The death Wednesday of 37-year-old Jeffrie Shirey, after a long fight with heroin addiction, should send a clear message about how hard it is to kick an opiod habit -- and how much local communities need medically assisted treatment to help addicts get through recovery.
Mr. Shirey’s mother, Carolyn Shirey of Holland, who spoke candidly and courageously to Blade staff writer Marlene Harris-Taylor, said her son didn’t believe rehab would help. He had told her repeatedly that the withdrawal symptoms were so horrible he would rather die than go through them.
The father of four was struck and killed by a truck on U. S. 23, after walking away from Flower Hospital, where he had sought help to detoxify. Ms. Shirey believes her son committed suicide.
Opiates can become an unyielding hunger. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to the worst case of flu you can imagine. Your skin feels as though it were being pricked by razors. Sleep or rest is impossible; the person often slips into deep depression. No one who hasn’t experienced it can know, but Jeffrie Shirey knew, and he may have lost hope.
That’s why Ohio must expand so-called medically assisted treatment, using drugs like Suboxone and even Methadone to greatly ease the agony of withdrawal. Suboxone is expensive. A full dose can cost up to $5,000 a year -- most of which will have to come from public programs or private insurance. But coupled with treatment and counseling, it works.
Largely because of its costs, very little medically assisted treatment is available in Lucas County. Scott Sylak, executive director of the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Lucas County, told me that, last year, the board could fund only enough Suboxone to treat 18 people. Last year was the first year it was offered in Lucas County.
With thousands of people addicted to opiods in northwest Ohio, and heroin-related deaths more than doubling last year, Lucas County and the rest of Ohio need to expand medically assisted treatment. It could give more people struggling with addiction hope for recovery.
Unfortunately, it’s too late for Jeffrie Shirey.