The Epidemic

(dramatic music) – From the very beginning,
Jess was just an easy child. I think we put her in time
out once, and put her in the corner and she got a
book and started reading. And I said, “Well,
your time out is up.” And she looked at me and
said “Well I’m not finished “with the book,” you know, so. She just, I don’t
know, it was just easy. (soft music) – We have so many cards and
letters and things that she wrote to us over the
years. She was a perfect daughter for a very long time. She overdosed before
her 16th birthday. And was on life support
for six or seven days. And that was when we really
realized she was in trouble. – [Narrator] Today, 91 more
Americans will die from an opioid overdose. More people now die
from overdoses than from traffic accidents. It is an epidemic. By the end of this week,
in Arizona alone, about 200 people will overdose on opioids. More than 20 will
lose their lives. Jess survived her
first overdose. But she didn’t stop using the
drugs that almost killed her. Morphine and Valium
and Oxycodone, and basically anything
they could get is what they were doing, until the black tar came
along, and then that was it. Once Jess discovered heroin, there was nothing else
in her life. Nothing. – I think it was like
870 BC where the first documents that show that
people would take these, and they would actually reach
sort of what they called a higher state. And so we call, today,
euphoria in which a person will feel good. When we do things that
are exciting even in life, or eating food, we get a
little bit of dopamine, and that’s our reward pathway. Opiates override this, of
course, now we don’t need the food or anything else. We just need the opiate to
get the dopamine release. And that’s why they can
become very addictive. – [Narrator] Once opioids hijack
the brain’s reward system, the brain adapts and starts
making less of its own dopamine. As time goes on, opioid
users need more and more of the drug just to feel normal. And that’s when
things get dangerous. – And at higher doses, it
actually sort of decreases your own personal drive of breathing. And by decreasing that
breathing, of course, that’s how most people end up
overdosing and dying. – Does that hurt? – It hurt. I could feel it, right there, I can
feel it. Definitely. – OK. And that made
the pain worse? – Yes. – And that’s the pain
you’re complaining about? – Yes. Yes. – OK. Well I actually remember when
I was in medical school and we got lectures about
pain management. One of the messages we
were getting at the time is don’t worry. If the patient
is in pain, they will not get addicted to opioids if
they are legitimately in pain. But that’s because we
didn’t know better. It started in the
mid- to late-80s when certain pharmaceutical companies pushed for
opioids really hard. I’m sure there was
a component about just relieving the pain, but we cannot also ignore
or completely discount the financial gains
from selling opioids. – [Narrator] Prescription
opioid sales quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, earning billions
for pharmaceutical companies. BJ spent most of those
years battling cancer and benefited from opioids
power to stop pain. Then, she watched the drugs
destroy her daughter’s life. – Some of the things she’s
chosen to do, I would have killed somebody if they
had done them to her, but she did them to herself. There’s nobody to
kill, you know? These are some of the things
that Jess loved growing up. When I look at it, I see a
young, happy, vibrant young woman doing all these things
from the time she was born. And that person
doesn’t exist anymore. – [Narrator] BJ now has
stage 4 bone cancer. In 2017, she spent more than
six months out of contact with Jess, unsure if she’d live
to see her daughter again. Then, one day in late
summer, she got a call. – Wanted to know if
she was still alive. Was the big thing, and
the second thing was I needed help. Can’t wait any longer. So, she’s always been there. I sucked it up,
called one last time. I’ve been here eight days. Prior to that, I was at one
friend’s house for two days, camping in the backyard. I was at a friend’s
trailer for about four days before that. Prior to that, I was
staying behind an abandoned building at Grant and Swan for
about two and a half weeks. Right now, I’m trying to get
into residential treatment. So, fingers crossed. We’ll see. – [Narrator] Without opioids
or adequate treatment, Jess faces the
dangers of withdrawal. – It affects the GI tract,
it affects the temperature regulation of your body. The autonomic neural
system kind of regulates many of these things that
we don’t think about. So it just makes you kind
of go through this process where you feel like
you almost want to die. – I was sleeping on a
sidewalk 104 degree weather. I mean, rolling over and
throwing up right there, being too weak to stand up. Even now, I still
shake sometimes. My thoughts race.
I have a hard time grabbing the simplest of words and putting a sentence together. And insomnia’s kicking in.
And that’s the worst part. Last night was the first
time I’ve slept in four days. They say you have
to hit rock bottom. I nailed mine real hard. That parachute did not
open and that sidewalk was my rock bottom. Been doing this more
than half my life. I have nothing to show for
it, but a criminal record and nothing. I want a life before
it’s too late. – [Narrator] In the grip of
this epidemic, several states have declared public health
emergencies, including Arizona. – We are back now with the
deep dive into one of the most serious crises facing
people in this country. – A recent surge in
opioid addiction… – Over 42 people die every
day from drug overdose. – It’s not coming from the
street, but from medicine cabinets all over America. (siren wails) – [Narrator]
Training and tracking
requirements have changed to keep better
tabs on the crisis. New guidelines encourage
physicians to curb their opioid prescriptions. And some new laws force them to. (siren wails) – We’re not trained
to be detectives,
we’re trained to heal. But we find ourselves
in a situation that we have to take on that chore. So it’s a balance that
we’re trying to achieve. Between relieving pain and the welfare of the
entire community. – [Narrator] It’s unclear
if these new steps to fight the opioid epidemic will
be enough, especially if funding for the public health
programs that are taking those steps gets cut. – It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere.
It’s taking over. There are people that
I’ve come across in their 50s or 60s or 70s
that are using heroin. For 30 bucks on the
street, you know, for granny with arthritis, I
mean, that could last her three to four weeks. There’s no age, there’s no
race, there’s no gender. There is no bounds
with this drug. – How can we have this kind
of problem and not address it? They’re just walking into
something that’s so dark. And you just have no
idea how dark it is.

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