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drugs

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán had seen his name in headlines. He knew it graced the world's Most Wanted lists.

But it appears that the notorious drug kingpin wanted something more: He wanted his name in lights.

Sarah Jackson had quit abusing drugs and had been sober for six months when she found out she had hepatitis C.

"That was weeks of not sleeping and just constant tears," she says. "I had already put a lot of that behind me and had been moving forward with my life and this was just a major setback."

To get rid of the infection, her doctor prescribed Harvoni, one of the new generation of highly effective hepatitis C drugs. But Jackson never started the treatment because her insurance, Indiana's Medicaid, refused to pay for it.

The first sign something was wrong was when Sarah Shell lost 20 pounds. Then she started complaining that her legs were tired.

"She began having difficulty climbing stairs, and I just thought that she was — I hate to use the word — lazy," says Sarah's mother, Leigh Shell.

Then the teenager's eyes stopped moving. And she began vomiting out of the blue. Sarah had migraines and couldn't concentrate. Then she lost all the feeling in her hands, feet and legs.

Shilo Murphy at the People's Harm Reduction Alliance in Seattle's University District.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

Jeannie Yandel speaks with Shilo Murphy, executive director of the People's Harm Reduction Alliance, about his plan to start a safe consumption site for drug users in Seattle.  

Ericka Frodsham is one of 50 to 60 prostitutes who work on Aurora Avenue North, known as a track. This is one of two tracks where prostitutes work in the Seattle area. Photographer Mike Kane followed her one evening, separately from the story below.
KUOW Photo/Mike Kane

Why is there so much prostitution on Aurora Avenue in North Seattle? Beth Quintana, who lives in North Seattle near Aurora, asked KUOW’s Local Wonder project, so we sent reporter Posey Gruener to find out.

Opioids have a stranglehold on parts of the U.S. And where addictive pain medicines are the drug of choice, clinics for addiction treatment often follow.

Sometime these are doctor's offices where patients can get painkiller-replacement drugs, such as Subutex and Suboxone.

Cancer patients shopping on federal and state insurance marketplaces often find it difficult to determine whether their drugs are covered and how much they will pay for them, the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society says in a report that also calls on regulators to restrict how much insurers can charge patients for medications.

Prescription drug use is rising across the United States. More people are taking medications and they're taking more of them.

A study published Tuesday by researchers at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health shows that 59 percent of adults used a prescription drug in a 30-day period. That's up from just 50 percent when the survey was last conducted a decade earlier.

With his ambulance sirens blaring, Edmund Hassan speeds to a home in South Boston after getting a call that someone there is unconscious. He's deputy superintendent of Boston Emergency Medical Services, and he suspects an opioid overdose. These days, he says, his workers administer Narcan, the drug that reverses that kind of overdose, roughly three times in every eight-hour shift.

Program manager Linda Kruger prepares for the opening of the Evergreen Treatment Service clinic in Hoquiam.
KUOW Photo/Elizabeth Jenkins

Ross Reynolds talks with Molly Carney, executive director of Evergreen Treatment Services, about a pilot program that will expand access for heroin and opioid treatment.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is partnering with police and fire departments and pharmacies Saturday to relaunch its drug take-back program, which encourages people to rummage through their homes and hand over unused prescriptions.

"Lots and lots of folks have prescription pills that have either expired or they no longer need, and in the wrong hands, those are poison," acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg told NPR in an interview. "So the purpose of the program is to get those out of medicine cabinets. We can dispose of them anonymously and safely."

When Rehab Interrupts Your Senior Year

Sep 9, 2015
Anna Konsmo (left) and Payton Curtis in 2014 before their senior year of high school. They stayed close while Curtis spent part of her senior year in a rehab facility.
Courtesy of Payton Curtis

Anna Konsmo and best friend Payton Curtis are talking and laughing. They laugh together a lot.

Konsmo and Curtis, both 18, treasure that relationship even more now: Curtis spent part of her senior high school year in rehab for alcohol and drug abuse.

The latest numbers show that deaths from heroin-related overdose more than tripled nationally between 2002 and 2013. Opiate addiction touches every demographic: white, black, Hispanic, rural, suburban and urban.

Proposed solutions nationally include more government funding for treatment, tougher penalties for dealers, and proactive interventions to stop people before they start.

About 120 people a day are dying from unintentional drug overdoses, according the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

An increase in prescriptions for painkillers, like Oxycontin, is one reason. Another is that when opioids aren’t available, people often turn to heroin because it is cheaper, stronger any easier to obtain these days.

The problem appears worse in some communities, but it’s not often clear why.

Shilo Murphy at the People's Harm Reduction Alliance in Seattle's University District.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

The day Shilo Murphy found his friend dead from an overdose, he resolved to change his life.

