tv Beyond the Headlines ABC March 12, 2017 4:30pm-5:01pm PDT
>> now, from abc7, "beyond the headlines with cheryl jennings." >> being addicted to opiates is like chasing a dragon -- you're constantly seeking that first high. but what's gonna happen if you actually catch it? >> more than 50,000 people die every year from drug overdoses. that's according to the centers for disease control and prevention, and about half of those deaths are from something called opiates, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, or fentanyl and heroin. the government says opiate abuse is the leading cause of deaths by accident in the united states. i hope that shocks you, because it certainly shocked me. here in the studio with me to talk about this, two mothers whose college-aged children died from accidental overdoses. from the east bay, april rovero, who lost her son joey, and from marin county, susan kim. you lost your son trey in april. i want to start with you. we've worked together for
several years now, been on a couple of panels together. and i want folks to know about joey. what was he like, and what happened to him? >> hmm, well, joey was a senior at arizona state university when we got the -- the horrible news that he had passed away in his bedroom overnight after a college party. he'd been out with friends the night before, and they'd gone to the nightclubs in the area to celebrate a birthday and an early graduation for a friend. came back to his apartment, and he basically just went to sleep and didn't wake up. i would describe joey as pretty much the all-american kid. he loved sports. while he was -- i think he started four -- like 4 years old all the way through high school, he was playing virtually every sport you could imagine. his special love was football, and he played football the last four years of his high school time, but...he was just a really fun guy to be around. he was everybody's friend. he walked in the room, and everybody was attracted to him.
he was beautiful, i think. he was just a gorgeous-looking guy. um, he was just a really genuine person and somebody that people seemed to gravitate to, you know, one way way or the other for, you know, consultation or friendship -- whatever it might be. >> i can't imagine what that is like, to lose a child so young. you're never supposed to -- that's never supposed to happen. >> no, we're supposed to definitely go before them, so... >> and, susan, you son trey, he was 23? >> he was 23, and he had just recently moved back to marin county and lived very close to where a worked. and i got a call, um, from one of his friends, saying that trey was missing. so, i went over to his apartment and when i had gotten there, i got a phone call from his friends saying that they had found him and that he "didn't make it" -- that was the term that they had used. and trey was very much like april's son -- very into sports, had a lot of friends, didn't seem like the type of kid that would get into heavy drugs.
i knew he smoked marijuana, and i knew he drank. so not only was i dealing with the horror of losing my son, i had all of these questions about prescription-drug overdose and, you know, how does somebody die from codeine cough syrup? >> so, that was what was in his system? >> he was using a concoction -- the rappers made it popular -- called "sizzurp" or "the lean" or "purple drank," and it's with codeine cough syrup. >> and some candy, and... >> and 7up and whatever else is in it. and the same thing -- went home after a night of partying, went to sleep, and never woke up. >> ugh, this is -- it's so sad. i'm so sorry for both of you and for your whole families. april, you and susan have both taken this grief and turning into something else that will help other parents. so, tell me about your organization. >> i sure will. just a few months after joey passed away, we really came to realize that this was a really big problem -- prescription-drug abuse -- and
as i looked around, nobody else was talking about it, it felt like, and certainly nobody was really educating community members. so, we formed the national coalition against prescription-drug abuse, and it's been operating ever since. we are a national organization with a heavy focus on the bay area, because this is where we live, and our biggest challenge is really educating our community members about how dangerous the medications can be and to keep their families safe. >> you have events all year-round. >> oh, yes. all year-round. our website is a great place to go to see what we're doing each month, but we do plan things all year-round. >> okay, i've been with you on some of the walks, which is very, very empowering. now, you've started a grassroots organization in marin. people don't think marin has this kind of problem. >> statistically, more affluent areas tend to have higher levels of addiction. and when i first started with this group called rxsafe marin, which has brought together a lot of different community members -- educators and law enforcement, the court system,
mental-health education -- and so, we're working towards reducing all types of addiction in marin, and we have made a lot of progress so far since this group. and this year, we're focusing on some grassroots events to really educate the community, because there's a lot of things that people can do in the community to help, you know, even if their child or someone in their family doesn't face addiction. just storing and disposing your prescription drugs properly is a big help. because then they don't land in the hands of people that don't need to have them. >> i don't think we realize that our medicine cabinet is the source, or can be the source. so, we have about a minute left. i want you to tell me what -- this isn't a problem just for kids, but it's at all ages. >> oh, it is. it crosses all age boundaries, ethnic groups, and whatever else. we see little toddlers get ahold of medication left casually on a counter down -- they've overdosed.
