April 01, 2017

Sunday Perspective: Behind each opioid death statistic | Charleston Gazette Mail

On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Joe Manchin read a grieving letter from a West Virginia couple outlining years of struggle in a doomed attempt to save their son from opioid addiction.

Renee and Criss Fisher wrote that their tall son Nick had a happy boyhood and became a basketball star. His high school team won a 2011 state championship, then he played for Glenville State College.

He fell in love with a girl and they soon had a son. She was prescribed pain-killers after childbirth — and before long, both were hopelessly addicted.

Nick told his parents about his addiction, and they frantically searched for treatment. But detox centers wanted $3,000 to $5,000 for admission, which the family couldn’t afford

Nick vowed that he could self-detox, and seemed to succeed — but he suffered relapse after relapse. The parents were told that, if they charged their son with theft, a court could sentence him to rehab. But they hated to saddle him with a felony record.

After several clinics rejected them, Nick and his girlfriend were admitted to a Pittsburgh center — which soon expelled them. Then Nick went to a Las Vegas clinic, and came home apparently clean and healthy. His future seemed optimistic. He attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Then, last Nov. 12, while his mother was changing her grandson’s diaper after midnight, she found her son unconscious on a bathroom floor. He had died from a fentanyl overdose at just 23.

The grief of families trapped in this nightmare is overwhelming. West Virginia has America’s worst rate of overdose deaths, with nearly 3,000 victims just in the past three years. Each death includes a family story of agony.