Opiate addiction is a growing problem

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- KEPR is looking closer at the problem with prescription pills and heroin addiction here in the Tri-Cities. Experts say our local problem isn't getting any better. We talked with a woman who overcame her addiction without methadone.

Christy Wheeler fell through a roof at work seven years ago. She was described pills to numb the pain. Christy didn't expect that prescription -- to become an addiction.

"But I thought it was normal, cause the doctors said, this is what you need to do, this will fix the problem, and it just made it worse," said Wheeler.

Christy can still recall her breaking point. She got in a fight with her daughter, who told Christy to 'go take another pill.' It was the light bulb moment: she had a problem.

"I started reading about addiction and went OMG, that's me...I can't function without them, I get sick without them...there's a problem," she said.

Dr. Jeffrey Allgaier says millions nationwide are in the same place Christy was. He operates out of a clinic in Kennewick - Ideal Option. It's the only place in the Tri-Cities that uses a medication called suboxone combined with chemical dependency counseling to stop opiate addiction. Suboxone is considered different from methadone because it has a ceiling effect.

"So within a couple of months, they're starting to get themselves back on their feet, they're no longer obtaining pills from the streets or heroin from the streets," said Dr. Allgaier.

Pain pills can be an entry to heroin since they tend to produce the same opioid high. At the beginning of the last decade, there were nine deaths from opioids across Benton and Franklin Counties across a three year stretch. By the end of the decade, that number had ballooned to 38 deaths during a three year stretch. Christy is relieved she isn't one of them.

"Pills aren't the answer, drugs aren't the answer, fix yourself, get a better life and move on, because you're life will be so much better," said Wheeler.

From once taking twelve prescription pills a day, Christy can now say she's clean.

A program to link all the local ER records together was started about a year ago. It was done to prevent so-called 'doctor shopping' to get multiple prescriptions for pills. This has helped to alleviate some of the problematic pill prescribing in Tri-Cities.