THE CALL CAME after my column about Nicole Kapulsky, a recovering heroin addict who used Vivitrol, a non-narcotic medication, to kick her addiction.
The man on the phone sounded sick and desperate. His voice was gravelly and it was hard to understand him, but I think he said his name was George.
"I'm a drug addict, a heroin addict," he said in his voice mail. "I'm messed up. I just want to get off of this crap. I've been on it so long I can't remember not being on it. I'm 66. I'm 67 next month. I've had it. I can't do it no more. It's killing me. I need help. Please help me."
It was one of so many calls and emails and letters from readers pleading for more information about Vivitrol that I finally had to admit I couldn't get to them all and needed to write a column with information they could use to get help.
But with George, I kept trying. When I couldn't get him, I left a message with information I thought might help. I never heard back. I can only hope that he got the message, and the help he needs.
For weeks after my October column about a new drug for the treatment of opioid dependence, the heartbreaking stories just kept coming:
"My son is 37 years old and he's a heroin addict," a North Philadelphia mother emailed. "He's homeless now because, God forgive me, I couldn't have him in my house anymore. But he said he's ready to come home and he said he's ready for help."
A Philly-area father couldn't hold back his tears when we spoke about his 20-year-old daughter: "My daughter has been addicted to heroin since she was 16. Nothing's worked. I blame myself. I couldn't save her. Maybe this medicine can?"
"My father is a good man," said a teenager who told me she was calling between classes. "He got hurt and started to take pain pills but then he started taking heroin and now . . . he's just gone."
Everyone who called had the same plea: Can someone help? Would what worked for Kapulsky work for them or their loved one?
When I wrote about Kapulsky, she had been clean for five years, was reunited with her children and planning a wedding. Vivitrol was her "miracle," she said. But I cautioned in the column and in subsequent conversations that it wasn't the miracle drug. Everyone's path to and from drug addiction is different.
But it worked for Kapulsky, so of course people are eager to know as much as they can about the monthly injection of naltrexone that blocks the effects of heroin and similar drugs behind headlines that increasingly sound a dire warning.
"America's Heroin Epidemic Sweeping Through (insert big city, small town, Anywhere, USA here)!"
"Pa. Leads Nation in Young Men's Overdose Deaths!"
"Bipartisan Support for Fighting Heroin Epidemic!"
That last one isn't just talk for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who pushed for a bill to address the rise of prenatal opioid abuse and infants suffering from opioid withdrawal.
Last week, President Obama signed into law the bill introduced by Casey and by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; and Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Steve Stivers, R-Ohio.
When I talked with Casey about the Protecting Our Infants Act, he was hopeful but realistic.
"Passing a few bills is not going to wipe out the problem," he said. "But we can't absolve ourselves of the efforts necessary for a strategy to deal with this. This has to be an effort by everyone, on all levels of government."
More information about Vivitrol is available at vivitrol.com/SupportResources/FindProvider or 800-848-4876. The city's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services helps with addiction issues, at 215-685-5403 or 215-685-5404 or dbhids.org.
This is a long-shot, but if you're out there, George, please call one of these numbers. There's help out there.
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