Alabama's opioid addiction epidemic makes national headlines

Published: Jun. 24, 2016 at 10:06 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 24, 2016 at 10:09 PM CDT
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(Beth Shelburne and photojournalist Matt Kennedy interviewing Jonathan White. Source: Facebook)
(Beth Shelburne and photojournalist Matt Kennedy interviewing Jonathan White. Source: Facebook)

BESSEMER, AL (WBRC) - Prescription opioid addiction is an epidemic spreading across the country and Alabama is ground zero. According to the CDC, doctors in Alabama write more prescriptions for pain pills like Oxycontin, Vicadin and Percocet than any other state. The problem was recently highlighted in a Washington Post article that focused on Walker County.

The problem is rampant in Jefferson County as well and Jonathan White of Hueytown could be a case study. White was first prescribed pain killers at 17 after a car accident. He said the pills helped mask underlying emotional problems and he quickly became addicted. His struggle with addiction lasted 15 years, but recently he got clean through a year-long recovery program.

"At the worst point, I would say every month I was getting 90 Roxicodone 15 mg pills and those would be gone just in a matter of 3, 4, 5 days," White said.

White turned to street dealers, but said many doctors wrote prescriptions with little attention given to the potential risk.

"I was able to go to just any doctor really and kind of give them my background and the injuries that I've been through and it just seemed a little too easy," said White. "Even with some of them knowing what I'd been through in the past, they'd still be willing to write the prescriptions."

The CDC said providers in Alabama prescribe three times as many prescriptions per person as the lowest prescribing state of Hawaii. White said few safeguards exist to prevent addicts from working the system to their advantage.

"I think it's real easy to go in and give a sob story and try to put on an act like you're in so much pain," said White. "They (doctors) don't really have time to sit down and talk with you too much, they kind of just want to get you out of there."

White's addiction spiraled out of control. He said he attempted suicide several times and fell into a cycle of hopelessness, in which he didn't enjoy life anymore, but felt he needed the drugs to survive.

"It got to where it didn't help the pain at all, and I was able to take just enough without overdosing, just to not be sick," he said.

Finally, he entered the recovery program at the Foundry Ministries and found success in beating his addiction and turning his life around.

White now works as development director for World Exit Ministries based in Bessemer. The small group raises money to help pay intake fees at recovery centers for addicts who might otherwise not be able to afford to enter treatment. The group is just one participating in a drug awareness rally in Hueytown Saturday June 24 from 5-8pm at Gilmore Vines Stadium.

"We weren't created to be addicted to drugs, that's not who we are," said White. "It doesn't have to be that way, you don't have to be bound by that, there is freedom to be found."

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