TEXAS – Every day, more than 115 people die of opioid overdoses, having fatal reactions to prescription pain relievers, heroin, and drugs like fentanyl, which, it is claimed, is more than 100 times more potent than morphine. In the Lone Star State, this opioid crisis affects people in all stations and in all walks of life.
One anonymous user told Spectrum News that she has a college degree and a Master’s degree, but still can’t get a job. She cites the track marks along her arms, marking her struggles with addiction, as the reason for her unemployment.
“It came to the point that feeding my addiction was more important than feeding my daughter,” said addict and single mother Kendra Kohrt.
For an addict, life is lived within an eight- to 12-hour countdown, in a constant cycle between using and a physical and psychological need to score the next dose. The idea of the drug, where and when to get more, and how they can find their next fix, is a never-ending roller-coaster ride from Hell.
Texas is ranked number two nationwide in terms of healthcare costs associated with opioid misuse. But one Central Texas man is trying to save lives by helping addicts shoot up cleanly, one needle at a time.
“I’m not condoning or condemning someone’s drug use. They’re using already,” said Mark Kinzly, a recovering addict. “What I’m saying is that, ‘I want you to do what you’re doing as safe as possible.’”
Kinzly drives a mobile unit that goes into the community and exchanges used, dirty needles for clean ones. The mobile unit distributes syringes to addicts in all sizes to keep them from using dangerously.
He believes that if the crisis is treated as a medical situation and not a criminal justice issue, more addicts will be able to get the help they need.
The syringe exchange van also hands out intramuscular Naloxone kits. Each kit comes with one milliliter of the medication, which is the recommended dosage to reverse an overdose. Kinzly said that little bit of liquid is enough to save a life.
The fear of overdosing isn’t the only concern for users. If they are burned and a blister pops, they risk getting Hepatitis C, which can live outside the body from four hours to several days.
Another mobile unit volunteer, Charles, said an estimated 10 to 15 percent of addicts who receive their services end up going to treatment. The back and forth between getting clean and relapse pivots as the addict goes through withdrawals.
“I think there are many more people that would go into treatment if they could, it’s just not available,” Charles said.
The program’s only mandate is to keep people alive long enough to get help. The volunteers claim the only way to end the crisis is to be loving and caring toward addicts.
“People that are dead don’t get better,” said Mark.
Mark’s desire to help people stems from his own tortured past with opioids.
Mark always looked up to his brother, saying he was always his hero. Then, one day in 1978, a tragic accident left him alone and turning to drugs to cope with a sadness that seemingly had no bottom.
“I loved him more than anything in world,” said Mark about his brother.
In the wake of losing him, Mark began using street medications, and continued for a number of years.
“I get a lot of years clean, relapse. A lot of years clean, relapse. Great things in my family life, ended up using again and losing all those things,” Mark said.
Hitting the mainstream
Now, a younger population is being drawn into the crisis as heroin hits the mainstream, giving college students between 19 and 25 years old access.
“It’s not seedy like it was before,” Mark said.
More than 86 percent of young intravenous drug users get their start with prescription opioids, like hydrocodone, oxycodone and morphine. When prescriptions run out, users often move on to more serious drugs to feed their addiction once the system has processed and finished with them.
Drug Enforcement Administration agent Wendell Campbell said domestically the opioid abuse problem starts with the abuse of pills. According to Wendell, opioids and prescription drugs are now the second most abused behind marijuana.
Most prescription drug abuse starts with a doctor’s pad. More doctors are writing prescriptions at rate never seen before, landing prescriptions drugs in communities that are experiencing opioid abuse for the first time.
“I had back surgery and the doctors were giving me so much Vicodin, so much Vicodin since the very beginning,” said user Debbie.
More powerful than heroin
A new more powerful synthetic opioid, fentanyl, is infiltrating the supply. Fentanyl is mostly coming from Southeast Asia and makes its way into Mexico before it is shipped into the United States.
Campbell said the issue is that most addicts don’t know that fentanyl is so much more powerful than heroin. It only takes a couple of milligrams of fentanyl to kill someone.
“When you hit a fentanyl shot it’s like fire from head to toe,” said user Gina. “Then – boom - I was out. If my son wasn’t there to hit me with Naloxone, I would have been dead.”
Once the drugs hit the streets there is no quality control from the dealers selling it on the corner, making fatal overdoses a common occurrence.
“I hope to God I never get to the point where I’m known as just a drug addict and nothing else,” Debbie said.
Lone Star Crisis
Follow Spectrum News as our investigative team talks to those affected by the opioids, from addicts to the loved ones left behind, and looks into the ways Texas is handling the crisis. The special airs May 16 at 7 p.m.
Following the special, join us at 8 p.m. for a live town hall with local law enforcement representatives, political leaders, addiction specialists and those affected by the crisis to focus on possible outcomes to the issues.