they usually get saved because a parent or adult is close by. we also see that people get addicted to these medications by taking them as prescribed, so anybody in the middle -- in fact, we lose more people in the 35- to 55-year age range than anybody else. and then we've got the elderly we have to be really concerned about. they have a lot of medications, a lot of doctors, and things can go wrong. >> all right, your website? >> it's rxsafemarin.org. >> okay, all right. thank you both for being here. we have a lot more to talk about. we have some other guests coming up. thank you for being here. >> thank you for doing this program. >> and we have so much more to get to on the opioid epidemic. coming up, a very personal story from a prominent east bay leader in the ministry. he was a promising athlete who became hooked on prescription drugs after an injury. how he survived and is now helping others. stay with us. we'll be right back.
>> we're talking about the deadly epidemic of opioid abuse that has killed hundreds of thousands of people since 2000. here with us right now in the studio is pastor raymond lankford with the voices of hope community church in oakland, and also works with the healthy communities program. thank you for being here. >> thank you for having me. >> we talked by phone about your journey as a young athlete. it started when you were a strapping young man and you got an injury. let's take a look back at an interview you did very early in your career. >> you've had to fight through injury problems over about the last four to six weeks. tell us a little bit about that. >> well, it's been a big -- ever since the christmas break, i've been getting injured, it seems like. but it's been sort of like what is called a letdown, but right now i'm coming back. my quickness is coming back. i'm starting to play better "d." i'm hustling more. i'm just glad to be back in shape. i was a young athlete attending a very prominent university. i sustained an injury, and i was prescribed a medication for
that, and i became addicted. >> did anybody talk about addiction at that time? >> not really, 'cause, you know, we were a very good college, doing very good work athletically and also within the community. and of course, you know, i had the support there, but a lot of people didn't talk about it. but i saw it in my community, coming up as a kid, but you think, "hey, this will never happen to me." >> and then was it just that? i mean, that's bad enough, but was there -- did you spiral down to even worse situations? >> yes, yes. i ended up losing my athletic scholarship. my addictions led to other hard-core addictions -- uppers, downers, pain pills, crack cocaine, snorting heroin. you name it, i became addicted, and that's what i did. >> how did you break out of that? what kind of support -- what did your family say, or did you even tell them? >> well, my family, when they found out, they were very disappointed. >> of course. >> but i always remember my mother said, "you better come
back home with a degree." so, i was able to earn three degrees. but what really helped, i was referred to san -- the teen challenge -- san francisco teen challenge. and that agency really helped me to get a handle, get a grip, on life, and i began to fight my way back. >> how long did it take you? >> it took me several years. it took me several years. i was in my addiction for about 10 years. >> oh. brutal. >> and i've been clean for about 30 years. >> congratulations. >> thank you. >> and now you've used that -- that lesson to help others. tell us about that. >> yes, i'm excited to go and share my testimony at churches, at anybody that will give me an opportunity to share. we started a local community organization that provides primary care, mental health, alcohol and drug, violence-prevention services. and working with the faith community, we've been able to do a lot of help and education and outreach through the faith community. but wherever we can, you know, share our story, because, you know, no parent sends their kids
to college to find out that their kid has passed away because of an overdo-- an addiction of drugs. >> that's right. so, what's your final thought for parents out there who think, as april and susan thought, that you know, you get to 18 or 21, you think, "oh, my work is done"? >> right. you know what i found, as a parent myself, is that we have to parent our children when they are teenagers and young adults. >> absolutely. >> stay involved. ask questions. look into the cabinets. look under the beds and in the dresser drawers. >> thank you, pastor lankford, for sharing your story. >> thank you. >> and congratulations on your success. >> thank you. >> and coming up next, you're going to hear from a former pharmacy technician turned police officer, who teaches others about the deadly risks of prescription drug abuse. and the head of the san francisco drug enforcement administration is also going to join us. later on, you'll hear how opioids affect the brain and why the cravings are so intense. stay with us. we'll be right back.
