What to Know
Addicts are seeking out fentanyl, a drug 50 times more powerful than heroin. The number of deaths attributed to it have risen in LA County.
Doctors prescribe the drug for pain such as late stage cancer and surgery. It has been making its way across the United States.
But synthetic forms have been flooding in from China, killing American addicts in record numbers, the Drug Enforcement Administration says.
This is what drug addiction did for Nicole Norwood.
She lost her savings and her apartment. She lost custody of her 5-year-old son and she nearly lost her life. She bottomed out sleeping in her car, landing on Skid Row.
Now 30 years old and 30 days sober, Norwood talks about her decade long addiction, her brush with death and struggle to stay straight.
She’s one of 2.5 million Americans addicted to opioids, according 2016 report by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. She shares her story in the hope of saving the life of anyone in a similar situation.
The former cheerleader who grew up in Castaic never thought she’d be one of those people falling victim to a painkiller addiction that stemmed from a near-lethal bout with meningitis when she was in high school.
“They didn’t tell us there’s a probability that you’re going to get addicted to these pain killers,” she said. “I didn’t know. I’d never been around that stuff.”
She had to have brain surgery. Sick and in pain, she was on pain medication for about a year and then stopped cold turkey.
Then a friend introduced her to heroin. She smoked it for three years before shooting up. Then she did meth and any drug she could find.
Eventually she started seeking out fentanyl, an opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin and responsible for a huge spike in overdose deaths across Los Angeles County.
“I had a lot going for me and I just didn’t care,” she said. “The fact that I’m OK with shooting up something that could literally kill me right then and there, even though I have a kid, is sick.”
She’s seen the toll the drug can take.
“I’ve had people die in my car. I’ve had people die in my house. I’ve had people die in front of me and like it happens really fast,” she said.
She’s been lucky.
She’s had help from Carey Quashan, who owns the rehab center Action Family Counseling in Santa Clarita.
“She went from looking like death to somebody that’s now alive,” he said. “Everything she’s lost is due to those drugs.”
Norwood, meanwhile, takes it one day at a time as she fights to stay clean so she can raise a young son on her own.
“I’m a great mom when I’m sober,” she said. “I just want to have a kid back, and my life back.”
Her father, Ara, believes in her.
“It’s very painful to go through,” he said. “It has done serious damage to all the family relationships. It’s been very tough on all of us.”
He has hope.
“I think she’s capable of being a great mother.”