Doctor raises awareness about seriousness of opioid epidemic after medical office break-in

Opioid-related deaths have risen nearly 20,000 in 2020 in comparison to 2019

San Antonio – After having his office ransacked, a San Antonio podiatrist is raising awareness about the severity of the opioid epidemic.

Dr. Morris Stribling learned that his business, the Podiatry Center of San Antonio, had been broken into after receiving a call from his alarm company. The theft happened around 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 24.

“From our surveillance video, a black car pulls up and went around the corner where a woman is seen covering the license plate number,” Stribling said. “Next thing, the woman and man came out, but the man got out with a crowbar and broke into the front door and the door that went into the pharmacy.”

Video footage also shows that suspect grabbing a wastebasket and scooping a variety of drugs inside of it.

“Some of them were controlled substances, but none of them were level one or two because we keep those locked away,” Stribling said. “He also stole some things that really can’t get you high, so he will probably throw that in the garbage, but he just stole a variety of things.”

This theft was a major violation to Stribling and his company.

“A lot of our patients are elderly and special needs, and we take pride in serving that population, so for someone to come in and do that was an insult of what we try to do on a daily basis,” he said.

Since the break-in, Stribling has added a physical security team on his property to monitor things 24/7. He urges other pharmacies to lock up all controlled substances no matter what they are.

The suspects made off with at least $1,000 worth of drugs. Stribling said that whether they plan to use or sell the stolen drugs, the theft shines a light on the opioid crisis impacting the country.

“I see many patients who have struggles with drug addiction,” he said. “Some of it has to do on the economics, and some of it has to do with homelessness and so there is a lot of problems. We can’t put it simply as someone just wants to get high. The other side is people want to rob you just to make money.”

Steven Murphy, the CEO of Positive Recovery, agrees. His company is an intensive outpatient recovery program that serves people in recovery.

“They just find that chemical that fits their genetic and metabolism perfectly, and they get addicted and don’t realize it,” Murphy said. “Once they have been using for two to three, four, five years, and once they have jacked up their brain with dopamine to the degree it has been with addiction, it is hard to stop. You can’t stop thinking about it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2020, 69,710 opioid-related deaths were reported. That is nearly 20,000 more than in 2019, which was 50,042 deaths.

“I think it might even be higher since COVID because isolating from society, even during the telehealth we are doing, but isolating is a problem for addicts,” Murphy said.

He said another issue is the conversation surrounding opioid addiction is not being discussed the way it should be.

“I don’t think it is being addressed appropriately,” Murphy said. “The thing that we are doing is harm reduction, which is fine. But some doctors are not getting enough training, and some are not really treating it. There are a couple of places that are doing it correctly with a 30-day treatment program.”

Murphy said it is crucial for someone to go through detox processing.

“It is basically (like) the flu from Hell,” Murphy said. “Nose running, chills, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, aching, runny eyes -- it is terrible. In fact, that is why most people don’t get sober -- because they have to go through that three to 10-day process.”

Murphy said recovery is a holistic approach.

“You can get that chemical out of your system,” he said. “But you have to learn a whole new way of life without doing it again. We are five-part beings. We are physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and social.”

Like the crime taking place at Stribling’s office, Murphy said if someone isn’t in control, they could sacrifice everything, including their freedom.

“School, home, friends, family -- emotionally, physically, sexually, legally, financially -- and every part of your life gets trashed, and they really don’t care as long as they get the feel good. Feeling physically good and emotionally good are more important than anything else in the world,” he said.

Murphy added that true change starts at home.

“The family and friends have got to get help sometimes first,” Murphy said. “You make concession with a person who is an alcoholic or addict and allow them to keep doing certain addictive behaviors, you might as well open a concession stand because that is all of the business you are going to be doing.”

They said the ultimate responsibility lies within a person to really want their lives to turn around.

“There are a lot of different support groups,” Murphy said. “Narcotics anonymous, heroin anonymous, opioid addiction anonymous, tons of different resources people can use.”

“They have to be honest with the people that can help you because there is help out there,” Stribling said. “Sometimes, people don’t know where to go if they are homeless or have problems in terms of economics. I know we are going through a horrible pandemic, which has affected every aspect of life, but you have to make sure people know that you are in trouble and need help.”

San Antonio police are still searching for the two burglars involved.

If you have any information, you are urged to contact police at 210-207-7273.

If you are struggling with opioid addiction, you can contact the substance abuse hotline at 1-800-622-4357.

Murphy said his program is also available to reach at 210-541-8400.

About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.