>> i did martial arts, gymnastics, piano lessons. i was an honor-roll student -- always went to school. i was like 3.43 grade point average. >> mm. well, the federal government says 91 people die in this country every day from overdoses from opioids such as oxycodone or heroin. it's an epidemic that a lot of people don't even want to acknowledge until they've lost somebody. our guests right now are lieutenant tim simmons with the richmond police department and john martin, special agent in charge of the drug enforcement administration, san francisco division. thank you both for being here today. >> thanks for having us, cheryl. >> special agent, i wanted to
start with you because the documentary we're using is something that came about from the fbi and dea. that's really -- i've never seen anything like it. >> yeah, it's a wonderful collaboration. that is a really effective 45-minute documentary that really focuses on the prescription, opioid, and -- prescription-drug abuse and opioid abuse in america through the eyes of the individuals and families that have been affected by it. >> it's really powerful. >> it is powerful. >> thank you for being a part of that. we had talked by phone earlier with your department about the number of deaths that you had investigated in sacramento involving fentanyl. >> absolutely. about 11 months ago, in march and april of 2016, there was a rash of overdoses. over 50 -- 56 in the greater sacramento region. what we found through our investigation was that counterfeit prescription pills had been made, and these prescription pills were made to look like hydrocodone pills. they were being sold on the
street, and these pills actually contained fentanyl, which is a opioid compound. now, fentanyl is extremely powerful. it's 25 to 50 times more powerful than heroin. so, these folks were buying what they thought was a legitimate hydrocodone pill on the black market, yet they were buying a pill that contained fentanyl. >> and it killed them. >> and we had 15 people die of overdoses. >> wow. well, lieutenant simmons, you have the unique perspective from being a pharmacy technician turned police officer. now you're training other officers and district attorneys how to recognize the dangers from prescription-drug abuse. can you give us -- what did you see before and now? >> so, working in the pharmacy as a pharmacy technician, in the profession, you saw a lot of individuals who were most likely addicted to the opiate-based drugs, who were doctor-shopping or pharmacy-shopping or altering
prescriptions and trying to find other illicit ways to get their hands on more of the opiate drug or amphetamine drug that they were addicted to. and now in law enforcement, you see those people out on the street, whether they just purchased something illicitly or whether they're trying to sell something illicitly, and we're contacting them there. >> but when you had officers originally when you started, the officers didn't really know what to do when they would see these baggies of stuff. >> right, they would encounter people that would just say, "this is my medication," and without any knowledge of what that is and idea of how to move forward with it, they would say, "okay," give it right back to them, and carry on with whatever they thought, you know, their investigation was gonna lead them to and, really, not much was done. >> but you've now trained hundreds of officers. >> hundreds, yes. >> and so, have you noticed a difference yet? >> i have. particularly in the city of richmond, our officers are well-trained, and they are actually looking for those things with citizens and their contacts and when they're in the homes, making sure that things are on the up-and-up. and then working with other
people, other law-enforcement agencies, to include the dea. all over northern california, there really has been a difference. >> special agent martin, when your folks go and they go to these areas where they confiscate this material, i've seen pictures of them in full hazmat gear. it's dangerous work. >> it is, and it's a concern for law enforcement and first responders. fentanyl is so highly potent, and it can be absorbed through the skin or through the eye ducts, so we take great precautions to not only protect ourselves, but protect the public 'cause sometimes these counterfeit-pill operations will be in someone's apartment or in someone's house, and so we want to make sure that we're protecting ourselves with these suits, but also making sure that we properly clean the area from hazmat and remediate the site. >> we talked some numbers. 91 people dying every day and more than 50,000 people -- the numbers are staggering. can you put that in context? >> absolutely. you know, last year, 52,000
people died of an opioid overdose. to put that into context -- i'm a san francisco giants fan -- just down the street here, we have at&t park. so, at&t park holds roughly 42,000 people. so, add another 10,000 people on top of that, and that's how many people died last year of drug abuse, 33,000 of those from opioids. >> i don't think people realize just how dangerous prescription drugs, that they -- they think they're benign because it's a prescription drug. but we talked earlier about it. it's in your medicine cabinet. >> mm-hmm. >> so, how do we dispose of those, or how do we -- how can we be safer? >> so, there are a lot of ways to actually safely dispose of those drugs, and i highly encourage you to do it. most police departments, or a lot of police departments will have drug drop boxes right in their lobby. i know the richmond police department does. and then, several times a year, the dea sponsors a national drug take-back day, where all over the country, and all over
california specifically, there are pick-up and drop-off locations where they can dispose of those safely. just don't throw them down the drain. don't throw them in the garbage. that's not the place to do it. contact your local law-enforcement agency, and they can hopefully point you in the right direction. >> all right, we have about 10 seconds left. final thought from you, sir? >> well, just with the prescription drugs and opioids, just be careful. if you're buying something on the street, it could be dangerous and potentially deadly. >> all right, gentlemen, thank you very much. thank you for the work you're doing, too. and when we come back, you're going to learn why opioids are so addictive and how they can actually change the chemistry of the brain. stay with us. we'll be right back.
