Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Opioid Problem

The opioid problem is bad in the state of Ohio. Several weeks ago it was featured on 60 Minutes as one of four states with the worse problems.  I know it is quite bad in Trumbull County, the county I live in, and the county north of us and south of us, although I think our rate is worse. From the map I looked at, it’s really bad in southern Ohio, too. Since 2010, Ohio has had 12,835 deaths, 68% men and 32% women.

Our county is fast passing up 2016 on 2016 OD totals.  Our county coroner, Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk confirmed 60 people in Trumbull County have died between January 1 and July 22 this year from acute fentanyl, heroin, carfentanil, cocaine and mixtures of numerous drugs.  Fifty other deaths since July are suspected drug overdoses, but their cases are awaiting the results of toxicology screenings and procedural actions.

The 110 cases, if all confirmed, surpass the 107-accidental drug overdoses the coroner recorded in 2016 in our county. And we still have three more months to go.

Many, many more have overdosed and lived since the beginning of the year, according to data from the Trumbull County Combined Health District and the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board. Thank goodness to first responders with Naloxone, often called Narcan.

In the Friday addition of our Tribune Chronicle, Renee Fox interviewed, April Caraway, the executive director of the Recovery Board. She said “We are grieved about so many preventable deaths.” She goes on to say, “The disease of addiction is chronic, pervasive, biological and all consuming. People who are living with the diseases of addiction aren’t ‘weak,’ as some people believe. Physiological changes occur when someone gets addicted to drugs. The path to recovery includes medical, emotional and spiritual help. We should never give up on them.”

I have a very good friend, Laura, who works at First Step Recovery, a place a cousin of mine started where the court sends drug addicts to recover. If any beds are available, First Step Recovery takes in addicts who want to be free of their addictions, too. Unfortunately, many all too often only stay clean for a certain amount of time before going back to drugs.

So many of these addictions come because they have been prescribed pain pills, and after a while, the doctor stops the prescription so they turn to heroin or other drugs for relief from their pain.

Some of you may remember the blog I wrote about a man I found hanging in my woods almost three years ago. He was a suicide, and I learned he had been fighting a heroin addiction when the man’s son and sister showed up at my door two days after I found his body. They told me he’d been a mason for 25 years lifting those heavy construction blocks for basements, and he ended up with back problems. His girlfriend, who was addicted to heroin, got him started on it. He had been free of it for one month, and the coroner told his sister and his son that addicts crash after one month of being drug free.

Last week a man from West Virginia was stopped at the end of an off ramp, and people kept driving around the stopped car, until a family stopped to check out what was wrong. The mother, Yasmin Rivera, was driving it that afternoon. Her daughter Chuarali Rivera at first didn’t think anyone was in there. Then she noticed the man wasn’t moving. Another car with a woman named Marlene Martinez had stopped, too, and asked her son, Mark Martinez if the man was still alive because he didn’t look normal. He was pale and shaking and the car was still in gear and his foot on the pedal. His doors were locked and they tried to wake him up. One of them called for help and the first responders broke a backseat window and revived him while he sat in the driver seat. He was taken to a hospital, and the next day he faced charges for driving under the influence, possession of drug abuse instruments and not wearing a seat belt.

 Renee Fox interviewed both the Martinezs and Riveras. They all said they were surprised more people didn’t stop to check on the driver. “A human being is a human being no matter what, and deserves the chance to keep living,” Yasmin Rivera said.

I’ve heard people saying no one who OD’d should be treated with Narcan. Chances are they’d still use drugs again. I know that’s true, but when I look at the obituaries and see faces of young people in their 30s or under with it saying “. . . died unexpectedly in his/her home,” you know it was from a drug overdose and my heart aches for their families.

April Caraway said, “Addiction effects everyone in the family and our entire community is struggling with this epidemic. The individuals who have overdosed and those who have died have grieving children, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. Schools, first responders, counseling agencies, hospitals, the coroner’s office, businesses and so many others have been impacted by this growing epidemic.

I agree with what Yasmin Rivera said and it’s why I planted daffodils in the woods where the man hung himself. Not that it would bring him back to life but in memory of a man who was so miserable the only way out of his misery that he could see was to kill himself. Why in my woods? I’m sure it was because he knew about my path through the woods and even though I had never met him, his girlfriend, who started him on heroin, her property came up to the edge of my woods. Rather than have her little girls find his body, he figured I would, and his family would never have to wonder what happened to him. The only person I knew personally who OD’d on heroin happened at least a dozen years ago. She lived across the street from me, and had injured her back where she worked. When the doctor took away her pain pills, the girl she was sharing an apartment with gave her heroin. She was a good girl, and had been a top-notch softball player. Her team had won the Ohio State softball title for their high school.

