioids were prescribed in the first place, doctors stop writing prescriptions. But for many, the addiction to that “serenity” feeling remains.
“The urge to take these pills is similar to an extreme hunger. If you can imagine how hungry you are at five minutes to 12, and you know at 12 noon you get to eat. You can multiply that 5 or 10 times, and that’s the drug hunger in the mind from opioid addiction,” Wilson explained.
For those who are trapped in the opioid crisis, there are treatments, more than doctor visits, to bring you out of the addiction. I learned support groups are crucial.
Wilson told me recovery is long-term: The brain heals very slowly. Responses come back over the course 12 to 18 months, usually.