A Nurse Finds It Hard To Get Treatment For Opioid Addiction : Shots - Health News A year ago, NPR's Kelly McEvers went to rural Indiana and talked with drug addicts at the center of an opioid and HIV epidemic. She returned and found Joy, a nurse who lost everything.
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We Found Joy: An Addict Struggles To Get Treatment

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We Found Joy: An Addict Struggles To Get Treatment

We Found Joy: An Addict Struggles To Get Treatment

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Now back to Austin, Ind., to find a woman named Joy. Joy was abusing the painkiller Opana when our co-host Kelly McEvers met her last year. For her podcast "Embedded," Kelly followed up with Joy, and she found that if you want to stop using opioids, you often need medication and sometimes a little luck. We're using only Joy's first name in this story because of her drug use.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Joy used to work as a nurse. She had a good job, a car, a house.

JOY: House full of furniture, a lot of nice stuff, you know, a big sectional sofa, and glass coffee table, and a real heavy cherry dinette set, flatscreen TVs - had three flatscreen TVs, had it all.

MCEVERS: Then she hurt her back at work. She got addicted to pain pills. When the prescription ran out, she bought pills on the street and eventually cooked them and injected them. She lost the house. Her 14-year-old son went back to live with his dad, her ex. Her two grown daughters wouldn't answer her text messages. Joy stayed with friends for a while then had to leave that house.

JOY: I had nowhere to stay, and there was a few times that I slept in the slide at the park at the elementary school - you know, the big jungle gym, plastic slides and stuff - slept in the slide at the school.

MCEVERS: Or slept in abandoned houses. This went on for months. Then Joy got arrested. She withdrew from Opana in jail. And that's where she says she got her first lucky break. She talked to a nurse who told her she needed to own her mistakes.

JOY: Because life is going on outside of this jail around you. Your kids are getting up every day and going to school. Your parents are going to work. And if you don't own what you've done up to this point and forgive yourself for that, you're never going to make it through recovery.

MCEVERS: So Joy decided she wanted to quit using Opana. But as soon as she got out of jail, like, the day she got out, she went and bought a pill. She started using every day for a couple of weeks but then decided she really wanted to quit. She'd heard about a methadone clinic 30 miles away. She didn't have a car. And that's when she got her second lucky break. A friend of the family offered to drive her there.

JOY: He said, I heard you weren't doing too well. How you been? And I got to talking to him about it, and that's that.

MCEVERS: He offered...

JOY: He said, I'll be more than glad to take you down to the clinic, and we'll get you off those pills.

MCEVERS: So she started taking methadone every day. Methadone is an opiate, too, but you don't the same rush as you do from Opana or heroin. The idea is to take it for a while - federal guidelines recommend at least a year - and eventually, with the help of counseling and medical supervision, wean off. Joy says methadone changed her.

JOY: I thought, hey. I started functioning like a normal person again, you know? I didn't think constantly about when I woke up, OK, what am I going to do today to get that quarter of a pill, or, you know, what can I go steal at the store to trade for a quarter of a pill, you know? I didn't think that way anymore.

I got up and I'm like, I'm all right today; I don't feel too bad. I'll go to the clinic, get my medicine, come back home and help mom around the house. You know, gradually my way of thinking started to change.

MCEVERS: But cravings still happened.

JOY: Had a bad day, a really bad day. I don't remember what it was. I think I got in a fight with my boyfriend, and I was just having a bad day.

MCEVERS: She called up a pill dealer.

JOY: And you know, the guy I called was like, what are you talking about? You've been in treatment for two months. You're not going to feel this pill. You're going to get drug tested down there. You're going to fail it. For what? You're not going to get a buzz. You're going to blow your probation when they drug test you and you fail it. They're going to put you right back in jail.

MCEVERS: Her dealer talked her down. She did not go get a pill. And two days later, she was drug tested. Had she done that pill, she'd be back in jail. It was her third lucky break. Now Joy is still on methadone. Methadone treatment has been well researched over the years, and the consensus is its effective at keeping people in treatment and from using other drugs.

Joy got her nursing license reinstated. She's living with her parents, saving money. Her son comes over every day after school. Sometimes he spends the whole weekend. She's talking to her two daughters again.

JOY: I never thought that my kids would forgive me. I felt that they didn't need me. And all my baggage and [expletive] anymore. I had done enough. And now I see that they do need me, and they do still love me, and I'm still their mommy. And it's time that I did right by them again. And I thank God that I have the chance to do that.


SIEGEL: That was joy, one of the people Kelly McEvers met in Austin, Ind., while reporting for the podcast "Eembedded."

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