In Sunday, October 8th’s Tribune, they had a whole page devoted to solutions for the current opioid problem that different local organizations are working on including some that seem to be working in other cities and towns that although not getting rid of the problem totally, have cut back on it.

As for me, I just want to go back to reading the obituary pages filled with people who had lived a long life and not younger people who died too soon from opioid drugs, and not having daily reports on the opioid problem.

Do you know anyone who is addicted to opioids?

Do you know anyone who OD’d and died from them?



  1. Gloria thank you for your blog and your research. It it a massive and complicated problem. I liken their drug addiction to my own challenges with diet. Even though I have Type II Diabetes, I frequently make poor choices, return to my old ways, and... fall off the diet wagon. For any folks out there who take offense at the drug addicts... how many times have you started a new diet? Or fallen off your nutrition plan? Our risks include heart attack, cholesterol, and strokes... but do we always eat correctly? Or do we return to "our drug"? -- Laura

  2. Laura, so true. I can't resist chocolate, and when people give me a box of chocolate, I put it on top of some books in my library up high and think if it's out of sight, I won't eat it.
    Then I think I'll just eat one piece. Well maybe one more would be okay, too.

  3. I am sooo glad chocolate isn't heroin!!!

  4. Cincinnati has a huge problem with the opioid epidemic, from overdoses (first responders administer Narcan) to crimes by opioid users.

  5. Anonymous. Me, too.

    Margaret, I saw on the map that southern parts of Ohio have a lot of problems, too. Recently, it was found out that a shipment of new cars from Mexico had narcotics hidden in the tires, I think, or some other place that wouldn't be checked coming over the border. Now I'm sure they're checking closer. At our women's guild meeting last week, a highway patrol officer came in with his dog trained to find drugs. Earlier before he brought the dog in and we came into the room, he had hidden marijuana in a fire alarm box. After he started in talking to us
    about his young dog, who had been brought over from Europe, he told us that he had gone through the training with his dog and all commands are in German, which he demonstrated. The
    reason for that is because he didn't want the dog to respond to any English commands. That
    was part of the training they both went through After he'd talked awhile, in German he said marijuana, I guess, and the dog raced to the fire alarm box and stood up on his hind legs and pawed at it. The officer said the dog is taught the words for the different drugs he's to look for. What does the dog get for doing that? Not a treat, but an orange plastic tube that he leaps to get and play with.

  6. Gloria, this was is so sad. Can things be so bad in this country that people turn to things that can lead to their deaths? When I was a kid, I saw an episode of "Playhouse 90" that showed a play where teens were going through withdrawal. I was so traumatized by what I viewed that nothing could have induced me to experiment with drugs.

  7. Grace, it is sad. I think of the young girl who lived across the street from me who got hooked on it because of her back pain and a friend who introduced her to it. And the man
    who hung himself in my woods leaving two grown children and a sister who were grieving for
    him. Several men in jail recently OD'd and the police don't know where they got the drugs.
    I'm thinking either they weren't properly checked by whoever admitted them or someone managed to slip them some. Even worse are the people who OD with kids in the car or in their home. Right now there's a baby in Akron Children's hospital who has OD'd on a drug. I forget what they said it was, but all too often I've read or heard of children who got ahold of their parents or even a grandmother's opioid drug.

  8. I is a terrible problem in search of a solution.

  9. Warren and Julie, it is a sad situation. There are so many people trying to find a solution to it It's bad enough being addicted to smoking or alcohol but this is much worse. I'm so glad my children and grandchildren have never become addicted to drugs. I don't think marijuana it quite as bad. I know when my son was going through chemo, his doctor suggested that he use that. It did stop the vomiting.

  10. I happen to have first-hand knowledge of this problem because my husband has had five back operations including two that fused three of his disks. In every case of heroin addiction, your blog stated, "when doctors stopped prescribing." Therein lies the problem. The political arena seems to be overstepping its boundaries into fields in which it has no expertise. Doctors are chastised if the prescribe painkillers. Some have looked my husband in the face and said, "nothing will ease your pain except Percocet." They know and have acknowledged what he needs. What I'd like to ask those politically correct people--have you ever been in so much continuous pain that life isn't worth living? When suicide becomes an option? Doctors should be trying to make their patients lives better. Why not prescribe with supervision? It alleviates the pain, keeps the patient accountable, keeps patients from taking drugs that are twice as lethal and illegal. Those who have never had such pain should not be in the decision-making arena.

