The opioid crisis has become an epidemic in itself.
It is reported on the TV news, in magazines and newspapers.
Residents of Navarro County may believe opioid overdose deaths don’t happen here, but they would be wrong.
According to countyhealthrankings.org, Navarro County in 2018 will experience 15 overdose deaths per 100,000 citizens. In 2016, Navarro County had 10 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents, while Ellis County saw 31, Dallas County reported 852, and Harris County experienced 1,200 per 100,000 people.
If you have health insurance, you can contact your provider and ask for drug rehabilitation services. If not, you may call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It is free, confidential, 24/7, 365 days per year treatment referral and information, in English and Spanish.
Affect of addiction on family
Rose Clark, an officer with the Corsicana Police Department, went through the horrors of drug abuse with her daughter Catherine Rose. Clark also suffered every parent’s worst nightmare — she received the call this past November her daughter had been found dead in a remote alley in Dallas.
Clark said Catherine was a quiet, rather introverted young child, who loved to read and was a straight A student. In high school, she began to come out of her shell a bit, and developed more of a social life. In her new social circle, she began to experiment a bit with drinking and a little marijuana.
“Then she started having really crazy mood swings, and was self-harming,” Clark said. “She had an eating disorder. Catherine was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 15.”
Looking back, Clark feels sure the reason Catherine turned to drugs, (which included opioids but eventually led to heroin) was to quiet the noise in her head, and make her feel happy. Catherine was often depressed, but graduated high school on time.
At 18, Catherine learned she was pregnant, and initially her mother was terrified. But when Catherine stopped using all drugs and focused solely on her new baby Ava, Clark’s worry turned to peace. However, it would be a short-lived peace, as once Catherine and Ava’s dad split up, she seemed to hit a downward spiral, eventually getting pregnant again. Though Catherine stopped using again during that pregnancy, the father of the baby was dealing drugs, so she had not escaped the trap.
“Later, she had broken up with that guy, but then she left my house with the two kids and he had just gotten out of jail for narcotics,” Clark said. “She called me a year later saying she was addicted to heroin.”
Back and forth it went, like the ups and downs on a roller coaster. Catherine went to rehab three times, and cleaned up several times, but then reverted back to using when she slipped back into her old crowd of friends. Clark said often kids may suffer a sports injury and be prescribed opioids for pain. Before they know it, they’re addicted, but it takes more and more to get the same high. Of course, prescription drugs are expensive, but you can get a bag of heroin for $10, she said.
“It was like watching her drown, and I couldn’t save her,” Clark said. “She became homeless. I could not enable her. She would not stay on her bipolar meds, and she was doing lots of heroin.”
At times, Catherine would call her mother to come get her in seedy parts of Dallas where she’d been shooting up in a dirty bathroom. Rose did everything she could think of to do, but Catherine kept ending up in another dope house.
“It tore me apart,” she said. “She assaulted me verbally and physically.”
Within a month after Catherine was finally arrested (and someone bailed her out), Clark received a call Nov. 20 from a Dallas homicide detective. He told her Catherine had overdosed, and the guy she was with dumped her in a remote alley in Dallas and waited 12 hours to call the police. It’s not known if she was dead when she arrived there, or died in the alley.
As the man she was with turned out to be the only witness, Clark only got his version of events. Catherine’s phone was never found, and in Dallas County, where this type of thing happens regularly, his story was accepted and no investigation was done.
“The reason I talk about this and share my story is because the Good Samaritan Law is in effect in some states, where if a person has drugs on them and calls 911 for someone who has overdosed, they would not be arrested,” she said. “If they knew they wouldn’t get in trouble for helping someone ... but the law was proposed and shot down in Texas in 2015.”
Clark lives with the constant question: if the man with her daughter, himself an addict, had just chosen to call 911 when he first found her that way, would the outcome have been different?
“My goal is to get that law passed in Texas,” she said. “To spread the word on overdose and how it can be prevented, so this doesn’t happen to other families. I have had many mothers reach out to me already.”
The number of people dying daily due to overdoses is staggering, not just across the nation, but in Texas too. Clark said there is stigma attached for people who suffer with substance abuse disorder.
