SRL intern investigates opiate addiction in Central Pennsylvania

After graduating from high school last spring and attending the Student Reporting Labs Academy this summer, Nick Weiss had the opportunity to intern with WITF in Harrisburg, Pa., where he decided to investigate growing rates of opiate addiction and the response from local organizations and legislators to the issue.

Weiss found Britton Peach, an individual not much older than himself who knew the struggles of addiction firsthand. Peach was 19 when he became addicted to heroin after using prescription opiates. Now clean, Peach still remembers the period in his life when he found himself dedicating nearly every waking moment to getting high.

“From the first day I used, I used every day after that,” he said.

From 1991 to 2013, prescriptions for opioid painkillers more than doubled, making it easier for people to obtain and abuse drugs like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Peach’s addiction began with drugs prescribed to him after he had his wisdom teeth removed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 44 people die from a prescription painkiller overdose every day in the U.S.

Weiss also talked to Mark McCullough from the RASE Project in Carlisle, Pa., an organization that helps addicts regain control of their lives. A recovery specialist and former addict himself, McCullough knows from personal experience how difficult it is to find the resources one needs to overcome addiction.

“People are not going to stop dying until the effort is put forth, the funding is put forth,” McCullough said. “Finally, legislators are starting to see that.”

McCullough also said he believes that patients need to be better informed about the risks of addiction when they are first prescribed opiates. That point was echoed by Dr. Jon A. Shapiro of the Pennsylvania Medical society, who believes that proper prescription needs to be more strongly emphasized for medical students and practicing physicians alike.

For addicts, better education about the risks of opiate addiction might have helped individuals like Peach recognize the risks earlier. He said opiates should be talked about in school health classes, just like drugs like marijuana, and that addiction in general should be talked about more openly to show people that recovery is possible if the resources are made available.

“If you’re an addict, you’re an addict for the rest of your life,” Peach said. “But it can be overcome. You can come to terms with it, you can live with it.”

Video produced by Nick Weiss with mentor support provided by Tim Lambert of WITF.