Facing Fentanyl: People who use fentanyl find a way out

May 12, 2023, 6:51 AM | Updated: May 15, 2023, 12:18 pm

Health clinic...

A pharmacy window where patients come to receive medications used to treat opioid addiction in Sequim, WA. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The fentanyl epidemic shows no sign of weakening. But there is a way out for people suffering from this opioid disorder.

In part 4 of our series “Facing Fentanyl,” KIRO Newsradio’s Heather Bosch tells the story of those who have found their way out.

Listen to her story and read below.

After a death in her family, Jane said she turned to drugs to numb the pain.

“The state I was in emotionally, I have to get rid of this pain. I have to!” Jane said.

The drug Jane turned to was fentanyl. “It did the trick,” she said.

It was a drug she thought she could handle. She thought she could hide from her family. She was wrong.

“My youngest had reached out to my sisters,” Jane said, her voice breaking. “He was so worried. So for me, it was, ‘God, you are being so selfish.'” She began to cry. “So that was it.”

Jane said that decades ago, she quit a prescription pain pill habit, but the synthetic opioid fentanyl is much stronger, and the withdrawals are more terrifying.

“It’s everything. It’s the sickest you’ve ever been, ten times a thousand,” Jane exclaimed. “The sweats, the shakes, your mind is not thinking about anything. When you’re that bad, you are just thinking, fix this.”

She stopped looking to the streets for a “fix.” And turned to an opioid treatment program run by Evergreen Treatment Services.

Dr. Paul Grekin said his clinic distributes methadone, which is tightly controlled, as well as buprenorphine — also known as suboxone — which can simply be prescribed.

“The function of the medication is to stabilize the patient. When they’re using street drugs or opiates illicitly, they go through these cycles of getting intoxicated and then crashing into withdrawals,” Grekin explained.

When they’re on the medicine, people suffering from “opioid use disorder” don’t get high, but they don’t experience withdrawals either.

“It’s much better,” Jane confirmed.

While she gets treatment at the clinic, not everyone has easy access to help.

That’s where Amanda Kerstetter came in. She is with Evergreen’s REACH program and travels with a medical van that helps residents in homeless camps with drug treatment.

“We’re boots on the ground outreaching folks,” Kerstetter said. “We’re out there really engaging people, letting them know what services exist and letting them know how to access those services.”

By the end of a recent visit, two people had started suboxone treatment for fentanyl. Another patient re-started treatment, and she fixed a prescription problem for a fourth patient.

Opioid specialist Dr. Caleb Banta Green wants more outreach and many more clinics.

“What we need to be thinking about is how to make solutions that are easier to access than a $3 pill off the street,” Green explained.

But easy access and ample support are no guarantee people will go into treatment.

According to a man using fentanyl on the street, you need a lot of help getting over the addiction.

“In order for someone to stop, they need a lot of support. 24/7. They need a lot of attention,” the man said. “I’m not saying I don’t. I do, personally,” he paused for a thought. “I guess I am on fentanyl by choice.”

Another man on the street said he had kicked fentanyl.

“Yes, I got lucky to get off of it. I went to jail for 30 days,” the man said.

He said for him going to jail got him clean.

In part 5 of “Facing Fentanyl” — airing Monday — we’ll look at how the criminal justice system is handling the fentanyl crisis.

More from the Facing Fentanyl series

Part 1, Facing Fentanyl: Hear the voices of people hurting

Part 2, Facing Fentanyl: Addiction in pregnancy ‘ruins multiple lives’

Part 3, Facing Fentanyl: How a synthetic opioid became the deadliest drug in America

Follow Heather Bosch on Twitter or email her here.

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Facing Fentanyl: People who use fentanyl find a way out