“It’s a national crisis — but what’s being done about it?” she asked.
Rather than letting her pain and grief consume her, Clark said she is using it as fuel to get something done to help addicts. Education across all economic levels is crucial. She pointed out kids who never had a single problem in childhood can be addicted just like one who suffered abuse. A doctor or lawyer’s child can become an addict just as easily as a janitor’s child.
“I know several people who have lost loved ones to overdose just here in the past year,” she said. “I want to start a foundation in Catherine’s name eventually, to help other addicts get clean, and I would like to see more support groups in Corsicana for those who are addicts and their loved ones.”
Education is key
Alvis Reeves, Coalition Coordinator with IMPACT Drug Prevention Resources said there are numerous overdoses of drugs that go through the emergency room at Navarro Regional Hospital, but that many are moved to Dallas to get treatment.
“We do have overdose deaths in Corsicana,” Reeves said. “They’re just not publicized, and people don’t know what’s going on ... we are trying to get as much education out as possible. We did a lot of education at the Back to School rally a few weeks ago ... but it’s just not enough. We’ve got to get educated on this.”
A town hall meeting regarding opioid use and abuse was held roughly a month ago. Reeves said instead of slight attendance, there should have been 650 people there.
“We had a regional Drug Enforcement agent there and he scared the heck out of me, and I’ve been in this business a long time,” Reeves said. “It IS a crisis, and we need everyone’s help to highlight it. Kids aren’t really afraid of opioids because they are prescriptions. They think they’re OK because doctors prescribe it.”
Reeves went on to say the danger comes when kids (and adults) combine opioids with other meds, or take more than the prescribed dosage, it acts as a poison.
“People don’t realize every prescription is poisonous,” he said. “Whether it helps or hurts you depends on the dosage.”
Youths are often smaller than adults, and their bodies can’t tolerate as high a dosage as a grownup. That gives them a false sense of security. But what Reeves said most people don’t realize is how terribly addictive opioids are.
“You have to lock these things up,” Reeves said. “Kids will get them, grandkids visiting, friends of your own kids, etc. We’ve learned a lot of people will pretend to be looking for a house. They will go with a realtor to a home, then while one person goes with the agent to view the home, the other will head to the bathroom and raid the medicine cabinet.”
Pharmaceutical companies make huge profits from passing out opioids, and they encourage doctors to use them.
“Our law enforcement are doing a great job,” he said. “But they can’t do it all by themselves. We must educate our citizens.”
Opioids for pain management?
But what happens if you are away from home, possibly in another state, and are in a car accident. You suffer injuries and have to be taken to a hospital, where they give you medication for pain management. What’s to stop them from giving you opioids then? Do hospitals ask first before prescribing opioids? What if you’re unconscious, and can’t rate your pain on a scale of one to 10?
Karen (not her real name) found herself in that very predicament early this summer. She was visiting family up north, when several of them were involved in a bad car accident. When she woke up in the hospital, with several fractures, she learned she’d been on an increasing dose of hydrocodone, which eventually made her unable to keep food down. Karen did not recall discussing pain or pain meds with the staff attending to her.
Her husband, Pete, contacted the hospital in Ohio where she had stayed, asking why opioids were given to his wife as a first resort, rather than a last resort. Upon checking the website for that hospital, he discovered a page on pain management, but it made no mention of opioids.
Pete contacted Michael Stewart at Navarro Regional Hospital as well, and asked about the standards there with regard to opioid use. The standards for that hospital are outlined in a letter from Stewart in this edition of the newspaper.
“Being at the center of healthcare in Navarro County, we see the effects of substance abuse in our physician practice offices, the inpatient care setting and in our emergency department,” Stewart said in his letter to Pete. “Our accreditation organization, The Joint Commission, recently implemented more stringent standards on pain assessment and management in January 2018. I am proud to say that we were surveyed in February of this year and received our re-accreditation.”
Stewart continued by saying Navarro Regional is working within the framework of the Texas Hospital Association and the American Hospital Association who have established voluntary guidelines on opioid prescription.