SAN ANTONIO – Addicts themselves are starting to talk more publicly about opioid addiction and the epidemic happening across America.
Since an overdose of fentanyl, an opioid painkiller, was contributed to Prince's death, the subject has been in the headlines again. A San Antonio woman who was addicted to both painkillers and heroin said this has been an issue for a very long time.
She explains from an addict's perspective, what problems are fueling this epidemic.
Valarie McDonald started abusing drugs and alcohol at a young age. She started with alcohol and marijuana, then moved to cocaine. In 2009, she started popping opioid painkillers to get high.
"Morphine, Dilaudid, fentanyl," she said. "I was a full-blown addict every day taking way more than I should have."
In less than a month, she was addicted and said she couldn't have stopped if she had wanted to.
"The thing is with painkillers, is the withdrawal symptoms are excruciating so you literally just have to use to make it through the day," McDonald said.
Plus, the pills were readily available.
"I knew a lot of people who were prescribed them. I could go to the doctor and get them. I just had to complain enough and I was able to manipulate the doctors so easily. If I didn't get one from a doctor, I would go to different emergency rooms," she said.
In 2012, there were 259 million prescriptions written for opioids. That is more than enough to give every American adult one bottle of pills. McDonald says another big issue is the amount of pills prescribed.
"I had a couple of friends that actually had legitimate problems that needed painkillers. But the amount that they were prescribed, in no way could they have taken that," McDonald said.
She does not blame doctors entirely for the enormous problem sweeping America. She knows most genuinely want to help their patients whom they believe are in pain. She blames the relaxed system that for a long time, did not hold people accountable.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued new guidelines for prescribing opioid painkillers. Doctors are now advised to prescribe the lowest dose possible for the shortest amount of time possible.
"The restrictions are great!" McDonald said.
It was those restrictions that got Valarie red flagged by doctors but, unfortunately, that led her to heroin.
"When I started heroin, everything was gone. There was no money left, no house left, no kid left," she said.
Her daughter was taken away from her, but after a successful stay at inpatient facility Alpha Home, she got her life and her child back.
"That's why working on me every day is something I have to do to stay sober. I've made amends to my daughter. I told her I was sorry I chose drugs and alcohol over her. She goes to meetings with me. She tells me when I need a meeting!" McDonald laughs.
While living at Alpha Home with other women struggling with addiction, she learned how to deal not only with her addiction, but with what caused it.
"Once I asked for help, everything fell into place," she said.
She hopes even tighter restrictions, attention to addicts' moving to heroin, and a bigger emphasis on recovery options, America can curb its terrible addiction to opioids.
McDonald works on her sobriety daily. She now sponsors many women, not only at Alpha Home, but through other programs too. She wants people currently struggling with addiction to know they can make it out.
She urges any women seeking help to visit Alpha Home's website.
Here are links to other rehab facilities in the San Antonio area: