One Woman’s Fight With the Opioid Epidemic Shows Life-Saving Impact of Medicaid

By: Amanda Berg, Videographer

July 12, 2017

Charlene grew up in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. She had good family, healthy hobbies, and was on a successful career path.

“Life was good. I had everything I could possibly want as an adult woman,” Charlene remembers.

But at 25 years old, that all changed. College kids moved in next door and she began doing Oxycontin with them. This quickly led to using heroin.

Over the next decade, Charlene fought an all-too-familiar battle with substance use disorder.

And, on February 10, 2016, Charlene overdosed and was brought back to life.

She woke up in a hospital bed after taking a lethal dose of heroin. Emergency responders had found Charlene unresponsive and administered two doses of Naloxone, the life-saving nasal spray, before transporting her to the Emergency Room.

Charlene was Lucky

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. A report issued by the Drug Enforcement Agency indicates a 35 percent increase in fatal overdoses in 2016 compared to 2015. Of the overdose deaths in Pennsylvania, 85 percent showed the presence of prescription or elicit opioids.

For Charlene, the overdose was a wake up call. It was an ultimate low that motivated her towards a path of treatment and now recovery. In just six months, Charlene has gone back to work and is volunteering at a recovery house. Charlene’s biggest fear today is losing the healthcare that has brought her this renewed stability.

Medicaid and the Opioid Epidemic

Medicaid has given individuals like Charlene the opportunity to seek the dynamic help they need. Medicaid gives Charlene access to her family doctor, an intensive outpatient program, Vivitrol therapy, and a recovery specialist. These resources are brought together at one of the commonwealth’s 45 “Centers of Excellence.”

Charlene’s recovery story is one example of the 215,000 people in Pennsylvania who rely on Medicaid and have a substance use disorder diagnosis. Cuts to Medicaid like those in the Washington Republican healthcare plans would mean fewer people in treatment, more overdoses, and more pain for families and communities across the commonwealth.

The Washington Republican plans also delivers another blow to Americans with substance use disorder by allowing states to waive the mandate for substance use treatment as an essential health benefit. That means that for Americans who purchase health insurance on the marketplace, their plan might not be required to cover the cost of their treatment.

Governor Wolf has spent the past two years traveling across Pennsylvania having discussions with those on the front lines of the heroin and opioid crisis.

“The message is clear. We need to combat stigma and get more people into treatment. We need the federal government to be a partner—not an adversary – in battling the epidemic from all angles.” — Governor Tom Wolf, May 2017


Charlene’s story was first published on WITF in June 2017.

Thank you to T.W. Ponessa & Associates Counseling Services for helping us share Charlene’s story.

Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) for assistance with substance abuse.

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