She can barely walk.

She can barely talk.

Even her text messages are unintelligible.

Her closest family members have distanced themselves.

Her quality of life is numbed by addiction.

A once thriving, loving, Christian woman who dedicated her life to helping others is now a shell of a person. A nurse turned opioid addict who can no longer help anyone, including herself.

This is the story of many people across the nation and right here in the Bible Belt.

Alabama is known for a church on every corner, but somehow those corners are also plagued with drugs and crime. How did it get this way and what is being done to bring Alabamians back to God and break the chains that are binding and killing His people?

According to the 2020 Alabama State Health Assessment, mental health issues can lead to substance abuse. Between 2017 and 2019, “41 percent of AL adults sought medical treatment for a mental health issue,” and that number likely increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Injuries that lead to long-term medication use are also blamed for substance abuse.

In all, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Alabama’s opioid dispensing rate was the highest in the country, with 85.8 medications for every 100 persons in 2019.

Prescription opioid use, along with dangerous street drugs containing fentanyl, has been a contributing factor in the increasing number of drug overdose deaths in the state. In Jefferson County alone, 2022 saw 488 drug overdose deaths. Coroner Bill Yates said most of those were due to opioids. Already in 2023, he was discouraged watching the numbers continue to climb despite efforts by local and state agencies to curb the opioid epidemic.

"It's a continued pattern of increase, which is concerning," Yates told 1819 News. "We jump[ed] to this higher level a few years back and we're not even plateauing. So, that's concerning, and I know there is a lot of good work done out there.”

With a rampant mental health problem and a growing number of illicit drugs used to fuel addiction, the Alabama Department of Mental Health has offered free Narcan kits and opioid testing strips to anyone who requests them online. The department is participating in an ongoing campaign, “Don’t Trust your Drugs” and offers a 24/7 Helpline for those struggling with addiction (844) 307-1760. The state has also set up the 988 Suicide and Crisis line to connect Alabamians to resources.

If not for all these efforts, Yates said, the number of drug overdose deaths would likely be even higher.

Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office has also been involved in numerous lawsuits against entities within the pharmaceutical industry. Settlement money is being put toward programs and legislation to curb the opioid epidemic.

Several of the major settlements which the AG’s office said are already paying off are with Walmart, CVS, Walgreens, Teva, and Allergan. The Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens settlements require the companies to establish a controlled substance compliance committee to review policies and procedures. Walmart was ordered to establish an entire controlled substance compliance department.

Walmart, CVS, and Walgreens must now offer a hotline for anonymous reporting of inappropriate dispensing, prescribing, or diversion of opioids and put into place a validation process that can lead to the refusal of a prescription in suspicious cases, as well as a prescriber-review process.

The Teva settlement requires the drug maker to monitor suspicious orders and off-label prescribing of fentanyl products, while banning the company from offering discounts to opioid prescription fillers. Teva must identify suspicious customers and refuse to fill those orders until an investigation is complete.

Allergan is now banned from offering discounts to opioid prescription fillers as well.

National investigations and litigation against the pharmaceutical industry over the opioid crisis have led to more than $50 billion and Marshall said he will make sure Alabama gets a cut of those funds.

“The opioid crisis is a blight on our society and has had costly effects on our communities,” Marshall said. “My office will never stop holding those responsible companies accountable for the irreparable harm to our state.”

Marshall said Alabama received $248,948,247 from the Teva, Allergan, Walgreens, and CVS settlement alone.

For Marshall, the fight against the opioid crisis is personal. He lost his wife to suicide in 2018 after she struggled with opioid use. Marshall said he was also prescribed significant amounts of opioids, including fentanyl, to deal with chronic health problems.

For the loved ones of those struggling with similar addictions, there is hope. Jeremiah 17:14 says, “Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.”

Prayer can go a long way, but it is also important for the people of Alabama to stay vigilant and hold leaders accountable. Follow the money from these settlements and make sure they are being put to use. Talk to lawmakers about things they can do now to stop prescribers from becoming pill mills. Talk to local leaders about how to better equip law enforcement to handle the crisis on the street level.

She will walk again.

She will talk again.

She will once again send a lovely text message.

Her closest family members will reconnect, and her body will be made whole.

Erica Thomas is the editor at large for 1819 News.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected]

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