Saturday, February 24, 2018

A representative of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Drug Task Force comments on the video “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict” during a public meeting at Crow Agency’s Multipurpose Building. An estimated 30 people were in attendance.This Feb. 19, 2013 file photo shows OxyContin pills arranged at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt.

Spurning the dragon

BIA shows video to dissuade opioid, heroin abuse
Big Horn County as a whole is known to struggle with a variety of drug problems, but heroin use currently isn’t one of them. The Bureau of Indian Affairs would like to keep it that way, despite an estimated 475 percent increase in the drug statewide since 2013.
BIA Drug Task Force agents hosted a Friday evening showing of the video “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict,” at the Crow Agency Multipurpose Building. This video was produced in 2016  by the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI to educate the public on the dangers of prescription drug and heroin addiction.
The presentation was, in part, spurred by a recent arrest in Hardin. During the  search of a suspect’s vehicle, county deputies found – among other drug paraphernalia – two grams of heroin and 39 methadone pills. The suspect admitted in a taped interview that he had been traveling to Denver to purchase another $6,000 in heroin.
Peter Big Hair of the Crow Nation Recovery Center said he has seen a significant amount of prescription drug – or opioid – abuse on the Crow Reservation, but “a lot of people don’t see it or understand too much about it.” Tribal employees and Indian Health Service personnel had already seen the video, he said, and the BIA decided to spread the word on this issue to local residents as well.
“We’re really battling the opioid problem here on the reservation,” said Dr. Alden Big Man, cabinet head for Crow Homeland Security, in a telephone interview. “Throughout the country, what’s going on is when that opioid [supply] disappears, people are replacing the opioids with heroin.”
Opioids are drugs used to relieve pain, and become addictive if used for an extended period or abused. According to a report from Montana Department of Health and Human Services, 693 deaths in the state between 2000 and 2015 were attributed to opioid poisoning.
Eighty percent of people who use heroin – a drug known for its euphoric effects and highly addictive potential – start with opioids. Fifteen of the state’s opioid-related deaths from 2003 to 2014, Health and Human Services states, are connected to heroin. 
Addicts interviewed over the course of “Chasing the Dragon” follow a pattern of starting out with often stable upbringings, before experimenting with pills and eventually turning to heroin while pursuing a cheaper, stronger “rush.” The pursuit of this rush may involve sharing needles or using toilet water to inject the drug into one’s body, sometimes causing a user to contract hepatitis C or develop an abscess in the process. 
An addict named Melissa has dealt with all of the above. 
“I had maggots in my leg. They were eating the rot, the infection,” she says in the video. “That wasn’t enough for me to quit.”
Melissa’s downfall started at the age of 22, she said, when doctors gave her OxyContins – an opioid – after the birth of her first child. By the time her daughter was seven months old, Melissa was addicted to heroin.
“I never hesitate to ask [users] which drugs they’ve tried, and they’ll typically say, ‘I’ve started off with marijuana, tried cocaine and I’ve tried oxycodone,’” says Andrew Lenhardt, an FBI special agent, in the video. “I ask them, of all the drugs they’ve ever tried, what’s the most addictive drug? And without a doubt, 100 percent of the time, they’ll say, ‘The most addictive drug is oxycodone.’”
Oxycodone, found in the Persian poppy, is the only ingredient in OxyContins; it’s also used in pain relieving drugs such as Percocet, Percodan and Tylox.
According to Big Horn County Attorney Gerald “Jay” Harris, “prescription drug abuse is a highly underreported crime in virtually all jurisdictions because the abusers do not typically meet the profile of other drug users.” While users of methamphetamine or marijuana are often in a mid-to-lower class financial bracket, he said, those who abuse opioids could just as likely come from any other background.
Before she required 40 pills a day to “even function,” Katrina – another addict in the video – was a corporate account executive making $122,000 a year. 
During Katrina’s downward spiral, her teenage daughter also got involved with prescription pills and died of an overdose. “At her funeral,” Katrina said, “most all the kids were high.”
On a local level, former Crow Agency pharmacy technician Larin Black Eagle was sentenced in December 2016 to three years of federal probation for stealing prescription painkillers. He stole more than 20 tablets from Crow Agency and Lodge Grass Indian Health Service pharmacies, according to court documents, to deal with emotional pain.
“Mr. Black Eagle is a young man, 29, with very limited criminal history,” a November 2016 sentencing memorandum states. “He has an associate’s degree and a good work history since finishing his degree, despite living in the Crow Indian Reservation, an area where employment opportunities are scarce.”
The memorandum states that Black Eagle was “introduced to opiates legitimately” following a surgery and “turned to them as an escape.”
Fortunately for Black Eagle, the memorandum continues, he is in a healthy relationship and “his parents are in his corner to provide support for him to move on from his mistake that led to this conviction.” He also has custody of his young daughter, the document continues, and the responsibility to raise her.
“It would take a highly coordinated, interagency investigation targeting distributors to get a grip on the magnitude of abuse in a community,” Harris stated in an email. “The short-term solution is aggressive law enforcement. The long-term solution is rehabilitation to the addict, more positive community engagement and household-level deterrence to prevent recruitment of new users.”
According to “The Partnership Attitude Tracking Study: Teens & Parents” in 2013, one of the most important factors as to whether or not teens avoid drugs is parent involvement. Kids who learn the risks of drugs at home, the study states, are 20 percent less likely to use them.
To send anonymous tips to the BIA Division of Drug Enforcement, text 847-411, or TIP-411.