He wouldn’t quit drugs. He liked how heroin made him feel. But he wanted to improve the lives of drug users.

"My experience of having a close friend die was that I wasn't going to take it anymore,” Murphy told KUOW’s Ross Reynolds. “It being the conditions we lived under, the discrimination we felt, the constant violence towards us.”

Boats crowd Lake Washington during a past Seafair weekend.
Flickr Photo/missyleone (CC BY 2.0)

David Hyde speaks with Beth Ebel, a professor of pediatrics and a doctor with the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, about the culture around drinking and boating and how we can change it. 

A security camera inside the jail cell of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán was rolling the moment the most powerful drug lord in the world made a run for it.

In a community center just south of Los Angeles, upwards of 50 people pack into a room to offer each other words of comfort. Most of them are moms, and they've been through a lot.

At Solace, a support group for family members of those suffering from addiction, many of the attendees have watched a child under 30 die of a fatal drug overdose — heroin, or opioids like Oxycontin or Vicodin that are considered gateway drugs to heroin.

Jennifer Nugent and her three kids are throwing a big, blue ball around in the small living room of their rental home.

The kids are happy, but Nugent isn't. She planned to raise them in a place with much more room to play.

And she was. That is, until she learned that home was uninhabitable.

Two years ago, she and her husband bought a country home in the small central Indiana town of Mooresville.

"It was blue and it had a lot of potential for us to add on," she says. "We really, really wanted that house."

Marcie Sillman talks with Jeremy Bradford, an early participant in Seattle's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program, about his journey from a homeless addict to a small business owner.

drugs pills health
iStock

Marcie Sillman talks with University of Washington pain specialist Jane Ballantyne about evolving attitudes towards prescription opiates. 

King County Heroin Deaths Up 58 Percent In 2014

Jun 18, 2015
Found in Seattle's Belltown area in 2008.
Flickr photo/Elan Ruskin (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A spike in deaths from heroin use in King County has alarmed health experts and prompted warnings that the trend will continue unless efforts to treat addiction are ramped up.

The report on drug trends from the University of Washington's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute says 156 people died with heroin in their systems in 2014, a 58 percent increase over the year before.

Christopher Takata is eager to get these vestiges of his addictions erased.
KUOW Photo/Ann Dornfeld

A lot of teenagers smoke weed. But they don’t all love it enough to get W-E-E-D tattooed across their knuckles.

"I was just a pothead, basically, obsessed with getting high. That’s all I would think about," said 18-year-old Christopher Takata, who last week became the first graduate of Seattle Public Schools' new Recovery School, for students who have been through drug or alcohol rehabilitation programs.

Lee Townsend with the Metroplitan Improvement District checks his "hotspots" in Belltown for litter...and worse.
KUOW Photo/Amy Radil

Over the past year, street sweepers in downtown Seattle saw a dramatic increase in the number of syringes on the ground. But those numbers have declined since March. They’re a data point in the larger debate over policing and drug use downtown.

Flickr Photo/torbakhopper (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds talks with Shilo Murphy, executive director of the People's Harm Reduction Alliance, about their new initiative to hand out free meth pipes.

Ross Reynolds speaks with Bruce Barcott, author of "Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America."

Barcott began working on the book as a self-described pot agnostic. He said his 16-year-old daughter found it hilarious that her square dad was writing a book about pot.

Barcott was concerned about how legal marijuana would affect his children. But after looking into it he said he's proud of Washington for taking the step to legalize it. He thinks the legalization effort will only grow in coming years.

Marcie Sillman gets Nancy Pearl's opinion on "Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic," by journalist Sam Quinones. The book talks about the new generation of heroin addicts: they're young, white, relatively well-off, and they buy their fix the same way they order a pizza.

Heroin drugs seized by the Counter Narcotics Police of Afghanistan.
Flickr Photo/UK Ministry of Defence

Marcie Sillman talks to journalist Sam Quinones about his book "Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic." 

William Shatner.
Flickr Photo/Brian Wilkins (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Why is William Shatner coming for our water? Does Seattle need rent control? Can a new policing plan tackle drug dealing downtown? Is tipping on the way out?

David Hyde sits in for Bill Radke to review the week’s news along with Crosscut’s Knute Berger, 'The C is For Crank' blogger Erica C. Barnett and former Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna.

A police van at Third Avenue and Pine Street in downtown Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

There’s an open air drug market between Westlake Center and the Pike Place Market. People who live and work downtown are getting tired of dealing with that. So are business owners.

"You’re facing shoplifting multiple times a day, you’re seeing people overdose in your bathroom, you’re cleaning up heroin needles," the Downtown Seattle Association’s Jon Scholes said.

Now the city of Seattle is trying to do something about it.

There have been 95 arrests over the last few days – without a single incident of use of force, Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole says.

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