Addiction and Drug Use

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.

By Official Navy Page from United States of America MC2 John O'Neill Herrera/U.S. Navy, via Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Navy

A growing number of babies are going through detox in their first few days of life. The rate of admissions to neonatal ICUs for symptoms of drug withdrawal, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS, nearly quadrupled between 2004 and 2013, according to a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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.

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.


Making morphine — or heroin*, for that matter — isn't easy. You have to know a bunch of fancy chemistry to synthesize the drug from scratch. Or you have to get your hands on some opium poppies and extract morphine from the flowers' milky juice.

The latter is tougher than it sounds. Sure, the beautiful flowers grow across millions of acres around the world. But farming and trading poppies are tightly regulated both by laws and by drug kingpins.

Be.Futureproof / flickr

Several years ago, Missouri State Representative Holly Rehder’s daughter struggled with prescription drug abuse. “She had cut her thumb at work and went and got stitches and got a prescription,” Rehder recalls. When her prescription ran out she continued using the pain killers, says Rehder, “because they were so easy to obtain.”

Now, Rehder is sponsoring a bill to make it harder for addicts to obtain drugs in Missouri.


Patrick Pezzati walks briskly through downtown Turners Falls in western Massachusetts with a hard plastic bottle in one pocket of his shorts and a pair of latex gloves in the other.

He stops to peer down steps leading to a basement. Later, he peers under a chunk of carpet lying outside.

The local record store owner is scouring the back alleys of this picturesque former mill town for used needles.

Even after an accident with a carload full of pills gets her arrested, Nurse Jackie Peyton can't be honest about her addictions. Especially not while explaining her sudden absence to her ex-husband Kevin.

"Where were you this past week?" Kevin asks, tensely.

"Really, you want to know where I was?" Jackie responds. "I went to a detox program."

"Is that what you call jail?" he shoots back. "I was notified of the accident. The car's still in my name."

Pages