Central New York, Drugs, Health

Impacts of the Opioid Epidemic

Used syringes sit in a bin after being disposed by heroin addicts in exchange for a kit containing new ones (c) AP Photo

Click the play button to find out more about the opioid epidemic and the lives it is effecting. 

Story Script: Glicksman Script

By Morgan Glicksman SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Drug overdoes have become the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, with two-thirds of those deaths from opioids.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 115 people die every day from opioid overdoses.

Opioids are highly-addictive substances found in certain prescription pain medications and illegal drugs such as heroin.

“Addiction is the worst, opioid addiction, it sucks. There is no joy in it,” said recovering drug user, Kevin Donovan.

Donovan began using drugs in his early teens and eventually became addicted to heroin.

“I became addicted to the pain killers. When I was taking them I didn’t really know what opioids were and then heroin was everywhere and the pills were harder to get so I switched to heroin,” said Donovan.

According to Donovan, drug use was common at one of his previous jobs which helped fuel his addiction. People battling heroin addiction often keep using to avoid painful symptoms of withdrawal.

“I woke up sick without them and you’re constantly chasing that and it just got bad because it got to the point where that supersedes anything. Avoiding going through the withdrawal was number one and even though I wouldn’t want it to be, I would do things I wouldn’t want to do to get the drugs,” said Donovan.

Donovan said he often stole money from family members to help pay for the drugs. According to the NIDA, a heavy heroin user can spend up to $200 a day, or $53,000 a year, to support their addiction.

Darlene Endy is the mother of a former addict. Her son, Justin, battled a heroin addiction for many years and is now over two years sober.

“Probably the most important thing I did was to hide my wallet to make sure I wasn’t contributing to his addiction,” said Endy.

Long-term opioid abuse can cause severe strain on relationships and families. “It effected all my relationships, I stole from family members and I was lying all the time,” said Donovan.

“I lived my son’s death a thousand times in my mind because I kept thinking I would never see him alive again. It is the most painful thing that you can imagine, it’s like watching somebody die a little bit every day and you can’t do anything about it.” said Endy.

Endy advises parents with children suffering from an opioid addiction that the best way to help them is to maintain a relationship.

“Make a point of trying to listen to the person and communicate to them that even if you don’t agree with what they are doing that you love them and that you’ll always be there to help them get well. You can’t support the choices they make that are harmful, and you don’t have to, but don’t cut off your relationship to them because it is super important,” said Endy.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, opioid addiction is a long lasting chronic disease. “Realize it is a disease. Break though that denial. Don’t blame yourself. Understand that your brain chemistry has been changed and that you have to approach it like diabetes or any other kind of disease,” said Donovan.

Opioid addiction can be treated with counseling, hospital based in-patient rehabilitiation programs and medications that can decrease withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

“People can recover, I am proof of that for sustained recovery. I think that the first step is to admit you have a problem and get through that denial and understand that it is not your fault,” said Donovan.

Since getting help, Donovan has made a full recovery and is nearly seven years sober. “Since I have gotten into recovery my relationships have pretty much healed. I think people saw that I was serious about really addressing the issues that led to the addiction in the first place. Things have gotten a lot better,” said Donovan.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from an opioid addiction, you can find help at NOAC.org or call 1-800-662-4357.