Cindy Daniels got a call from a family member’s boss saying that her kin was found unconscious in a port-a-potty with a needle in his arm. Before that, he’d seized on a lift at work for several minutes while he was 100 feet in the air.
Her family member was addicted to opioids.
“I’ve been brokenhearted,” said Daniels, Director of Inpatient Services at EAMC-Lanier. “I’ve felt hopeless. Probably a lot of the same feelings some of these addicts have when they’re trying to quit.”
Daniels works at EAMC helping patients detox from drugs or alcohol. She said about half of the patients she sees are there for opioid-related drugs.
The opioid crisis is a nationwide issue, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that Alabama sees the most opioid prescriptions written than any other state with a rate of 121 retail opioid prescriptions dispensed per 100 people in 2016. Alabama has had the highest rate in the nation since 2012.
In Lee County, heroin hasn’t been a big issue since the '70s, but law enforcement sees many illegal prescriptions instead. Opioid prescriptions are dispensed in Lee County at a rate of 64.5 per 100 people, according to CDC data.
Paul Register, chief of police at Auburn Police Division, said there were about a dozen people arrested last year for opioid-related crimes, but only about a couple of those arrests were for heroin. All of the others were for people with fraudulent prescriptions or people who bought or stole a prescription from someone else.
“Let’s just say you have one single Xanax that’s not yours, that in itself is a felony,” Register said. “It is a very big risk that people are taking when they are using controlled substances.”
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said that, depending on the level of addiction, many family members feel relief when their loved one is in jail.
“They’ve said, ‘At least they’re in jail, as bad as jail is. At least they’re safe there and they’re not out on the street running around,’” he said.
Daniels echoed that sentiment, saying she got her best sleep when her family member was in jail. Those were the nights she didn’t have to worry about him overdosing.
“The fear came back every time he was out again. The fear of the relapse, the fear of is he going to make it this time,” she said.
Jones tells people whose family members go to jail for drug-related crimes not to get them out immediately. If they get out of jail too soon, they will probably go straight back to their supplier.
A combination of different people come in to the detox center for opioid-related reasons, but Daniels said she can tell if someone has been addicted for a while because that person’s socioeconomic status will start to dwindle.
“That next fix is the only thing they’re really looking at,” Daniels said. “So they’ll let everything else go.”
Daniels called opioid addiction a “family disease,” and Jones agreed that the whole family is affected.
“I can’t tell you the number of families I’ve talked to where the parents say, ‘You know, we come home and our TV is gone. We come home and our son has hocked everything we have to get money to buy drugs,’” Jones said.
Once an addict steals everything from friends and family, he or she will start to engage in other crimes, such as burglary and robbery, Jones said. He added that most people who are currently in the county jail are there for crimes that involved drugs.
“The tentacles reach out and grab other crime issues,” he said.
Jones added that the Lee County Sheriff’s Office combats the problem with prevention through education. Students in Lee County take part in the Too Good for Drugs program starting in the fifth grade.
The school resource officers are trained to go beyond being a security guard to form relationships with the students. As a result, students come to the officers and talk about problems they or their friends are having.
The Sheriff’s Office also takes steps to minimize the occurrence of stolen prescriptions. There is a drop-off box in the office where people can dispose of old or unused prescriptions.
“It’s not uncommon for us to go down there and collect 30 or 40 pounds of unwanted medications out of there,” Jones said.
He encourages people to use the drop-off box instead of flushing unwanted drugs down the toilet so that they will stay out of the ecosystem. The box also helps keep drugs out of the market, because someone with access to a medicine cabinet can’t steal them to sell to someone else.
The jail also has an in-house drug treatment program taught by specially trained personnel, Jones said. They do interviews, analysis, assessment and classification to make sure the addicts are getting the correct attention. The program has about a 70 percent success rate.
The police department has an anonymous tip line where people can leave information about someone they are worried about.
“We’ve had situations where I personally feel like a tip may have saved someone,” Register said. “People just don’t realize the dangers they face.”
Citizens can provide the APD with a tip by either calling or texting 334-246-1391. Tips can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. If people would like to talk to a police officer, they can call 334-501-3100, but for emergencies, they should dial 911.
Daniels’ family member has been through many different rehab facilities, and he was in and out of the system for 10 years.
Now, he is sober and has a wife and two boys. This, along with a good job, has helped give him a reason to stay clean, Daniels said.
“I love him very much and I would do it all over again to keep him alive,” she said. “You can have a life; you can do this.”