Frankie Sheheen, South Carolina Recovering Professional Program director and former heroin addict, said that addiction can effect “your friends, your kids, your spouse. It’s not just the junkie down the street."
Painkillers such as morphine, methadone, Buprenorphine, hydrocodone, fentanyl and oxycodone are all classified as opioids. These are often perscribed legally under the brand names OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Percodan, Tylox and Demerol.
Branch Beattie was formely addicted to painkillers before going to rehabilitation in 2013. He’s since been clean, but still struggles against the possibility of relapse.
By Brodie Putz
Frankie Sheheen lost his wife, his job, and nearly his life to heroin. But he was given what many addicts are not: a second chance.
He has been free of his addiction for 34 years and now works as the director of the South Carolina Recovering Professional Program, which assists healthcare professionals who have drug and alcohol addictions.
“I’ll never forget what it felt like when my wife kicked me out in ‘83,” Sheheen said from behind his desk as he blinked away tears. “I’ll never forget how scared I was of living without heroin. I’ll never forget what it was like to hit rock bottom.”
Sheheen’s terrifying experience with drugs and addiction is just one of many stories in South Carolina and across the country, where drug overdoses and drug-related deaths are on the rise.
In South Carolina, heroin deaths were up 57.1 percent from 2014-2015, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And since 1999, opioid-related overdoses have more than tripled in the United States.
Opioids extend beyond street level substances like heroin. Painkillers such as morphine, methadone, Buprenorphine, hydrocodone, fentanyl and oxycodone are all classified as opioids as well.
These are often sold under the brand names Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Percodan, Tylox and Demerol. When used improperly or without prescription, these substances can lead to addiction and even death.
Todd Spradling, a Columbia-based assistant-agent-in-charge with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, worries that 2017 will be as devastating.
“This is the drug of choice for millennials,” he said. “And it’s dangerously easy for individuals to become addicted. It’s as easy as a parent not locking up their medicine cabinet or someone being a little too dependent on pain killers after an injury. Four out of five people who abuse pills become heroin users. It’s dangerous, it’s easy, and it’s everywhere.”
Spradling’s warning rings true for many South Carolinians. Just last year, Rep. Eric Bedinfield, R-Greenville, lost his son toopioid overdose.
“My boy died on Easter Sunday,” he said. “He got started after he started taking painkillers for a football injury.”
Beginfield is one of several South Carolina lawmakers who have introduced legislation to help those suffering from addiction.
One element of the proposal, would allow authorities to charge drug dealers with manslaughter if the opioids and opiates they sold result in a user’s death.
The legislation also would protect users who call an emergency line in order to help another user who has overdosed with temporary immunity from prosecution. The bill makes provisions for drug abuse education and prevention.
Education, according to Sheheen, is one of the most important components in ending the opioid and opiate epidemic in South Carolina.
“The war on drugs in its traditional form is antiquated,” Sheheen said. “It doesn’t work. The users are victims and we need to help them, not prosecute them.” Spradling agreed.
“We [the DEA] aren’t here to arrest drug users,” he said. “Obviously, we have to enforce our laws, but we’re here for the suppliers. They’re the ones who need to be stopped. Furthermore, we’re here to make sure that South Carolinians understand what to be aware of – that parents know what to be aware of.”
Spradling said the most important thing people can do is educate themselves on these substances, and ensure that they don’t fall into the hands of children.
“Lock up your medicine cabinet like you would lock up a gun in a safe,” he said. “It’s just as dangerous.”