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Amid rise in overdose deaths, advocates look for answers

Posted at 1:26 PM, May 28, 2021

Addiction is suffocating. It has strangled countless lives and ended so many others.

"For me, it started with the pills and once you get cut off, you’re already hooked,” described Jennifer Foote, who found herself addicted to drugs. “And you have nowhere to turn to for your withdrawals, so I went and turned to heroin."

For Jason Doss, he lost four people he knew to drug overdoses.

“It’s my sinking thinking that gets me back out here," Doss said.

He feels addiction’s strength in the worst ways.

“I lost everything. I lost jobs, I lost in touch with my family, I barely can talk to my son," he said.

Doss is homeless and says he shoots heroin every day just to feel normal.

"It’s not that I’m not tired of it; I am tired but it’s just I have nowhere else to go," he said.

In 2021, no longer does the danger lie in just the drugs that have spread through his Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood, but also the potentially deadly ingredient often found inside those drugs.

“It’s to the point they are putting fentanyl in use about everything," Doss explained.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid the CDC says is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. On the streets, it’s illegally made and mixed into substances, making even the smallest amounts become deadly.

Nationwide, the CDC says overdose deaths increased by 28.3% between October 2019 and October 2020. The CDC believes those numbers are underreported and predicts they are around 30%.

In Ohio, more than 5,000 people died of overdoses in 2020, a record for a state already hit hard by America’s drug crisis.

“You can’t get on Facebook or talk to somebody without hearing that somebody has overdosed," said Foote.

Foote has a tattoo on her arm with a date in August of 2020, which marks the day she almost became another Ohioan who lost their life from drug addiction.

She struggled with the isolation of the pandemic and says she relapsed and overdosed.

“I had no recollection of anything but being in the kitchen and sitting up and was totally confused and disoriented," she recalled

Addiction is a battle that’s hard to fight alone, but the pandemic made that a reality for so many like Foote and Shae Dalrymple.

“For a normal person, getting that check would have been helpful," Dalrymple said. "For people like me, it was kind of an invitation to relapse and a lot of people like me did.”

Both Foote and Dalrymple are alive today because of Narcan, which can reverse an overdose.

Dennis Cauchon runs Harm Reduction Ohio, the largest Narcan distributor in the state. People can order Narcan on the organization's website and have it shipped to their homes. The website also includes instructions on how to use it in an emergency.

"Most people think it’s because we have high levels of drug use; that’s not true,” Cauchon said. “Ohio has average levels of drug use. We have high cases of overdose death. The reason is fentanyl came into Ohio's drug supply fast and hard.”

More than 88% of the heroin seized in Ohio contains fentanyl, according to his research. But now, he says it’s showing up more often in other substances like such as cocaine and meth.

Cauchon says Ohio distributed about 130,000 units of it last year, but he believes the need is around as many as a million units a year in Ohio.

Barbara Clark understands the pain of those fighting additions grip. She's fought the fight herself.

"I'm a recovering addict so I know the pain,” she said. “I know what they do out here every day all day all night.”

Clark is with the Columbus Kappa Foundation. The organization is working to save those in a part of Columbus that has an overdose death rate 40% higher than the entire state of Ohio, according to Harm Reduction Ohio.

Clark and others can give out dozens of units of Narcan a day.

"This Narcan means to me is that we’ll be able to save a life," said the foundation's executive director Nathaniel Jordan II.

African Americans have seen a dramatic rise in overdose deaths in recent years.

Jordan II wants the state of Ohio to send more Narcan to this mostly Black neighborhood because the need is that great.

For some people, like Jason Doss, it’s saved their lives multiple times.

"I’d have to say this year, 2021, alone about seven times already," he said of the times Narcan has been used on him.

Doss says he's used it to save other people about the same number of times this year as well. He says he’s tried recovery programs, but he’s still out here on the streets as he continues to fight the grip of an illness that can be too strong from which to break free.

“I just go as the day goes, and God is going to take me the way that I go whenever is the time," he said.