An unending pursuit to eliminate pain in the American population has led to the downside of drug use — addiction. That’s according to two speakers familiar with a growing problem of opioid abuse.
Larry Perkinson, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.’s employee and student assistance director, and Columbus Police Sgt. Jay Frederick, both members of the Bartholomew County Substance Abuse Council, teamed again to talk about opioid addiction and its local ramifications during a community forum.
One of the charts Frederick added to his presentation Wednesday was an updated count of overdoses in Bartholomew County, provided by Bartholomew County’s Emergency Operations Director Ed Reuter.
Those numbers show overdose calls increased in January from 11 in 2016 to 21 this year, and in February from 13 in 2016 to 31 this year.
Story continues below gallery
Last year, 12 people in the county died from heroin overdoses, more than the previous three years combined: three in 2013, five in 2014 and one in 2015. Also in 2016, the county’s emergency operations center received 181 calls about all types of overdoses — up from 115 in 2015.
Although the numbers do not differentiate between what were opioid overdoses and those that might be other types of substances, Frederick said the numbers are pretty eye-opening as to what is happening locally with addiction.
“Columbus is no different than any other community facing this,” he said, describing it as the “perfect storm” of circumstances that have led people to seek pain-reducing substances from drug dealers after becoming addicted through prescription medication.
Their presentation to about 25 residents last week was similar to a talk they did in October as part of the Desperate Households Conference sponsored by the Bartholomew County Substance Abuse Council.
Wednesday’s session was designed to give time for community members to ask questions about the addiction epidemic in Columbus and the surrounding 10-county region, and what can be done to prevent the growing number of overdose deaths and how to help people struggling to regain normal lives after being caught in an addictive cycle.
Perkinson took listeners through a more than century-long look at America’s love affair with alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and lawmakers’ efforts to reign in the use of various substances while the norms of prescribing pain medications over the years changed.Describing Perkinson’s presentation as a great explanatory lead-in of the history of drug abuse in the United States, Frederick said you could see the history of U.S. drug policy leading to some of the addiction issues communities across the nation face now.
“I see us as just chasing our tail,” Frederick said of the cycle of prescribed pain medication being handed out without the need for doctor visits, and then having it reined back, leading people to find cheap opioids from drug dealers to substitute their prescription medications.
“Some people say we need to eliminate heroin, and that’s a great idea, but heroin isn’t the problem,” he said. “The addiction is the problem.”
Much of Frederick’s presentation comes from Sam Quinones’ book, “Dreamland,” which describes how drugs that were once marketed as miraculous pain relievers, including OxyContin, were actually extremely addictive substances that people could not detox from on their own.
In his book, Quinones takes readers to Mexico through the eyes of young people there who traveled to the U.S. to become workers for Mexican family drug cartels, which spread across the country selling cheap heroin to American addicts. In the book, he describes the cartels as sending their workers to methadone clinics to scout for people that they can persuade to relapse, to increase their sales and bring people back as customers.
Quinones will give a free presentation to Columbus residents at 6:30 p.m. April 19 at The Commons about his book, sponsored through Healthy Communities and Columbus Regional Health.
One slide in Frederick’s presentation notes that America makes up 4.6 percent of the world’s global population, but consumes two-thirds of the world’s illegal drugs.
Frederick also said Americans use 80 percent of the world’s opioid analgesics and 99 percent of the worlds’ hydrocodone, which he defined as a gateway drug to heroin.
Inside the brain
Why do people become so addicted to opioids and find it so difficult to get clean?Putting a “cop spin” on the answer, Frederick said the human brain is wired to do magical tricks when responding to pain — and the body releases chemicals when it is subjected to an injury as a response.
That response is controlled through a series of hypothetical “switches and knobs” in the brain that control the response, he said. But when an individual takes a drug to deal with the pain, it starts messing with the “switches and knobs” and the bodies’ normal response pattern.
“When we go rogue with drugs, we’re messing with the ‘switches and knobs’ and it’s called addiction,” he said. “The brain loses the ability to self-regulate.”
Dr. Teddy Saddoris, a physician who specializes in addiction treatment at Columbus Physician Associates, said many people who become addicted start out for the pleasure aspect but eventually evolve into getting high to avoid getting what is called “dope sick.”
“Try to imagine the worst case of influenza and then multiply that by 100 times,” she said of what withdrawal is like for an addict. “They will do anything to not feel that.”
While society treats drug abuse as a criminal act, Saddoris said it should be treated as a disease.
“We need to change the way we think about this, instead of viewing (drug addiction) as a weakness or a character flaw.”
Saddoris said some physicians in Columbus are beginning to use medications including suboxone to help addiction patients.
“The future is the medication route,” she said, and when questioned about that said that physicians don’t treat diabetics for a year with insulin and then say, ‘Let’s take you off that now.’
Working with inmates
Sevy Badgley, Columbus, who has worked with female inmates at the Bartholomew County Jail in an effort to help them recover from addiction, said she has heard women brag competitively about how many times they have received naloxone, an opioid antidote, before being revived from an overdose.“I’ve gone to funerals for some of them,” she said. “I talk to their family members.”
Badgley is advocating a halfway house in Columbus where people released from jail can go rather than return to the environment that led to their addiction, she said.
“I really love these women. When they are off drugs, they are wonderful to be around,” she said.
But some of the women find that difficult to maintain, which produces life-altering ramifications.
“A lot of them have lost their children. They have to go to court and sign away their kids,” she said.
Badgley said what is really needed in Bartholomew County is a treatment center and a halfway house to give people struggling with addiction a chance to find their way out.
“We don’t have anything in Bartholomew County,” she said.
After the session, Frederick said the scenarios described in “Dreamland” have not surfaced in Bartholomew County yet, and circumstances are not as dire as what police are facing in neighboring Ohio and Kentucky.
But heroin is very much available in Columbus, he said.
“It’s who you know,” he said of the opioid supply locally. “I wish I could say it was hard to access.”
Today’s story in the second day of a two-part report on opioid addiction that is gripping Columbus, other areas of Indiana and the nation as a whole.
In Sunday’s Republic, community leaders talked about a coalition that is working on a local solution to the widespread opiate-addiction epidemic.