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Manchin tells Parkersburg family’s story while addressing W.Va.’s addiction woes

By BRETT DUNLAP

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

WASHINGTON — A U.S. senator talked about a Parkersburg family on the floor of the U.S. Senate Wednesday in illustrating the need for national lawmakers to take action in dealing with the drug addiction problem facing the country.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on the floor of the U.S. Senate talks about the effects of West Virginia’s drug abuse problem. He read a letter from Renee and Criss Fisher of Parkersburg talking about the struggles they faced in trying to get help for their son Nick, a 2011 graduate of Parkersburg Catholic High School, who died last November of a drug overdose. Manchin included a picture of Nick and himself when the young man visited him, when he was governor, after Fisher’s basketball team won the State Basketball Tournament Championship in 2011.
(Submitted photo)

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., spoke on the Senate floor detailing the story of Nick Fisher of Parkersburg, who died of a drug overdose on Nov. 12. Fisher was a 2011 graduate of Parkersburg Catholic High School.

Manchin read a letter from Renee and Criss Fisher of Parkersburg detailing their family’s struggle in regard to Nick’s addiction and his eventual death. Manchin has read a number of letters on the Senate floor recently to illustrate to other lawmakers the challenges people are facing in trying to overcome addiction.

“The reason I do this is because it is a silent killer,” Manchin said. “We don’t talk about it. There is not one of us in the Senate, not in Congress, not in any gathering that doesn’t know someone in our immediate family, extended family or a close friend who hasn’t been affected, but we would never talk about it because it was so embarrassing.”

Addiction knows no bounds as it impacts people across this nation, regardless of income, political affiliation and more, he said.

“It is a killer,” Manchin said.

Many letters Manchin receives talk about how hard it is to get someone into treatment, taking months to happen or it never happens. People tell Manchin about how there is nothing in place to address this problem and permanent funding is needed to pay for adequate treatment and facilities where people can get clean and stay clean.

In the Fishers’ letter Manchin read, they wrote about bringing to light the devastating effects of heroin addiction, overdose death and the difficulty in finding treatment for those afflicted with the disease and their families.

When Nick died, they initially thought it was a heroin overdose, but the autopsy showed he died from a fatal dose of straight fentanyl, his parents said.

The Fishers talked about Nick’s childhood, his love of the outdoors and his rapport with many people.

“He loved sports and excelled in basketball and soccer,” they wrote. “He even met (Manchin) when you were Governor Manchin, after his basketball team traveled to Charleston, WV to celebrate their State Basketball Tournament Championship in 2011. After high school he went on to play basketball for the Glenville State College Pioneers.”

Manchin had a picture of him and Nick from their initial meeting set up with him on the Senate floor to help tell the story.

Nick was unable to continue in college and had to leave. He soon met a girl and became a father figure to her daughter and a couple years later they had a son together, the Fishers said.

“After having difficulty holding down jobs and providing for his family, Nick came to me in November of 2015, and told me that he was addicted to opiate prescription drugs,” Renee wrote. “We had suspected drug use for quite some time but didn’t realize the extent of it.

“He said that he could no longer live the life he was leading and needed help. Nick and his girlfriend had started using opiate-based prescription drugs after she was prescribed them for her recovery from the birth of her daughter in 2013.”

At first, Nick and his girlfriend would make trips to the doctor or medical centers with fake ailments in order to get their prescriptions, the Fishers said. If they couldn’t get prescriptions, then they bought drugs from drug dealers. The pills were easy to get, the Fishers said.

The parents talked about their struggles in trying to help their son get the help he needed.

Some of the treatment facilities required around $5,000 upfront for a month’s worth of treatment, the Fishers said.

Nick tried a self-detox at home, believing he could do it himself. However, he relapsed, his parents said. He tried another round of self-detox.

“He again swore that he could do this himself and was finished with the life he was leading,” his mother wrote.

His family tried to find a treatment center that could take him, but most wouldn’t take their insurance, the Fishers said. Many counseling services said they couldn’t help them either.

The Fishers discovered they could get Nick into treatment if they pressed charges against him for theft, but they were worried what a criminal conviction would do to his future.

At one point, Nick and his girlfriend decided to celebrate staying clean for a period of time by using heroin “just once” as a reward, his mother wrote, adding this was the first time they injected it, on the advice of their dealer.

On June 2, 2016, Nick had his first overdose. Although he was treated and released, it impacted their family as Children Services had to be involved, the Fishers said.

Finally, Nick got into a treatment program in Pittsburgh, which had a good success rate, but there was little to no local places available to provide the support he needed when he was back home, the Fishers said.

When Nick’s girlfriend overdosed in August 2016, the Pittsburgh program called and said it was releasing the two from the program, letting the Fishers know that the couple needed a more intense treatment plan than it could provide. After numerous phone calls they were able to find an open bed in Las Vegas, Nev., for Nick, while his girlfriend would decide the following week to go to a treatment center in Fairmont, the family said.

Nick was soon missing his family and wanted to be there for his son and family so he came home, opting not to go for the longer treatment option.

When he returned home, Nick was acting more like his old self, his parents said. There was nothing to indicate a problem. Nick tried to find work so he could provide for his family. They thought he was doing well.

After Nick had a night out with friends, Renee wrote of hearing Nick coming home; she got up to change her grandson and give him a bottle. As she was heading back to bed, she noticed the light on in the bathroom. She checked and found Nick lying on the bathroom floor with no pulse and not breathing. An ambulance was called and Nick was taken to the hospital.

At the hospital, Renee and her husband were called back and told Nick had passed away.

“We expected that we would be sending him back to treatment in the hope that the next round would be successful,” Renee wrote. “We expected another chance. And what we have now is the knowledge that we failed our son in the worst way possible.”

Manchin said things have gotten to a crisis point in this country as West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.

West Virginia reported 818 overdose drug deaths last year, four times the number that occurred in 2001, the senator said.

“We lost more than 700 West Virginians last year to opioid overdoses,”Manchin said. “Around 42,000 people, including over 4,000 youths, sought treatment for illegal drug use, but failed to receive it due to a lack of treatment facilities that we have been trying to correct.”

Last year, West Virginia had the highest rate of prescription drug overdose deaths of any state, 31 per 100,000 people. West Virginia providers wrote 138 painkiller prescriptions for every 100 people in the state.

“Everyday in our country, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose,”Manchin said. “Opioid overdoses now kill more people than car accidents.”

Between 2009 and 2013, only 22 percent of Americans suffering from opioid addiction participated in addiction treatment.

“Misuse of opioids cost the country an estimated $78.5 billion in 2013 in lost productivity, medical costs and criminal justice cost,” Manchin said.

Manchin reiterated his support for the Lifeboat Act, which he introduced. It would put one penny per milligram of opioids produced into a fund to help pay for treatment centers.

“People need treatment,” he said. “This is an illness that needs treatment and we are responsible for that,” Manchin said.

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