addiction

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Four Kentuckians die of drug overdoses every day, according to the state Office of Drug Control Policy. Most of those deaths are due to opioids, chief among them fentanyl, a powerful synthetic drug that has properties similar to heroin.

During a daylong update Wednesday on the state of Kentucky’s opioid epidemic, lawmakers heard from doctors, counselors and those in recovery about efforts to combat drug addiction.

The attorneys general of 41 U.S. states said Tuesday that they're banding together to investigate the makers and distributors of powerful opioid painkillers that have, over the past decade, led to a spike in opiate addictions and overdose deaths.

Jonathan Guffey has chiseled youthful looks and, at 32, does not have the haggard bearing of someone who has spent more than half his life hooked on opioids. That stint with the drug started at 15 and ended — he says for good — 22 months ago. He has a job working with his family in construction, but his work history is pockmarked by addiction.

"I've worked in a couple of factories for a short amount of time, probably just long enough to get the first check to get high off of," Guffey says.

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Louisville Metro government is suing the country’s three largest opioid distribution companies: Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson.

Mayor Greg Fischer and Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell announced the federal lawsuit Monday morning.

President Trump says he is ready to declare the nation's opioid crisis "a national emergency," saying it is a "serious problem the likes of which we have never had." Speaking to reporters at the entrance to his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, where he is on a working vacation, Trump promised "to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis."

Update 3:35 pm August 10: Two days after making a few general remarks about the opioid crisis, President Trump on Thursday called it "a national emergency" and said his administration would be drawing up papers to make it official.

"We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis," Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

Rebecca Kiger

The Trump administration’s top health official backed away from a presidential commission’s proposal to declare a national public health emergency to address the opioid crisis. An emergency declaration could have big implications for the Ohio Valley, a region with some of the country’s highest addiction and overdose rates.

The top recommendation from President Trump’s commission on the opioid crisis was for the president to declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency.


In Prince George's County, Md., every first responder carries naloxone, the drug that can reverse an opioid overdose.

"We carry it in our first-in bags," says Bryan Spies, the county's battalion chief in charge of emergency services. "So whenever we arrive at a patient's side, it's in the bag, along with things like glucose, aspirin and oxygen."

Philip Kirby says he first used heroin during a stint in a halfway house a few years ago, when he was 21 years old. He quickly formed a habit.

"You can't really dabble in it," he says.

Late last year, Kirby was driving with drugs and a syringe in his car when he got pulled over. He went to jail for a few months on a separate charge before entering a drug court program in Hamilton County, Ind., north of Indianapolis. But before Kirby started, he says the court pressured him to get a shot of a drug called Vivitrol.

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Robert Stivers, the president of the Kentucky State Senate, said he’ll ask to intervene in a legal challenge against OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma in order to release documents that deal with a settlement the company made with the state in late 2015.

Stivers, a Republican from Manchester, suggested the case was improperly settled by former Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway, saying the $24 million windfall amounted to “pennies on the dollar” of what the state could have gotten.

In late May, several senators went to the floor of the Senate to talk about people in their states who are affected by the opioid crisis. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., talked about Chelsea Carter.

"She told me her drug habit began when she was 12 years old," said Capito.

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Lawyers for the Boston Globe have asked a Kentucky appeals court to release the secret testimony from a member of the family that controls one of the country's largest manufacturers of prescription painkillers.

The Kentucky Attorney General's office sued Purdue Pharma in 2007 for its deceptive marketing of OxyContin, an addictive prescription painkiller. The case was settled in 2015 for $24 million. But before it settled, former company president Richard Sackler gave an on-the-record deposition that is part of the court file. Sackler is a member of the family that controls the company.

The state of Ohio has sued five major drug manufacturers for their role in the opioid epidemic. In the lawsuit filed Wednesday, state Attorney General Mike DeWine alleges these five companies "helped unleash a health care crisis that has had far-reaching financial, social, and deadly consequences in the State of Ohio."

Named in the suit are:

  • Purdue Pharma
  • Endo Health Solutions
  • Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and subsidiary Cephalon
  • Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals

Rebecca Kiger

Wendy Crites is a single mom, a Christian and a recovering addict in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. She's on parole and receiving substance abuse treatment through the Jefferson Day Report Center. Crites has been using drugs since she was 13, intravenously since she was 15.

“Everyone has some kind of addiction,” she said. “I believe it’s that hole everyone has in their heart that you’re trying to fill -- I’ve filled it with drugs. I think it’s really something only God can do. And I think he uses our weaknesses to bring us to him.”

Crites has a 26-year-old daughter, Ashley, and a 12-year-old son, Devin.

“I have the sweetest son - half of his life he’s saw me be strung out on drugs. He’s getting ready be a teenager, and I just want to be a good role model for him.”

John Ted Dagatano

She asked to not be identified. And it’s understandable given the stigma attached to addiction. For this story, we’ll call her “Mary.”

Mary lives in eastern Kentucky and has struggled with an addiction that began with painkillers and progressed to heroin.

“As soon as I opened my eyes, I had to get it,” Mary said. “And even when I did get it, then I had to think of the next way that I was going to get.”

Mary was using when she learned she was pregnant with her first child. She sought treatment but the disease had a tight grip on her.

The child was born dependent on opioids and went through the pains of withdrawal shortly after delivery.

“To see that little boy go through that stuff, you’d think that I would, like, change my life around immediately but I didn’t,” Mary said. “I didn’t want to believe it. I was in complete denial that because of my choices, it was my fault that he was going through that.”

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