Opioids easy to find, addiction hard to shake

Opioid abuse runs gamut, from rich to poor

By Ryan Loyd - Digital Journalist

SAN ANTONIO - Do you use opioids?

Do you know others who might use them, for medical purposes, or otherwise?

Opioids are right under our noses, whether we know it or not. They are being traded in empty parking lots; they go from hand to hand in tattered, rundown houses; they are passed between folks at schools, churches and country clubs. The problem runs the gamut from rich to poor.

The figures are staggering.

The Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse’s 2000 Texas Survey of Substance Use Among Adults cited that almost 40 percent of adults reported they had ever used an illicit substance.

“I didn’t want to lose myself. I had to stop.”

In another report, the Texas Department of State Health Services revealed that those most at-risk for addiction are people with chronic pain; people who take short- and long-acting opioids; anyone who combines opioids and other sedatives; novice drug users; and pregnant women.

It exists in every major metropolitan city in Texas, where 59 percent of the state’s population resides, and rural communities, alike.

A woman named Cheyenne described her experience using opioids.

“About two years ago, I used to do it until I got locked up and arrested and put in a rehab for it,” she said.

Cheyenne’s opioids were Vicodin, and heroin. She’s 19.

Vicodin, or hydrocodone, is an opioid drug that is highly addictive, but used frequently to relieve moderate to severe pain.

Cheyenne said it made her feel good -- mellow -- “like you’re coasting,” she said.

It’s hard to get off of it, she said.

“You throw your brains up,” she said. “It’s horrible.”

Cheyenne lost her dad to pain killers. He died in his sleep.

“I didn’t want to lose myself,” she said. “I had to stop.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 4 percent of people used opiates other than heroin, mainly codeine, Vicodin, and hydrocodone.

On the city’s east side, a man who is identified as Chris said the abuse is all about a quick fix. He said it doesn’t matter if it’s heroin, other opioids or another drug.

“It’s not even about the pills, it’s about everything else you can get really fast,” he said.

The problem, he said, is getting worse.

“You can get brown (heroin), ice (crystal methamphetamine), you can get anything nowadays really quick. The pill thing is one thing, but it’s just getting bad around here, period,” he said.

The metro areas, especially those like San Antonio, might see spikes in opioid use because of the direct connection to the border. The report said that the trafficked drugs are hauled up to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex as well as through Lubbock and areas in West Texas before spreading.

Dr. Jane Maxwell, in a study by the Community Epidemiology Work Group called Substance Abuse Trends in Texas, said, “Hydrocodone continued to be the most prevalent prescription opioid used for nonmedical purposes in Texas.”

Chris' buddy Angel, knows about the effects of painkillers.

He said when you’re on them, it’s like time-traveling. Angel has ridden that ride.

You can’t sleep or eat, he said. You have to keep your mind busy or you’ll go crazy. He said he’s been around others time-traveling who had to keep doing something, so they would scratch their skin away.

“But they don’t really realize it and it goes almost all the way to the bone and they’re still scratching like the itch is still there, you know? It takes a hold if you man and you have to break it,” Angel said.

An ex, he said, would chew her lip to the point where it swelled.

“Anytime we walked around, it looked like her, looked like I would hit her,” Angel, 33, said. “But I never laid a hand on her. It was her chewing her lip and it was so raw it was horrible. But it’s like you got to keep your mind busy or your brain busy, otherwise you’re going to go insane and you’re going to hurt yourself.”

Angel did time behind bars.

Now he and Chris just smoke pot, and they like it better because they don’t have to lie, cheat and steal to be on it.

“At least if we’re smoking weed, we’re not doing anything wrong,” Chris said. “We’re not going out and starting stuff with people or getting into things.”

“We’re not going to go rob your house because I can’t afford my next bag,” Angel said. “I’m not going to do that. I’m going to go to work and bust my ass and get a paycheck so I can buy my next bag and be calm and easy for the rest of the week.”

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