Dental visit leads to opium, heroin habit

Alex Elswick of Lexington, left, describes his battle with opiate addiction as County Judge-Executive George Lusby and pediatrician Horace Hambrick listen. The three spoke at a community meeting on addiction Tuesday.

Having his wisdom teeth pulled sent Alex Elswick into opiate and heroin addiction.

“I took the prescription [opiate] exactly as it was prescribed. I didn’t abuse it. I got dry sockets in my mouth and I got a second prescription. I took it exactly like I was supposed to,” the Lexington man said.

“But for someone with a genetic predisposition [to addiction] and clinical anxiety, that was enough. I got addicted.

“I spent the next five years descending deeper and deeper into the darkness of my addiction. In the end, I was a suicidal mess. I did an immense amount of harm to my family,” Elswick said.

Elswick shared his story Tuesday night with more than 100 Georgetown residents and community leaders, who gathered at the Scott County Cooperative Extension Office to learn more about the local aspects of the national heroin crisis.

Elswick joined Scott County Circuit Judge Paul Isaacs, pediatrician Horace Hambrick, Georgetown Community Hospital Emergency Department Director Scott Harrison, two sheriff’s deputies and two Georgetown Police Department representatives who described a plague that, they and others said, reaches across the county into every neighborhood without regard to social and economic status.

The emphasis of the speakers was the need to get persons with substance addictions into treatment programs that help them recognize the severity of their disease and equip them to live a substance-free life.

But one speaker, Georgetown-Scott County Emergency Medical Services Director Brandon Remley, sounded a sobering warning about the far-reaching threat of addiction.

“The individuals who are abusing these drugs, they are not sitting in their homes. Our staff is picking up people on I-75, they’re picking them up at intersections here in town.

“There are individuals using drugs behind the wheel of a car.

“When we get calls, it’s because they’ve either run off the road or it’s because a vehicle is sitting in an intersection with a driver who’s unresponsive,” Remley said.

“We have to look at it that at least we are fortunate, up to this point. These individuals have not passed out while they’re traveling at a high rate of speed.

“What they’re doing is sitting at our red lights, and in the time it’s taking for the red lights to change, they’re shooting up,” Remley said.

Remley and Scott County Sheriff’s deputies Jeremy Johnson and Josh Bedson also noted the increasingly common problem of first-responders encountering fentanyl — a stronger morphine derivative than heroin — at overdose scenes.

Fentanyl can be absorbed through skin, and presents the potential danger of an overdose to first-responders who unintentionally touch the substance.

Hambrick talked about his experience with drug-addicted newborn babies, who have to be given doses of morphine to ease the muscle twitches and pain as they are weaned from their pregnant mother’s drug use.

Hambrick also warned strongly against thinking of marijuana as a benign drug, a position supported by Morgan Rehm, president of Scott County High School’s Scott Countians Against Drugs chapter.

“Ninety-three percent of heroin users have experimented with lesser drugs like alcohol or marijuana,” Rehm said.

Harrison described the continuing trend of increasing numbers of overdoses being treated in Georgetown Community Hospital’s emergency room.

Of all the speakers, though, Elswick may have had the most compelling story: the memories of a person with a substance addiction.

“I went to Cincinnati with a girlfriend and got introduced to heroin as a cheaper alternative” to prescription narcotics, Elswick said.

“How does a competent, reasonably intelligent person stick a needle in his arm? I don’t know how to tell you, but I got addicted in a bad, bad way,” he said.

Elswick described himself as someone who inherited traits from other family members that made him a prime candidate for narcotic addiction.

“My mom had seven uncles, four of whom had substance abuse disorders. My dad’s adopted. I don’t know what’s on that family tree. That meant that from the day I was born, I was more likely to suffer a substance-abuse disorder,” Elswick said.

He also had an anxiety disorder.

“That meant that I found ways to cope with how I felt,” he said.

As a youth, he played three sports in high school.

And he tried marijuana.

“When I was 18 years old, I was playing baseball at Centre College — and I got arrested on a litany of marijuana-trafficking charges.

“I went to jail. I got my charges probated, and I remember saying that I was done with drugs.

Two months later he had the oral surgery that led to the oxycodone prescription that sent him into years of opiate addiction.

After five years, he found himself living under a bridge outside Dayton, Ohio, homeless and hungry.

“I got lucky. I walked into a Salvation Army shelter … with a treatment component,” Elswick said.

That was several years ago.

“I left behind all those old friends and I integrated into a new, sober social network,” he said.

He emphasized that he did not break away from his addiction through his own power. Rather, Elswick said his success resulted from a network of treatment programs and people who counseled and befriended him.

“I stand before you today because I got the support I needed. I got the help I needed,” Elswick said.

Dan Adkins can be reached at dadkins@news-graphic.com.

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