Australia has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic despite the warnings of experts.
Deb Ware 22-year-old son, Sam Ware, began his battle with opioid addiction innocently enough – after his wisdom tooth extraction. It’s a far too common tale. In just the past year, the Australia man has overdosed more than 60 times. This proves the addiction epidemic is not confined to the United States.
Australia is facing its own crisis of skyrocketing opioid use and fatal overdoses. This has come to be despite ten years of warnings from Australian health professionals. On the Central Coast, around two hours north of Sydney, the Ware family is just one of thousands fighting the battle.
“Unfortunately, in Australia, we’ve followed the bad example of the U.S. And now we have the same problem,” said Dr. Bastian Seidel, who was the president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners two years ago and called Australia’s opioid problem a national emergency.
Sam was just 19 when it began and had been raised solely by his mother since he was very young. He barely ever drank and was not into drugs. In Oct. 2015, his dentist recommended he have his wisdom teeth taken out and gave him a combination of paracetamol (or acetaminophen) and codeine. Sam was instructed to take two for his pain that night. The next morning, he told his mother he’d taken four.
Deb took the remaining pills away, but Sam wanted more. It took him a few months to realize that Australian pharmacies sold codeine over the counter. It would be another two years before the government made it a prescription medication.
Sam quickly moved from taking a few pills a week to 110 a day. He eventually went to a doctor and complained of lower back pain and nerve pain in his leg. He was given Tramadol and realized it was easy to manipulate the system. So, he started going from doctor to doctor to obtain his fix.
Then, Sam got a CT scan revealing a bulging disc in his spine and he began carrying the scan’s results with him everywhere in a plastic shopping bag alongside his pill crusher. Around 70 percent of the time, he could convince a doctor to write him an opioid prescription. He also sought out benzodiazepines. His first overdose came around four months into his addiction.
One day, Sam told Deb he just wanted to take pills until he “didn’t wake up,” so she called the police and they took him to the mental hospital where he stayed for a week. The day he got out, he overdosed.
Deb tried to get him committed to the state’s involuntary drug and alcohol treatment program, but there are only a dozen beds available. It took her two years to get him a spot. Soon after, he jumped the fence and fled.
Just a couple weeks ago, Sam, now at a men’s shelter, lay awake all night, thinking of how badly he’d hurt his mother. He couldn’t take the heartache and overdosed yet again.
That was the moment he decided, “Enough’s enough,” he said, and agreed to go into detox for a few days. Sam is now clean, but the devastating effects of his drugs of choice linger, and it’s tough to tell whether his sobriety will last or be short-lived. Unfortunately, Sam’s story is a far too familiar one for many families struggling amid this far-reaching epidemic.