Opioid epidemic claiming more lives

Robert Collier, 26, during interview when he talked about how he started using drugs and the pain it caused his friends and family Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

HARRINGTON — Robert Collier missed his son’s birth last March.

Hospital staff caught him injecting heroin and kicked him out.

He went to visit his son afterward, but the 26-year-old instead robbed his baby mother’s parents.

A seven-day sleepless opiate fueled binge followed.

Street robberies and burglaries were the norm to fund two straight years of everyday use.

Mr. Collier eventually wavered between attempting to kick the habit or killing himself by jumping in front of a train.

“I was at a low point — lonely on the streets without having anywhere to go,” the Wilmington native said.

“I had the feeling to commit suicide because this was my life.”

With his son in mind, Mr. Collier took a sniffing stem and needle from his pocket and tossed the paraphernalia away before calling police for help.

Grateful to be clean for seven months, the addict has settled into Connections Community Support Programs Inc. sober living home on West Liberty Street in Harrington with eight other recovering drug abusers.

Overseeing the sober living home in Harrington is recovering addict and Dover native Andrew Schmidt, 32. Clean since Sept. 4, 2011, he’s earned an associates degree from Delaware Technical Community College in human services drug and alcohol counseling, making the Dean’s List every semester. Now he’s attending Wilmington University to gain a bachelor degree of behavioral science.

However, Delawareans everywhere and of all ages, counties and genders continue to lose out to heroin and even stronger Fentanyl.

In 2016, 308 people died in Delaware from overdoses, up 35 percent from the 228 people who died in 2015.

From Nov. 23 to Nov. 26, ll people ranging from ages 23 to 62 died of suspected overdoses. The upped this year’s total number of deaths to 215, according to the Delaware Department of Health and Social and Services.

Mr. Collier said he’s “pretty much stopped counting” how many friends have died from drug abuse, but said there’s been at least 10 in 2017.

“It robs you blind and kills you softly,” he said.

Forty-year-old Adrian Rodriquez talks about his battle with drug addition and the difficult path he faced to recovery Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

Housemate Adrian Rodriguez, 40, has been clean for 15 months and can think of 12 overdose deaths of those he knew.

He gets through each day realizing he’s still around to be part of his 16- and 18-year-old daughters’ lives, one who attends college.

“This addiction is a lifelong journey,” he said. “I’m still going to have thoughts in my head and mood swings. Just because I got clean doesn’t mean everything is OK.”

Relentless everyday use

For two straight years, Mr. Collier conducted street robberies and burglaries to fund relentless, everyday use. Mr. Rodriguez followed a similar path with shoplifting, drug sales and more.

“I got tired of being tired,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “I hated being homeless on the street, not showering, stealing from anywhere I could.”

Both men are heartened by their current roles in life — Mr. Rodriguez works as a recovery coach among other assistance to recovering addicts and Mr. Collier works the front desk of Connections’ Withdrawal Management Center in Harrington while leading group activities and making welfare checks as well.

“I always greet them with a smile because I check them in and give them the first impression of the place,” Mr. Collier said.

Overseeing the sober living house in Harrington is recovering addict and Dover native Andrew Schmidt, 32. Clean since Sept. 4, 2011, he’s earned an associates degree from Delaware Technical Community College in human services drug and alcohol counseling, making the Dean’s List every semester. Now he’s attending Wilmington University to gain a bachelor degree of behavioral science.

Connections operates two sober living homes in Milford for women and children, and another for men in Wilmington. The nonprofit provides 34 beds overall statewide.

Mr. Schmidt said he receives daily calls about joining the house and could fill 100 rooms with enough space and funding. There have been some residents who have relapsed in his year-plus as house manager.

“They either disappear because they’re ashamed or come to you and say ‘I messed up and need help,’ “ he said.

“It’s sad when they disappear because they can die.”

Narcan reverses opiates

Scanning reports daily, Kent County Director of Public Safety Director Colin Faulkner regularly sees cases that appear to be overdose-related. As of late November, the county responded to 31 calls, with Narcan (also known as Naloxone) administered once or more to reverse the opiates effects during 15 of them.

Those numbers don’t account for Narcan-related cases where firefighters or other Basic Life Services responders arrived first and administered the drug, or private citizens who used it on someone afflicted.

Saying stenciled on the living room wall of the Harrington Great Living House for recovering addicts. Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

The ages of the victims ranged from 18 to 73 years old.

“This epidemic has definitely touched every age and socioeconomic group,” Mr. Faulkner said.

Since July 2016, Dover Police officers have administered Narcan seven times, with six people surviving their overdoses.

In the first half of 2017, EMS providers used Narcan 142 times and municipal police did on 10 occasions.

Statewide, Narcan was administered 1,389 times in 2015, 1,535 in 2016, and 1,280 in the first half of 2017. A Drug Enforcement Agency report last year showed that Narcan administered in 2014 and 2015 improved a patient’s outcome about 50 percent of the time.

The Delaware State Police have 177 boxes with 354 doses of Narcan in the field. There’s a box at the front desk of every troop, two per both patrol shifts and special units such as drug enforcement.

In the past year, DSP troopers have made over 20 saves.

“For Narcan specific training we conducted a brief presentation during spring in-service where Trooper Medics from Aviation demonstrated the application process,” DSP spokesman Master Cpl. Gary Fournier said.

“Shortly after that, we developed a training video, powerpoint presentation, and written test.”

Not surprisingly, the quicker the Narcan injection the more likely an overdose can be mitigated.

“If we get to them within the first 15 to 20 minutes and can get Narcan into them you have a really good chance at survival,” Mr. Faulkner said.

The most dangerous situation is when someone overdoses alone and isn’t found until it’s too late.

“There are a lot of morning calls in which a family locates someone hours after they’ve suffered the affects,” Mr. Faulkner said.

At times, the suffering addicts become belligerent toward responding medical personnel they believe are intruding on their drug-induced buzz.

One time in a parking lot, Mr. Faulkner remembers a revived man who immediately began jabbering and “he just kept going and going with me as I walked along.

“He took his Narcan and boom he was up. He went from being gray and looking deceased to very angry in a matter of moments.”

Acquiring Narcan does not require a prescription and it can be purchased over the counter at CVS Pharmacy locations statewide.

Holiday vulnerability

The Thanksgiving weekend overdose surge could revive itself as Christmas arrives.

“We know that people who are suffering from addiction are vulnerable, and those vulnerabilities often become heightened during the holidays,” said DHSS Secretary Dr. Kara Odom Walker, a board-certified family physician.

“The holidays can be stressful and may be a trigger point for people struggling with substance use disorder. The most important thing that families can do is to help their loved ones find a connection to treatment and to get them to that initial intake.”

Those struggling with addiction or have someone close to them in a crisis can go online at HelpIsHereDE.com, a DHSS website for information on prevention, treatment and recovery resources in Delaware, and learning about the signs of addiction.

Those with ongoing addiction woes and need to see a medical provider immediately or call DHSS’ 24/7 Crisis Services Hotline to be connected to trained crisis professionals who can discuss treatment options. In Kent and Sussex counties, the number is 1-800-345-6785.

In New Castle County, the number is 1-800-652-2929.

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