The first time she overdosed, it happened on Mother’s Day. But over time and through recovery, Brittany Stamm worked to regain her family’s trust. Hanover Evening Sun
Ronald Lavely was 13 when he began experimenting with alcohol and marijuana. He watched as his older brothers and father would drink and party in Maryland, so he followed in their footsteps.
When he was 18, a friend showed him how to take oxycontin, and his dependence on opioids began.
“I snorted it and fell in love with opiates,” said Lavely, 39, who eventually moved to heroin because it was cheaper and easier to get.
Addiction has taken a lot from Lavely. In 2014, his little brother died from an overdose and, three years later, so did the mother of his 5-year-old son. In 2019, he lost parental rights to his son.
“I felt like I let his mom down that passed away,” Lavely said.
Last May, before he lost his son, the weight of his losses came down on him.
“Actually, I was pretty miserable that day. I was in active use for a few couple months so I was ready to just give up and say hell with it … ” Lavely said.
But Lavely wasn’t quiet about his suffering. He told a family member of his plans to overdose on heroin, and the word got to Toby Ditch and John Lloyd, of Noah’s House Inc. recovery homes.
Ditch and Lloyd knew Lavely; he had stayed at Noah’s House several times. So, upon hearing the news, they acted quickly and found out where he was living.
They ended up at his home in Shippensburg, Lloyd said he was blue and unresponsive. The two began giving him CPR, which they’re both certified in, and administered Narcan, the nasal injector version of naloxone.
Lavely then made a large gasp for air but was otherwise unresponsive.
Ditch and Lloyd continued CPR until the ambulance arrived. EMS gave Lavely another dose of the overdose reversing drug naloxone and transported him to the hospital where he would remain on life support for a few days.
When he woke up, Lavely felt embarrassed and was aggressive toward the people around him. He went on using for almost a month, trying to wean off the drug on his own, before he called Lloyd and Ditch for help.
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Lavely is one example of the value in utilizing Narcan. With its accessibility and simplicity, people like Lloyd and Ditch can save the lives of those suffering from addiction, giving them another chance to put recovery first.
“If they place anything before the recovery they’re going to lose it anyway … their job, their girlfriend, their wife, their kids, anything,” Ditch said.
She overdosed seven times, that she can remember
In his 20 years of addiction, Lavely only overdosed once.
Brittany Stamm, of Hanover, whose path to using heroin began at 16, has overdosed seven times that she can remember.
“I am very sensitive to opioids, always have been, people towards the end (of the addiction) didn’t even want to get high with me because I was so susceptible to overdosing,” Stamm said.
Stamm began using heroin because of a cocaine dependency that started earlier that year, which was making her feel on edge and unable to sleep or eat.
“(Some older friends) were like, ‘Well here, heroin will help you sleep and make you feel so much better, you’ll be able to be OK,'” said Stamm, 30.
From then it grew into a social thing, and as Stamm put it, “it really was an epidemic in this town.”
“I think that was what made it so much worse … because we were literally all doing it, and you felt so normal,” Stamm said.
After one idyllic summer of hanging out with friends, going to Baltimore for drugs and hanging out while high, Stamm said things went south.
The first time she overdosed was at a friend’s house in 2008; she was 18. Stamm said all she remembers is saying she didn’t feel anything. Next thing she knew, she woke up at the hospital after being given a nasal version of naloxone.
Stamm said she overdosed four more times within that same year, including one of her worst experiences.
She overdosed in her friends’ basement. They tried to carry her out and dropped her, which Stamm said caused her tooth to chip. She also urinated herself.
“(EMS) cut like a perfect line up through my jeans through my bra through my shirt. They said they had to Narcan me twice through the nose and then additionally (on the thigh with an auto-injector),” Stamm said.
But Stamm said she still didn’t learn from her mistakes. She kept using, especially because of the withdrawal symptoms.
“Physical symptoms for me, it’s different for everybody honestly, is restless legs, back pain, it’s like you’re cold and hot at the exact same time, nonstop goosebumps, nose running constantly, incessantly, you cannot sleep, you yawn probably like every 10 seconds,” Stamm said.
But the worse part was the mental aspect.
“It’s this unyielding wanting feeling,” Stamm said. “I don’t know how else to describe it, it’s never satiated, it doesn’t go away. I mean, it does but not until the sickness passes.”
That’s when drugs changed from a fun pastime to maintenance for avoiding withdrawal.
Like Lavely, addiction came with costs for Stamm. Although she would get clean for a period, heroin would return to her life and lead to multiple criminal charges, more overdoses and even six days in jail.
“After those six days, I went back to the recovery home, probably used like for another week and decided I don’t want to do this anymore, I don’t want to go to jail ever again, it was horrible,” Stamm said.
‘They treated me like the scum of the earth’
One thing that deterred Stamm from getting better sooner was the way she was treated by those that ultimately saved her life.
When she overdosed in her friend’s basement, Stamm said she woke up to a man screaming in her face, “‘Do you know you just died you, that you almost just died, we had to Narcan you three times,'” Stamm said.
Stamm was revived primarily by ambulance personnel or hospital staff. Some she describes as “wretched people.”
“They treated me like the scum of the earth and I think that now, it makes me want to cry a little because like I was 18, this is 12 years ago, you’re a baby when you’re 18, you don’t know anything, and if maybe they had just shown me a little compassion and a little love, a little kindness, a little understanding, just something,” Stamm said.
