The U.S. reports more opioid deaths than any other country in the world, and organizations around the country are scrambling for solutions.
There’s a park five minutes from Paul Paul Weishapl's home in Omaha, Nebraska, that reminds him of a time when addiction led to a prison sentence.
“I can still refer to that person who lives in complete and utter fear for everything,” Weishapl said, “I look at that picture on a weekly basis. I don't forget that. I don't want to forget that.”
Paul Weishapl says he started using painkillers after an injury suffered while playing high school soccer. By the time he graduated, Paul Weishapl said he was taking painkillers every day.
“I was spending $400-$500 dollars a day to try to buy pills, stealing everything that wasn’t locked down to try to keep it going," he said.
Weishapl stabbed a man during a drug deal in 2016. He turned himself in and went to jail, where he says he found the clarity to confront his addiction. He can now sit with his parents and discuss it from a distance. He says the only reason he’s alive is because he had his life saved seven times with Naloxone.
The Centers for Disease Control says the number of deaths in 2021 due to drug overdose will clear 100,000. That’s 20 times what it was at the turn of the century.
The federal government and every state have taken aim at the problem.
Harm reduction stems from the idea that while a person is alive, they can be reached. Many programs offer free needle exchanges. Others offer fentanyl testing strips. And most provide Naloxone, also known as Narcan.
Amy Holman works for the Nebraska Pharmacists Association. In her state, like many, pharmacies now have a standing order to distribute Naloxone without a prescription. They’ve even set up a website showing residents where they can find Narcan near them.
“There are more pharmacies that are realizing that they do need it in their communities. A lot of them maybe didn't think at first that they do, but now, unfortunately, they are seeing the need to be in the program also,” Holman said.
It’s hard to say what and where things are working. However, since early 2022, drug overdose deaths nationwide and in many states have consistently dropped.
Weishapl is thankful he is no longer dealing with addiction. He embraces a future where he helps others break free or helps keep them alive until they do. He says he’s passionate about the project because he’s tired of so many people dying. In the past three years, he’s lost 75 friends.
Weishapl is starting a nonprofit to bring harm reduction training to places that need it.
“I just want this world to be a little safer for my son before I go, so that’s what I’m doing this,” Weishapl said.