  11. Gloria, this is terrifying. I saw a piece on NBC News about the crisis that focused on Dayton, OH. It's particularly scary to me because we're looking at Ohio U as a possible college for our daughter, and according to your map, that's a very high-risk county.It makes me think twice about sending her to the area. But My cousin's youngest son died of a heroin overdose in New York City a few years ago - the same batch of heroin that killed Philip Seymour Hoffman - so it's clearly a nationwide problem. He was a handsome 27 year-old kid with a great job and live-in girlfriend. All gone. Because of drugs.

  12. E.B. I so agree with you. My son John's doctor was good about prescribing pain pills for him. One day when I brought him home from the Cleveland Clinic, I went to the pharmacy that had filled them before and they said they didn't have any. I sat up with him all night rubbing his leg and trying to help the pain. Eventually, he fell asleep and at 4:00 a.m. I drove all the way to the Cleveland Clinic to get his prescription filled there after not sleeping all night. I know my youngest daughter suffers from sciatica pain from accidents and a cyst on her spine where the sciatic nerve goes through it so the doctors can't remove it. She had several operations that only made it worse. So far she's taking a pill that helps and has not yet been ruled as an opioid.

    Ellen, that's so sad. I don't know of any place that is totally drug free. I grieve for my son, who died of cancer, but at least I know he didn't do anything to cause his death, and he died at home in my arms.

  13. Gloria--I'm glad to hear that your son got the drugs he needed. In his case, unfortunately, it was a temporary measure.

    What the politically correct camp doesn't understand is that most cases are permanent--patients will live out their lives in pain without drugs. There is a test, scaled from 1-100, which gauges dependency, 100 being a total addict. My husband's problems started in 2006--eleven years ago. When tested, he scored an eight. What this means is that pain can be managed with drugs without dependency developing. He has no trouble not taking the meds, and from time to time he tests himself by only taking one of his normal two per evening (to sleep pain-free). He always ends up waking up in pain during the middle of the night without the second pill. His doctor says that he doesn't need the test to tell him if a person is an addict or not. As soon as they walk into his office, he can look at the patient and he knows who is or isn't an addict. I will say that my husband is as self-disciplined as anyone can be. He's no slouch. But it proves that pain management can be accomplished without turning patients into addicts. We need to allow doctors to help patients in pain without perpetuating the myth that prescription drugs kill. They can--but a lot of it is up to the patient. What kills is taking patients out of medical treatment and turning them over to drug pushers and cartels who only want their money. This isn't treatment.

    The slogan drugs kill is simplistic and ignores the larger problem. People in pain need help. By chastising doctors who prescribe pain meds, the problem is swept under the rug like so much dirt under their feet.

  14. E.B. I have a daughter who has had severe sciatic pain for years. She tries to do without the tramadol or only take one pill as your husband does, but the pain comes back and keeps her awake nights. She's always afraid the doctor will stop prescribing it. I agree that people in pain need them and doctors should realize that. Fortunately, some do, although once she had a doctor when she first developed the problem who prescribed an incredibly large amount of Vicodin. She put it in her cupboard and never opened it and later found out he was getting money from the company who makes it.

  15. Opioid misuse and addiction has been around for a long time. The first time I was dealing with someone I knew had a problem with them, and moved onto heroin because the doctor stopped prescribing was well over 30 years ago.

    Unfortunately, those who make the regulations don't seem to understand that there's a difference between the kids who swipe half the prescription pills from the home medicine cabinet to bring them to a party, where they are dumped in a bowl and everyone takes a handful, and responsible people in serious pain.

    Most of the drugs that get into correctional facilities come in with staff.

    If there are contact visit, the standard method is drugs in a balloon which is shifted from visitor to inmate during the permitted kiss at greeting, and swallowed. Same way with someone who is reporting to jail, although then he/she can skip the kiss and transfer portion. That method does take a few days for the balloon to reappear.

    "Suitcasing"--a balloon filled with drugs and shoved so far up the rectum that it won't be discovered during a body cavity search --is another method. Not as long a wait there.

    People have been known to sew drugs into the seams of "court clothes" that someone drops off for an inmate to wear for court appearances. Somehow showing up for trial, esp. a jury trial, in an orange jumpsuit is considered prejudicial. The inmate accesses the drugs while in a holding cell at the courthouse, or as he/she is changing back to prison clothes when returns to the facility.

    And then there's always drugs, especially low-volume drugs like LSD, on the backs of stamps or the flaps of envelopes on incoming mail. And traces "glued" to the corners of the interior of envelopes that stay put when the mail is removed & searched. Toothpaste is sometimes the "glue."