BECKLEY, W.Va. — One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine.
Every morning, nine pills. Every morning, same routine.
Pain creeps into her joints every night, and awaits her every morning when she wakes up.
Without her specific mixture of medications — some for rheumatoid arthritis, some for pulmonary arterial hypertension and some to alleviate her chronic pain — Paula Blankenship says she wouldn’t be able to make it out of bed.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
Five more pills throughout the day. Every day, same routine.
Day in and day out, the 47-year-old Rupert resident’s life revolves around pills. She says she doesn’t want it to be this way. But in order to have any quality of life, she says she has no other choice but to take prescription pain pills.
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In a state where prescription drug abuse is rampant, where one town’s addiction problem is so bad it was nicknamed “Oxyana,” residents are eager to celebrate the closure of pain clinics better known as pill mills and the arrest of the doctors doling out the drugs.
Dozens took to social media to cheer law enforcement officers who shut down Beckley Pain Clinic on Harper Road early last year, and again in mid-March when Hope Pain Clinic in Beaver was raided by state and federal agencies.
Just a month into 2016, a 67-year-old pain clinic doctor, Jose Jorge Abbud Gordinho, pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally prescribing pain medication to at least 21 patients, as well as defrauding Medicare and Medicaid.
And the fate of another pain clinic, Coal Country Clinic, operated by Dr. Michael Kostenko, is still up in the air. In November, a judge ruled the clinic could not operate as a pain clinic without a license, but the office remains open.
Many southern West Virginians rejoice as the clinics close and the doctors face time behind bars. Residents believe all these steps are necessary to take back their towns, to break the cycle of addiction and to help remove the Mountain State from the top of the list of highest overdose deaths in the nation.
But while some are celebrating, others are scared and anxious. Sure, some are worried about where they’ll get their next high without the pills. But others are wondering where they will go for the medication that they need to function.
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Paula Blankenship is one of the latter…