BOSTON (CBS) – Here is a staggering statistic from the opioid crisis: 80% of all narcotic pain medication is used here in the United States.
For many people who become addicted to these types of drugs, their problem starts with a prescription from a doctor.
Tom Foye remembers when his wife picked up his prescription for OxyContin after he had surgery. “I took my first OxyContin. I just felt this warm wave come over my body, and I have to say it was nothing like I have ever felt before. It was bliss. I remember saying, ‘Wow,’ and this was after my first one, I can see how someone could become addicted to this stuff.”
Addiction wasn’t supposed to happen to Foye, a highly decorated police lieutenant in Ludlow. But it did, and out of desperation, he was soon stealing drugs from the evidence room at the police station.
“I had a pharmacy at my disposal,” said Foye. “It called my name. It just called my name, and that’s the disease of addiction.”
Foye got caught. After 26 years of putting bad buys behind bars, he was on the other side of the law. About his arrest, Foye said “I just stood up and put my hands up, and I remember thinking, thank God it’s finally over.”
Foye was recently released from prison.
The popularity of opioid based pain killers has soared in recent years. Many patients are addicted by the time their prescription runs out. In Massachusetts, 4 out of 5 heroin users begin by taking prescription drugs.
Foye told the I-Team he was planning on using heroin the night of his arrest. “I had run out of painkillers.” He believes his arrest saved his life.
For many addicts, heroin became an easy substitute for prescription drugs because it is cheap and plentiful.
Doctor Dan Muse of Brockton Hospital, who trains first responders on now to administer Narcan, believes many doctors have let their patients down.
Dr. Muse said too much emphasis has been put on pain relief in recent years without considering the long term consequences of the drugs.
“We gave too many pain pills,” said Dr. Muse. “They didn’t need it for the pain, but they liked it for the high. So they quickly use it for the high, and after everything is said and done, what do we do? We stop giving it to them, and then send them into the streets without helping them get off the pills.”
The number of narcotic pain prescriptions is up 140% in the last 20 years.
It’s a tidal wave of addiction that doesn’t discriminate according to Peter Monaghan of Clean Slate, a recovery program with offices throughout the state. “That is a story we hear, the 16-year-old who gets his wisdom teeth out and then not too long after is using heroin. We hear that story over and over again, and you know, 10 years ago that wasn’t the case.”
State prosecutors are cracking down on physicians like Doctor Fernando Jayma of Ludlow. He is accused of writing illegal prescriptions and billing Medicaid.
Doctor Jayma wouldn’t respond to the I-Team when we asked if he contributed to the problem of addiction, as outlined by prosecutors.
Governor Charlie Baker believes opioid prescriptions are a contributing factor to this epidemic. During his State of the Commonwealth address, Baker said “The rise in opioid and heroin addiction deaths has traveled hand in hand with the growth in prescriptions.”
The governor is proposing a three-day limit for most opioid prescriptions. House leaders favor a seven-day time frame.
Some medical groups worry restrictions could go too far. Doctor Danny Mendoza, head of psychiatry services at Beth Israel Deaconess Plymouth, agrees reform is needed but believes it must be well thought out. For example, Dr. Mendoza said tight limits could become a burden for cancer patients.
Adjusting to life back home, Foy believes something has to change. “This isn’t a story about people making choices to experiment and bad things happen. This is people who are going through a medical process and are coming out of this addicted.”