Region 8 News Investigation: People, Pain, Pills

(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
Lisa Scott has been sober for more than 2 years now (Source: KAIT)
Lisa Scott has been sober for more than 2 years now (Source: KAIT)
Lisa's necklace, engraved with her sobriety anniversary (Source: KAIT)
Lisa's necklace, engraved with her sobriety anniversary (Source: KAIT)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Chances are someone you know is battling an addiction to prescription pain pills.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46 people die every day in the United States from an overdose of prescription painkillers.

In the South, the statistics are worse. Ten states in the South, including Arkansas, prescribe more pills than other states. In fact, there are 116 painkiller prescriptions per 100 people in Arkansas. The epidemic has led multiple states to take action to combat the problem, but some say it must be handled delicately to ensure the problem doesn't get worse.

Region 8 News spoke with one woman who battled an addiction to prescription painkillers for decades. She's sharing her story in hopes that it helps someone else put the bottle down.

At 55 years old, Lisa Scott still remembers the first time she tried a prescription pain pill. She was 16.

"I said I had a headache, she said 'Here, take a Percodan,'" Scott said. "From then on, I loved them. I mean, I just didn't stop."

Scott got pills illegally for awhile until an accident at work resulted in multiple back surgeries.

"That just opened up Pandora's box," Scott said. "240 Lorcet, 240 Soma, and 120 Xanax a month."

In the early- to mid-2000s, she even had a Dilaudid pain pump.

Despite having hundreds of pills on hand, she said it was never enough. Scott admitted she never followed the recommended dosage of "one pill every 4 to 6 hours."

"I was probably taking 10 every three or four hours," Scott said. "If I waited that long."

Scott said she would steal, lie, or go to the dentist to have her teeth pulled.

"I'd have other people have teeth pulled and pay them to go to the dentist, and then buy the pills from them," Scott said. "I didn't have any more to pull at that point in time."

Scott said for the decades she battled an addiction to prescription painkillers, she wasn't living. She said she spent each day "surviving" until her next fix.

"I didn't have joy, peace...nothing," Scott said. "I had anger. A lot of anger."

Though Scott's story is sad, it's all too familiar.

"We're having to devote a lot of resources to it," Sgt. Cassie Brandon said.

Sgt. Brandon, the Community Outreach Recruiting Officer for the Jonesboro Police Department, said over the years, prescription drug abuse has become more prevalent.

"The drugs that we're seeing are incredibly addictive and they'll catch people off guard," Sgt. Brandon said.

In August of last year, Region 8 News interviewed a man who told police someone broke into his home, fought with him, and sliced his leg open.

"He gutted the side of my calf," John Holloway told Region 8 News. During our interview, he had 20 staples in the more than 10-inch gash in his leg.

A few days later, he called the police again. This time, he admitted he made up the story. The cut was self-inflicted.

He told police back pain and addiction led him to file false reports so that he could get more prescription drugs.

"Everybody thinks 'Oh, that's not going to happen to me and I'll just take it this one time and it'll make me feel better,'" Sgt. Brandon said. "A little bit of back pain, a headache or something like that and then the next thing you know, you have to have it to operate."

Scott said she understands all too well.

"You know, I didn't grow up wanting to be this," Scott said.

Doctors like Calin Savu understand too.

"Many times we're seeing patients who have been prescribed opioids in high doses for a very long period of time without any benefit from a specialized physician," Dr. Savu said.

However, he said prescription drugs can and do help some people.

"They achieve their goals: to get you out of bed when you're hurting, to allow you to continue to function, to allow you to fulfill your obligations whether they're social or work-related," he said. "They allow us some time to figure out your diagnosis."

They can be dangerous, though. He explained that opioids are very similar in structure to endorphins and enkephalins, hormones that our bodies naturally produce.

"Opioids are very strong and if they're in our systems long enough, they have a tendency to suppress the production of those hormones," Dr. Savu said.

Unfortunately, it takes awhile for our bodies to start producing those hormones again.

"If we precipitously drop the dosage, our bodies are devoid of any kind of relief. All of the negative feelings come to the forefront." Dr. Savu said. "The only solution would be to take a pill. But that would suppress the production of endorphins again. You go through a vicious cycle. You don't know what to do. Are you going to go through Hell or are you going to say 'To hell with it, I'm going to take the medication and I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow.'"

Dr. Savu has operated The Pain Center in Jonesboro for more than 15 years. He works with patients suffering from chronic pain, not just to get them back to living a normal life, but to wean them off prescription medication too.

He said the epidemic we're seeing now has been building for years. A series of events, including pharmaceutical companies started touting opioids as "wonder drugs", poorly conducted studies claiming they have little to no negative side effects, and patient advocates urging the government to create change, caused the issues we're seeing today.

"That created recommendations, and almost a mandate for a very, very liberal policy for prescribing medications," Dr. Savu said. "Soon thereafter, hell broke loose."

However, changes are now taking place to fight back.

In April, Governor Asa Hutchinson signed Act 820 into law. The law mandates prescription drug prescribers to check the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program before prescribing certain medications.

According to the CDC, in other states, the mandate resulted in a significant drop of patients "doctor shopping" to get more pills.

Within a year of requiring prescribers to check the state's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program before prescribing opioids, the state of Tennessee saw a 75% drop in patients' "doctor shopping."

Dr. Savu said while it's important to fight against the opioid epidemic, there's no "one size fits all" solution.

"I think a case by case approach, though more difficult and time-consuming and demanding on resources, will allow us to weed out the abusers while at the same time taking good care of those who truly suffer," Dr. Savu said.

As for Scott, she found another way to battle her demons.

"It worked for me and I was the worst of the worst of the worst," Scott said. "Jesus Christ saved my soul and the Agape House saved my life."

April 27, 2015, Scott arrived at the Agape House and battled her addiction through Christ.

Just three weeks ago, she was able to pose with her 2-year chip. It's a version of herself she never thought she'd become. However, she now knows it's possible, even for the "worst of the worst of the worst."

"There is a different way. For me, it was the Agape House," Scott said. "God has a purpose for all of us, this is my purpose."

The Arkansas Department of Health has a list of resources available for people battling numerous types of addictions.

Copyright 2017 KAIT. All rights reserved.

Watch Region 8 News On Demand: On your Desktop | On your Mobile device

Region 8 News App - Install or update on your: iPhone | Android