Overdose survivors warn the Portland community about the dangers of fentanyl

Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 6:41 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - One day before International Overdose Awareness day, two survivors of overdoses spoke to FOX 12 about their experience being trapped in addiction.

Kyle Rochez and Elizabeth Smith come from different communities, different generations, and different families. But they share one thing in common, they broke free of their drug addiction.

“Throughout this journey of being clean, I’ve embraced myself for who I am and I started getting clean for me because I deserve a second chance,” Rochez said.

Rochez overdosed six times after becoming addicted to drugs while in high school. He said he used drugs to cope with instability at home.

“I was searching for some sort of connection with other people,” Rochez said.

His last overdose was in April of 2021. That one involved fentanyl and was the scariest for Rochez and his family.

“I was literally flat-lined, dead in my mother’s living room, at my mom’s feet, in front of my sister and I never wanted to be in that situation,” Rochez said.

Smith said she tried opioids as a teenager for the first time too. Her addiction lasted more than two decades and ended in 2010. She said between 2009 and 2010, she overdosed eight times.

“It wasn’t until I made it to treatment and after that, moving into the Oxford House that I really started loving my life and wanting to continue this path,” Smith said.

Over the last 12 years in recovery, she’s watched fentanyl grow as a leading drug causing overdoses in Oregon and around the country. She said fentanyl would’ve taken her life if she didn’t take the steps necessary to change her life.

“It scares me so much to think that a 12-year-old kid, trying marijuana for the first time could possibly overdose on fentanyl,” Smith said. “I just can’t even comprehend that.”

According to the Oregon Health Authority, in 2019, there were 280 unintentional drug overdoses in the state. That number jumped to 658. So also ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day, nurses at OHSU spent their day at the farmer’s market trying to educate the community about drug addiction and overdoses. They also handed out prescriptions to get Naloxone, or Narcan in the hands of people just in case they come across someone overdosing. A spokesperson for the hospital said they gave out 50 prescriptions equating to possibly 50 lives being saved.

Dr. Honora Englander is a professor of medicine at OHSU. She also practices addiction medicine at the hospital. She said she’s seeing lots of people come in with some form of drug addiction. Dr. Englander said she is seeing success with patients, but the first step in battling this crisis is trying to get everyone to carry a dose of Narcan.

“I tell people, to carry Naloxone like how you carry your keys or your phone,” Dr. Englander said. “Everyone should carry Naloxone. I was just talking to someone outside and they were on an airplane and they went overhead and asked if anyone on the plane had Naloxone and not a single person did.”

With the school year now here for many across the Pacific Northwest, school districts have been trying to educate their students and families about the dangers of addictive drugs like fentanyl. Smith said parents should always carry a dose of Narcan for the worst-case scenario. But Rochez said parents simply need to be involved with their children’s lives.

“This problem is rampant; it’s being put into everything,” Rochez said. “That’s even if kids try to smoke marijuana for the first time, they could die from fentanyl, I’ve seen it. It’s more intense than we realize.”