opioid addiction

Seth Herald

Getting Right, Part 2

Read our entire Getting Right series.

Heading out into the field, public health nurse Brittany Combs is a little angry, and in a hurry. Driving the county’s mobile needle exchange through Austin, Indiana can be hectic. Today she’s on a mission to find Jessica, a young mother who wants to go to rehab. But Brittany keeps getting interrupted.

“I’m supposed to be going to get Jessica right now,” she says as she pulls out of the community center, where the needle exchange is based. ”I told her I’d be there at three. Well, that’s not gonna happen.”


Seth Herald

Getting Right, Part 3

Read the whole Getting Right series.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, Police Chief Don Spicer is on patrol in Austin, Indiana. He drives through the northern part of town, where dilapidated houses are interspersed among tidy ones with manicured lawns.


Seth Herald

Getting Right, Part 4: A Person Struggling With Addiction Wakes Up

Read the entire Getting Right series.

It’s early in the morning, and Kevin Polly is getting ready to go. His daughter has called to wish him well, and when he gets off the phone, he excuses himself. Before he leaves, he has to get right.

One last shot—that’s the hope, anyway.


Seth Herald

Ravaged by one of the worst outbreaks of HIV in recent history and an underlying epidemic of injection drug addiction,  a small rural community is changing fast as it grapples with the fallout of the crisis. In this 4-part series, reporter Jake Harper and photojournalist Seth Herald tell the story of shifting attitudes, new thinking, and signs of recovery.

OxyContin pills grind into a powder for snorting. This photo was taken in 2007. In 2010, Oxycontin was reformulated to make it more difficult to abuse. But a study found Medicare plans are cutting back coverage of OxyContin in favor of cheaper generics.
51fifty at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL , CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/), via Wikimedia Commons

Each year, about 16,000 Americans die from overdosing on prescription painkillers. The epidemic of prescription opioid addiction touches seniors along with other age groups. But Medicare drug plans are cutting back on coverage for a specially designated type of painkiller that deters abuse in favor of cheaper generics that don’t have the same deterrent qualities, a new study found.

Kimberley Enyart was never interested in doing recreational drugs. But then she was in a car accident — and her doctor prescribed a powerful opiate for the pain.

"It just would put me off in la-la land, and make me feel better," she says. "I loved it. I loved that high."

When Enyart's prescription ran out, she did whatever she could to convince other doctors that she needed more. Eventually, she moved on to dentists.

"I even had two back teeth pulled over it," she says.

Seth Herald / Side Effects Public Media

On a recent afternoon, Brittany Combs drove a white SUV through a neighborhood at the northern end of Austin, Indiana. In the back of her vehicle, there were hundreds of sterile syringes, each in a plastic wrapper.


Andrew Chambers is one of five addiction psychologists in the state of Indiana.
Andrew Chambers

Containing the nation’s growing heroin addiction and ongoing prescription opioid abuse epidemic, is often presented as a law enforcement problem. But behavioral health specialists say the addiction treatment side of the equation is equally urgent. And it’s an uphill battle in many states where addiction psychiatrists are few and funding is lacking.


The problem of opiate addiction in Maine is one that state Rep. Barry Hobbins knows something about. "One of my family members has been struggling with this dreaded addiction of opiates for six years," he says.

So when pharmaceutical company Pfizer — which makes opioids that have abuse-deterrent properties — asked Hobbins to sponsor a bill that would require insurance companies to cover these more expensive drugs at the same level as other opioids, he agreed.

A decade ago, Ken Lewis almost lost his arm to an intravenous (IV) drug addiction. Twice he developed cysts in his veins that exploded in the hospital. When he came out of surgery the doctor prescribed painkillers. So he traded his meth and heroin for the prescribed opiates.

"I was at my wit's end. I mean I was mentally gone, dead," he says. "Spiritually, I didn't believe in a god. Emotionally, didn't realize I was hurting people or hurting myself. Physically, I probably should've been dead."

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