WBTV On Assignment: Inside the Opioid Crisis

Updated: Nov. 6, 2017 at 6:19 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It was 6:30 on a Tuesday evening in October. Betsy Ragone sat outside the Blanchard Institute in Charlotte wearing a shirt that reads "704 Heroin No More." Once a month, the rehab facility hosts "Parent's Talking", a support group Betsy started for parents who have lost their children to drug overdoses, a club she says, that's unfortunately growing.

She became a member in January of 2016. When her son, Michael, overdosed on heroin in his childhood bedroom. He was only 30.

"He was on a visit here from Phoenix and he had a long conversation with my husband, had a long conversation with me about his sobriety and he went in his bedroom' and he used, alone, behind a locked door and he died. And my husband had to kick the door down the next morning," she said.

Debbie Dalton is the first to arrive for the meeting. She cautiously walked up to Betsy who welcomed her with open arms. It was her first time attending.

It didn't take the two long to realize the bond they shared. Both mothers who have lost their sons to drugs. Both aware the pain will never really go away.

It's been less than a year since Debbie's son, Hunter, used cocaine mixed with Fentanyl, a drug 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. He was on life-support for a week before his 23-year-old heart stopped beating. Debbie's might has well have stopped beating too.

"I told him I love you and he took his last breath," Debbie said. "And you can't describe this kind of pain. There's no words that are adequate. A piece of me died that day," she said.

Four more people arrive and the group walks inside. The mood was heavy as they went around the room describing how the second year after their loss, is somehow worse than the first. Each of their sons was young, handsome and infected with the all-consuming disease of addiction.

Across the city lives a man who knows his parents could soon be attending that group. He asked to remain anonymous, so we'll call him Shane.

Shane has been addicted to opioids nearly half his life.  He's now using Fentanyl since heroin doesn't get him high anymore.

"To me it's like euphoric. Like, nothing can bother me. Like, there's nothing you could say to upset me or get under my skin because I just don't care. When you're high it's just your world and everyone else is just living in it," he said.

Shane hasn't spent 40 to 50 thousand dollars on opioids for fun. He's feeding an addiction he can't escape. He's been in and out of rehab five times.

"They say that everyone has the power to but I obviously haven't been able to yet. But if the question is, have you ever wanted to stop, yes. So, to better answer your question, I guess, no I can't stop, yes, I want to," he said.

He said he will get clean one day, if he lives long enough. He says he wouldn't care if he died if it wasn't for his parents.

"My father, there's nothing he wouldn't do to help me. He should have given up on me plenty of times but he never has. If I wanted to go to treatment right now, he'd have me on a flight as soon as I left you but I've been so many times and it just hasn't worked for me," he said.

While Shane isn't working towards getting clean, Kari Oliver is. The 20-year-old gave up her cell phone and computer and moved into the Gastonia Potter's House in September. The 18-month residential program puts faith at the center of a woman's recovery.

"I finally surrendered when God told me you need to do this for yourself and I realized without his help I can't do it," she said.

While Kari sat on her bed and described the life she left behind, it was almost hard to imagine the bright-eyed blonde shooting heroin up to ten times a day.

"It was an everyday thing that I had to have from whenever I woke up to the time that I went to sleep," Kari said.

The women living at the Potter's House attend classes to work towards their sobriety. Amber Lukowski teaches one of them. She sat at the head of the table and described her own struggle with heroin that put her in and out of jail a dozen times. Kari seems quietly hangs onto every word as Amber talks about the importance of having a life verse, or passage in the bible that sums up their journey.

"Does anyone want to share theirs?" Amber asks after reading her own. "I will." Kari says. "Mine is Ephesians 5:8. And it's 'for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord".


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