When Chattanooga resident Jacob Padgett, 26, finally approached his parents about getting help for his opioid addiction, he was at the mercy of a dangerous, miserable dependency.
"It changes you," he said. "It takes a normal person and makes them something else. You're an animal running purely on instinct. It takes away your humanity. Once you're at the level where I was, you're not a human anymore. You're more like a wolf that's hungry."
His addiction started with pills that doctors prescribed him as a teenager when he raced motocross and broke his left arm multiple times, he said.
Padgett also has generalized anxiety disorder that wasn't initially diagnosed. So he started treating it with the medicine he got for the bone breaks.
"All of a sudden, I felt all my anxieties melt away," he said.
That was the beginning of six years of addiction. For four years, his addiction surrounded opioid pills. But he started running out of money. And heroin is cheaper. So he went for that.
After days locked in his room under his parents' watch, battling withdrawals that made him feel as if he were going to die, Padgett got clean. He also got outpatient help, and he wants to help others avoid what he faced.
"When you're that addicted and you stop, it's almost like going without water—that's how your body feels," he said. "You feel it's something totally necessarily to survive."
He wants to be a voice that can help with what national leaders have dubbed a crisis.
On Friday, President Barack Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 into law.
"This legislation includes some modest steps to address the opioid epidemic," Obama said, according to a prepared statement. "Given the scope of this crisis, some action is better than none."
About the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act
Although Obama called the legislation "modest," The New York Times described it as sweeping and said it was a "rare instance of consensus in Congress."
Tennessee's Sen. Lamar Alexander supports the bipartisan legislation:
Each year, more than 1,000 Tennesseans die from opioid abuse or overdose—this is an epidemic taking more Tennessee lives than car accidents or gunshots do. The way to fight this epidemic is not to wage a distant battle from Washington but for Washington to support those who are fighting on the front lines. That battle is being fought state by state, county by county, doctor’s office by doctor’s office. This legislation should provide a substantial help in this ongoing battle.
Before the president signed the legislation, Alexander said it would:
- Support education, prevention, treatment and recovery efforts to address the opioid abuse crisis, and help individuals with an opioid use disorder get and stay well
- Provide grants to expand access to lifesaving opioid overdose reversal medications, and support veterans and law enforcement
- Provide grants to states to carry out a comprehensive response to the opioid abuse crisis, including education, prevention, treatment and recovery efforts
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition members outlined additional details about the legislation, which is abbreviated as CARA.
According to the organization:
—CARA supports the expansion of diversion programs, such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, that direct people stopped by law enforcement for low-level drug law violations away from the criminal justice system and into evidence-based treatment and other services.
—The legislation supports the expanded provision of buprenorphine, methadone and other forms of medication-assisted treatment, including to people involved with the criminal justice system. The vast majority of correctional facilities do not provide medication-assisted treatment, despite an overwhelming need among incarcerated people and the strong evidence base supporting medication-assisted therapy to treat opioid dependence.
—It also supports the expanded use of naloxone by first responders and community members such as family members in a position to administer naloxone to a person experiencing an opioid overdose. Naloxone effectively reverses opioid overdoses and is safe to use, but people who are at risk of experiencing or witnessing an overdose often cannot access the drug.
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Former attorney, assistant district attorney in Crossville, Tennessee, and current speaker with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Allison Watson said that the war on drugs isn't working.
"I don't feel like drug problems should be treated as a criminal issue; instead, I think it's a public health issue," she said.
She pointed to Switzerland, whose leadership has taken a different approach to drug issues.
Switzerland leaders have given heroin, which is like an opioid, to addicts legally for the past 20 years, according to a Reuters article.
"Just because it was legal doesn't mean people are going to go out and start using," Watson said. "When you medicalize something, kids are not gravitated toward it."
In fact, she argues that legalization helps the addicts. Because once someone is an addict, it's not about getting high. It's about not hurting. It's about not being in pain. And, because of that pain, an addict often does nothing but spend time getting the drug in any method possible.
"When we say, 'You can't have any of your medicine anymore,' that just makes the situation worse," she said.
But giving it to them legally is freeing. It allows addicts to become someone new, she said. It allows them to stop spending all their time focusing on how to get their illegal fix. And it allows them to start their lives again, she said.
Padgett supports decriminalizing for a number of reasons.
"When you are addicted as I was, you see no other options available to you," he said. "When you are truly addicted, it's hard to see any other way out .... Dealing with drug dealers ... seems to be the only option, and we need to provide another alternative."