Homeless and Addicted — Then Overcoming Both


Julie “Jewels” Gates (from Berry Creek, Calif., left) and Elena Wilson (from Oroville, Calif., right) saw jail as a one of the few options for low-income people in Butte County to stop using drugs. (Ryder Diaz/KQED)

Editor’s Note: For over a year, we’ve been bringing you first-person stories about health. Now, we’re digging deeper. Each month, we’ll be exploring a different health issue and asking diverse community members across the state to share their own stories on that theme. It’s a project we’re calling “Vital Signs.”

This month we look at the health needs of people who are homeless. Accurate statistics on homeless Californians are hard to get, but by some estimates roughly one in four people who are homeless abuse drugs. And homeless people face unique challenges when trying to quit.

Today we hear from Julie Gates and Elena Wilson. The two met seven years ago in Chico. Both women struggled with addiction and Gates, who goes by the nickname “Jewels,” sold drugs to support her own habit. In largely rural Butte County, it was hard for them to find treatment they could afford and were daunted by months-long waiting lists for help. Now clean and sober, the two women volunteer at the Hope Center in Oroville, giving back to the homeless community. They talk to one another about their journey.

By Julie Gates and Elena Wilson

ELENA WILSON: Jewels and I, there were periods of time we didn’t see each other but either at the lowest of out lows, and now, at the highest of our highs, God has brought our paths back together.

JULIE GATES: Absolutely.

WILSON: The last time I had seen her before I got clean, I was acutally kicking heroin in Chico. I was homeless. I was really, really sick. And I didn’t have any money and I couldn’t find any heroin. She went and bought me a pack of cigarettes and gave me a little bit of some methanphetamine to do with, to trade, or whatever. She said she’d try to find me some pills.

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What Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Tragic Death Teaches Us About Addiction

Philip Seymour Hoffman arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' in Los Angeles, California, last November. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Philip Seymour Hoffman arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ last November. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

As I think pretty much everyone must know by now, the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died Sunday, apparently of a heroin overdose. I was stunned when I found out, then deeply saddened when I read reports that he had told “60 Minutes” in 2006 that he had given up drugs and alcohol when he was 22 — “I got panicked for my life,” he told Steve Kroft. Hoffman relapsed last year.

But my sadness turned to a kind of cold fury when I saw too many comments on social media clucking disapproval for Hoffman’s “selfishness” and “poor choices.” (I’m not linking to them here; you can find them easily enough if you want to.) One friend on Facebook noted that another friend’s thread about Hoffman was the only one he’d seen acknowledging “the tragedy of his drug addiction.”

And, indeed, addiction is a disease. Dr. David Smith has treated thousands of addicts since he founded the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic in 1967. He talked to me about “battling an uninformed public.” Continue reading

FDA Seeks to Tighten Control on Hydrocodone Painkillers Like Vicodin



By Rob Stein, NPR

The Food and Drug Administration Thursday announced that it wants the federal government to impose tough new restrictions on some of the most widely used prescription painkillers.

The FDA said it planned to recommend that Vicodin and other prescription painkillers containing the powerful opioid hydrocodone be reclassified from a “Schedule III” drug to a “Schedule II” drug, which would impose new restrictions on how they are prescribed and used.

OxyContin, another opioid painkiller, is already a Schedule II drug, defined by the Drug Enforcement Administration as “potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence”.

In a statement posted on its website, the agency said it was taking the step after becoming “increasingly concerned about the abuse and misuse of opioid products, which have sadly reached epidemic proportions in certain parts of the United States.” Continue reading