, Corbin, KY

February 20, 2013

Start changing things by saying ‘no’ to drugs

The Times-Tribune

CORBIN — - Published Feb. 14, 2013

I saw during the weekend a big hoopla concerning the one-year anniversary of the tragic death of Whitney Houston.

And I agree. It was tragic. It was tragic that a grown woman continued making the wrong choices for herself, and it’s equally tragic that those around her, who purported to love her best, knew the problem but didn’t speak out much until her demise — in a hotel bathtub.

Instead of martyring her, we should be talking about how she got herself in that position. We should have been talking about that from the early days of overdose deaths. Houston is one of a long line of celebrities who even with their money, fame and power, still succumbed to the vicious and often deadly consequences of heavy drug use.

Heath Ledger — considered “accidental” overdose of painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills.

John Belushi — dead of an injection “speedball,” which is mix of heroin and cocaine.

Chris Farley — after a day with a prostitute smoking crack and snorting heroin, found dead on the floor of a hotel room.

River Phoenix — dead on a sidewalk outside a nightclub after a speedball injection.

Anna Nicole Smith — found nearly dead in a hotel room, died at the hospital of an “accidental” overdose of a sedative mixed with an overabundance of other medications. Six months earlier her son also died from a drug overdose.

Janis Joplin — found dead in a hotel room of a heroin overdose.

Judy Garland — found dead in her hotel room from a barbiturate overdose.

Micheal Jackson — cardiac arrest after apparent years of prescription drug abuse.

Brad Renfro — died of a heroin overdose.

These are just 10 members of a morbid list of celebrity overdoses from heavy, constant drug use and abuse. Instead of feeling just sadness at these celebrity deaths, let’s start making examples of these people. Most of today’s younger generations, sadly, are more aware of the news of the entertainment world than anything else. So let’s use that to our advantage — because if we continue to glorify celebrity drug abuse, younger generations are going to fall prey to addiction.

I sit in court rooms in all the Tri-County courthouses. I see time, and time, and time again people in trouble for selling drugs, using drugs or making drugs. It appears to be nothing more than a revolving door of drug abuse, something which is obviously not combated enough from home. Law enforcement must remain vigilant at all times concerning drugs, because for every dealer they arrest and attempt to prosecute, there are likely half a dozen more operating within the county. But it’s not just the job of law enforcement anymore — and it never should have been allowed to run so rampant.

I went with the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department on a drug roundup last week. That day there were eight more people added to an already overcrowded docket of drug-related arrests and charges. And more and more I read through our obituaries and see deaths of 20-somethings and 30-somethings. According to a Dec. 1 report from the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center, between the years of 2000 and 2010, nearly 5,200 deaths related to overdoses were recorded in the 25-54 age group across the state of Kentucky.

How old was the man who, with a history of drug-related criminal behavior, took out a family of four in that horrific car crash on Christmas Eve? He was just 31.

It’s time to put the brakes on this behavior. We can’t rely on the schools — they must address educational needs and safety concerns for the student body. It shouldn’t be up to the police departments — they have to focus on the purveyors of these deadly narcotics, along with other crimes.

We can’t even rely on the incessant public service announcements — those are so overdone and overplayed they’ve become nearly useless.

It’s time for the family to take responsibility, especially if the addicted party cannot do it alone.

I personally understand the addiction. A few years ago, I was fighting for my life with a kidney malfunction — my left kidney decided to take a vacation, and the right one was trying to join in.

I ended up hospitalized, sick, swooning in and out of consciousness, getting pumped full of pain medication. I was in that particular hospital for three to five days (I really don’t remember well) and was put on the “keep him comfortable” status as my life slowly ebbed away.

Thankfully, I ended up in another hospital, where I spent the next few weeks trying to recuperate, suffering through several minor and one major surgery before being allowed to go home. Of course, I remained in a great deal of pain, as a blockage caused the kidney malfunction — and I was intravenously fed a stream of pain medication night and day for just over three weeks during my hospital stay. I lost nearly 100 pounds during that time.

The first night I arrived home after that three-plus week nightmare, I woke up — at 4 a.m. I sat up in bed as best as I could, confused. I rarely wake up voluntarily, especially at that time of day.

I got up and wandered into the kitchen. And then it happened. For no apparent reason, I burst into a crying fit.

Moments later — in a fit of rage — I slammed the refrigerator so hard I knocked a jar from the top of the fridge to the floor, shattering it everywhere. Seconds later, I laughed hysterically at one of the cats after it fell off the table on the deck.

Then it was back to tears — to more rage — to even more stupid laughing.

The tiny little part of my brain that was trying to stay sane was getting more confused and scared by the minute.

After several hours of this highly unusual behavior, it clicked.

I was suffering from withdrawal symptoms — from having a steady intravenous diet of heavy-duty painkillers for the entire hospital stay. The first couple of weeks it was hydromorphone hydrochloride, better known by its brand name, Dilaudid. That was followed with the ever-popular hydrocodone.

The sane part of my brain was so angry I could have slapped the bark off the trees.

I was addicted to prescription painkillers — hydrocodone to be exact— and I knew of only one solution.

To get off of them.

The first order of business was to burn the three prescriptions I had for pain medication. Altogether there were more than 100 pills prescribed on those three forms.

Then for the next couple weeks, before I had to return to the hospital, I simply suffered with the agony from my painful kidneys. The only pain reliever I would take was generic acetaminophen — which didn’t do much but certainly wasn’t nearly as addictive as hydrocodone.

During the six-month battle with my kidneys, prescriptions for more than 500 painkillers were given — none of which were filled.

So I know of what I speak — it takes individual responsibility to decide to kick the habit. Friends are helpful. Family can be helpful. Several programs are available for assistance. But it starts with the addict. We live in a society of choices, and when it comes to drug abuse, there are two basic options — you can continue on this destructive behavior, which will ultimately result in your early demise, or you can start changing things by saying “no.”

It’s hard, sure. But take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself, is it worth it? Is it worth what I see it doing to so many people?

I know for me, it definitely wasn’t worth it. I certainly would never want my family or friends getting that phone call or text message saying I was found dead in some sleazy situation from something so stupid as a drug overdose. And I certainly wouldn’t want any of those special people in my life discovering my lifeless body after overdosing on drugs. I hear that isn’t much of a pretty picture.

It’s entirely up to you — you have the freedom to choose.

John L. Ross is a reporter for the Times-Tribune. He can be reached at