epidemic -- dr. kelly pfeifer with the california health care foundation, and thank you for being here today. >> oh, thanks for having me. >> i've read several of the articles you've written about opioid addiction, and one of which you talked about prince, the late prince, and stigma and the need for treatment. >> well, prince's story is so tragically common. we have so many people who go into the emergency room, their overdose is reversed, their life is saved, and then they're back in the community and then there's often a death a few weeks later. and if you compare it to how we treat any other condition like a heart attack -- if you go into an emergency department with a heart attack, not only is your life saved, but an entire team of people gather together to make sure this never happens again. you get medications right away, specialists visit you in the hospital, your insurance company might send a case manager to make sure you get all the treatment you need.ll the on the other hand, if you have addiction, your life is saved with a drug that makes you feel horrible, like you're gonna die. you're overwhelmed with cravings, and then you might be
given a piece of paper saying, "go get treatment," when all that person can think about is to feel okay, which means getting the drug again. >> so, part of that's stigma. >> a huge piece of it -- stigma. and also, it's just our system is not set up to treat addiction. we still separate the part of the brain where if you have a physical problem in your body, we accept that as something we should treat. if it's in your brain, we think it's something you're blamed for, and we don't see it as our responsibility. >> so, why does it take hold? why are the cravings so intense? how does it change your brain? >> well, our brain chemistry's meant to stay in balance. and if you flood your brain with heroin or any opioid pill, your brain responds by stopping to make the chemical that helps us manage pain, that helps us bond with others, and helps us motivate to make change in our lives. so if you suddenly stop this drug when you've been on it for a long time, all of that part of the brain shuts down and you feel terrible. you're filled with pain. you're filled with desperation. you have difficulty bonding with others or making plans.
and so, that's why medication to treat addiction is so effective, because it stabilizes that part of the brain, helps you feel normal again, and then you can participate in recovery. >> but where do they get this, if we don't have enough treatment centers? >> well, we're working on that across the state. >> i know you're working on this, yeah. >> we have policymakers, health plans, providers, community advocates all working to try and make sure we get to the place where everyone who needs treatment can get it when they need it. you should be able to get treatment in the emergency room, in a primary-care office, in a county behavioral health clinic, in a speciality program. we should get to a place in a few years where no matter where you enter the system, you're able to be assessed for addiction compassionately, without judgment, and get the treatment you need. >> that would be a great dream to have, right? >> it's especially important in pregnancies. so, we see so many families split apart because of addiction. if we were better at working with pregnant women, identifying addiction, getting women on treatment, helping them change their lives, then we would be able to have moms and babies
stay together and not have this terrible situation we have now of infants going into withdrawal, going into foster care, and mothers losing the best motivation you could ever have to make change. >> you talked about a coalition of people who are working to make change. for people right now, though, if they want help, what can they do? >> well, the -- unfortunately, a lot of it is advocating for yourself. you can go online and find treatment resources. you can call your insurance company. you can go to your doctor. you can call the county behavioral health services. so, treatment is available, but sometimes people have to work pretty hard to find it. but we're working to a different future where that wouldn't be true, and there -- it's encouraging to me to see how many coalitions across the state are trying to figure this out in their communities so people have the resources they need. >> and how is -- how important is it for your family to just hang in there with you, as hard as it gets? >> this is a chronic disease. it takes time. i mean, no one gets a diagnosis of diabetes, then immediately starts exercising and changes their life and loses weight, but
somehow we have this expectation of addiction that it should happen instantly. so, when someone goes into treatment, there's gonna be failures and relapses, but people do get better. and that's why pastor lankford's story is so inspiring. we see over and over that overdoses are preventable, addiction is treatable, and we can do better. >> and we can go on your foundation site and learn more information. >> absolutely. we have a lot of resources, and i would love to see people visit and learn what we're doing. >> thank you so much, and thank you for the work you're doing, too. >> thank you. >> all right, and we have so much more to talk about, but for now, we have a lot of information about our guests and the resources they shared for you on today's program. just go to our website, abc7news.com/community. we're also on facebook @abc7communityaffairs, as well as @cheryljenningsabc7. and please follow me on twitter @cherylabc7. thanks so much for joining us. have a great week. we'll see you next time.