Stamm said that at first, when coming-to from naloxone, she could only hear her surroundings.
“You can’t see anything is how it starts, you can hear and that’s what people don’t realize is that I could hear everything before I even opened my eyes,” Stamm said.
She said that once she woke up, some individuals “made it felt like they were doing you a favor.”
“Like ‘I saved your life and you’re welcome,’ … I’m a human being, you did your job, that’s what they pay you to do, like what are you gonna do? Just let me die?,” Stamm said.
Stamm said if she could tell first responders one thing it’s this: “you never know how many times someone has to have that happen to them.”
“They think that if they’re nice to us and they show us kindness and understanding and empathy that they’re just babying us and they’re condoning it somehow. But I would tell them that if you think you’re helping by …. making me feel small or less than, you’re not. That’s the antithesis of help.”
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Though, other experiences weren’t as negative, often times when overdoses occurred in larger cities. That includes Stamm’s last overdose.
“They were not horrible and wretched to me, which is probably a good thing because it maybe gave me a little bit more courage to think that I was worth something and I was worth saving,” Stamm said.
In 2015, Stamm met someone who helped her get clean for good. She got counseling through Open Arms Recovery Center in Hanover, where she now works as the Office Coordinator and Suboxone Program Coordinator.
“I have remained clean, I remain on suboxone, gotten myself down pretty low. I don’t want to be on it forever,” Stamm said.
‘I think that we have a responsibility to life’
Last year, Stamm was on the other side of an overdose.
She was taking a smoke break at work, when she saw an Open Arms client dragged out of a car while others did CPR on that individual.
Stamm said she ran inside, got an auto-injector version of naloxone and helped her coworker give two doses to the individual. She described the experience as “surreal.”
“It just made me think of how many times I looked like that, too,” Stamm said.
That person soon woke up before being taken to the hospital. Stamm said that individual was very thankful.
Lloyd and Ditch have been in recovery for many years. Lloyd said when he was using naloxone wasn’t readily available, he remembers when people would shoot him up with salt water or put him in an ice bath to try to revive him.
Lavely is the first person they have revived with Narcan. For Lloyd, that day was “rough.”
“Honestly, I just take it in stride, it was another experience. Fortunately, me and John was there…he’s alive and hopefully he stays that way so he can give back to his community and his family,” Ditch said.
Lloyd said one prevalent thought in the recovery community is “once you know something, you have a responsibility to pass that knowledge on.”
Lloyd and Ditch do that through their recovery homes everyday, and Lloyd said the feeling is unlike any other.
“When someone’s revived with this (naloxone) and they come out the other side with a fresh outlook and a new way of life, it’s empowering, encouraging that we can love somebody more than we love ourselves to continue to try to help them,” Lloyd said.
Stamm understands that feeling.
“I love the (Open Arms) clients, I would do anything for them,” she said.
“What if someone hadn’t saved me just one of those seven times, you know? … I’ve been clean for a while, I work in a recovery center and I try to help people every day in my life because people are in the same situation (I was in).”
Those that are against the use of naloxone don’t understand addiction, Stamm said.
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“I can’t imagine being the person that’s that cold-hearted and that cynical that thinks that they should let someone die because they think they’re doing it to themselves,” Stamm said.
“Why I would keep saving people that keep using with Narcan? It would just be the human thing to do. It would be like any individual that has another illness or another disease,” Lloyd said. “I think that we have a responsibility to life.”
Helping those suffering with addiction to Get Back Up
Franklin County District Attorney Matt Fogal started the Get Back Up program in 2015 to help people like Lavely and Stamm get help sooner.
The program was created to give those abusing drugs an ability to turn those drugs in without being charged and get treatment help. The problem that the program initially faced was that people were not trusting of the system.
“More individuals are still fearful of the law that run in the circles that we used to run, and they’re not going to go turn drugs in thinking there’s not a catch,” Lloyd said.
So, they had to find someone relatable to bridge that gap, that’s when Lloyd, who is eight years into his recovery and is active in the Franklin County recovery community, was hired as the recovery liaison.
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At first, he would be dispatched out of the DA’s office for overdose calls but it has morphed since then.
“My responsibility and my role is emergent, so I meet people right where they’re at and navigate them to where they need to go. I follow through and then they get passed on, so to speak, into the recovery community and into people like Toby or sober living or treatment centers or back home with their families, things like that,” Lloyd said.
Police and Lloyd hand out Get Back Up cards to people in the community who may be suffering from addiction, and Lloyd is available to help whenever he can.
“Me I’m on the street, I can meet the individual morning noon and night, and I can transport, I can be there 24/7 to try to get them into care. So somebody’s Narcaned there, I meet them at the hospital, I’m able to talk to them communicate with them, whether they’re good, bad or indifferent,” Lloyd said.
His goal: Get people into treatment to help them turn their lives around.
“We would love to work ourselves out of a job,” Lloyd said.
Mariana Veloso is a Quality of Life reporter for the USAToday Network – Pennsylvania. Veloso focuses primarily on the opioid epidemic in southcentral PA, along with coverage of everyday issues in the Hanover area. If you have a story idea, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MariVeloso9 to stay up to date with her latest articles.
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