Mom on a mission to end the drug overdose epidemic

Cammie Wolf Rice, who grew up in south Indianapolis, knows the reality of drug addiction all too well.

INDIANAPOLIS — Fentanyl continues to ravage communities across Indiana.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Indiana hit a record high for the second straight day, with an estimated 2,750 Hoosiers dying from drug overdoses.

Fentanyl is killing Americans at record speed. Little did they know they were taking the deadliest drug our county has ever seen.

The Drug Enforcement Administration recently declared the first National Fentanyl Awareness Day in the US to educate the public about the dangers of fentanyl, which is now found in all 50 states.

Drug dealers are increasingly mixing it with other drugs to encourage addiction and attract repeat buyers.

Cammie Wolf Rice, who grew up in south Indianapolis, knows the reality of drug addiction all too well.

She lost her son Christopher to the drug epidemic and now dedicates her life to ending those tragedies through the Christopher Wolf Crusade.

“He fought it every day, and medicine hijacked his brain. I mean, it literally hijacked his brain,” Rice said.

Rice said stopping an addiction before it happens is the only way — and all too often it starts with a prescription.

“He went home from his first major surgery with 90 oxytocin, and it was right when Purdue Pharma released the ‘miracle drug’ and doctors weren’t told it was addictive,” Rice said. “I was told to give them to him every four hours. So I fed them to him. And then he got 90 more. Eighty percent of heroin users started with a prescription, and Christopher was one of them.”

Rice said Christopher was in and out of rehab five times before losing his life to an overdose.

It took Rice two years to get out of bed and realize that she needed to move on for her son — battling the drug overdose, but also the stigma attached to addiction.

“The stigma in our country is so terrible that it took me two years to pronounce the word ‘overdose’. I didn’t want anyone in my family to know about it. I didn’t want my friends to know because I didn’t want my son to die a disrespectful death. How sad is that,” she said.

When opioid addicts can no longer get their high from prescriptions, they turn to street drugs – now more than ever laced with deadly fentanyl.

EMTs with the Bargersville Community Fire Department say they often go home multiple times to rescue the same overdose patient.

“Often people are prescribed medication and when that prescription runs out and addiction occurs, they try to find it elsewhere,” said EMT Andrew Ankney. “And unfortunately, when they buy it, [they] Buy it from somewhere other than a reputable pharmaceutical company. They often end up getting something laced with a deadly fentanyl concoction… not what they thought they were buying.”

His partner, EMT Amanda Taylor, said it was a tragic and heartbreaking scene, especially when an overdose occurs in a home.

“Most of the time parents find their kids or friends find other friends,” Taylor said. “Often they don’t know what to do. So it’s important that everyone knows the signs of an overdose.”

And if friends or family don’t know what to do, it’s often fatal.

If too much time passes before they are found, they will overdose.

But a free, readily available drug called Narcan can save the life of an overdose patient.

Passionate about Rice, having it available in every home and business.

“I believe everyone, everyone should have Narcan. It should be in every household.

“Parents, I’ll tell you straight when you say, ‘Well, not my kid.’ OK. I didn’t think I would be sitting here having this conversation either,” Rice said. “It might not be for your kid. It might be for the neighbor across the street. It might be for your kid’s best friend be that you didn’t know he was taking something, but it tells your lungs to breathe in an overdose situation.”

But she also knows that Narcan is not the answer to the drug epidemic. Rice believes in connecting with the people most likely to become addicted.

Her organization, Christopher Wolf Crusade, ran a two-year pilot program at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta to get nursing coaches at every single hospital in the US to work with patients hands-on on pain management, so opioids aren’t always the answer.

“In our country, we use coaches for everything,” Rice said. “We have an executive coach, a birthing coach, a nutrition coach, an exercise coach, but when you’re in a health crisis you don’t have a coach. Nurses don’t have time. Doctors don’t have time. And so, I built the position on everything Christopher didn’t have as a patient in the hospital. If I had a care coach for Christopher, he would be alive today.”

The program was a success.

“At the end of the process, Grady Hospital hired them as employees, so they saw the benefit,” she said. “They saw the opioid use rate go down; they saw fewer people returning to the emergency room for pain management. You have to give people other techniques for pain than taking a pill, and that’s not addictive. And that’s what we do. We have a toolkit with all kinds of techniques to help with anxiety, stress, depression, PTSD that happens in the hospital, you have all these things and you need someone to help you, manage your pain other than taking an opioid. “

The study shows that there are often much deeper rooted issues for patients that contribute to someone turning to drugs to cope.

“What’s happened is that while we’re spending time with patients, we’re uncovering so many other needs, food insecurity, housing insecurity, domestic violence, you know, they normally would have fallen through the cracks in a hospital because they just don’t have the time to deal with it. Life care professionals are so needed in our healthcare system for many reasons,” Rice said.

“We show that there are cost savings to the hospital if just two people don’t return to the ER for pain management, you paid the life care specialist for a year. So we’ve done the economics with that. It’s affordable, you can’t afford not to,” Rice said.

And if not, more and more families will be left with the agony of losing a loved one to drug addiction.

Rice also just released a book called The Flight. It is a story of her personal journey through the opioid epidemic. Rice describes the events that led to the formation of Christopher Wolf Crusade and her mission to end opioid addiction.

Most county health departments provide free Narcan to anyone who asks for it.

There are also strips for drug users to test their drugs to see if they are contaminated with the deadly fentanyl.

The links to these resources can be found here.