What to Know
- Addicts are seeking out fentanyl, a drug 50 times more powerful than heroin. The number of deaths attributed to it have risen in LA County.
- Doctors prescribe the drug for pain such as late stage cancer and surgery. It has been making its way across the United States.
- But synthetic forms have been flooding in from China, killing American addicts in record numbers, the Drug Enforcement Administration says.
Editor's Note: In response to viewer questions since this article has been published regarding touching the drug, the Centers for Disease Control has addressed this specifically in its warnings. You can read more here.
A week after one woman talked about her near fatal experience, the NBC4 I-Team caught up with her to see where she is today.
Forty one days sober on a journey, Nicole Norwood says she is only just starting. She has been through rehabilitation before but the young mother says she wants this time to be permanent.
She says every day is a struggle to not go back to her old life. She spends days of intense treatment and closely regulated sober living at Action Family Counseling in Santa Clarita, her second stint in rehab.
"I can't mess up again or I will be kicked out," she says. "I won't be able to come back. I probably would die this time."
She says that she hopes empathy will help fix the addiction problem.
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"I don't want to be on the street," she says. "I don't want to be filthy. I don't want to not have my kid. I don't even want to be a dope fiend, but I am."
During NBC4's last meeting, the 30 year old was 30 days sober. She talked about her decade long addiction, her brush with death and struggle to stay straight.
She's one of 2.5 million Americans addicted to opioids, according to a 2016 report by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. She shares her story in the hope of saving the life of anyone in a similar situation.
The former cheerleader who grew up in Castaic never thought she'd be one of those people falling victim to a painkiller addiction that stemmed from a near-lethal bout with meningitis when she was in high school.
"They didn't tell us there's a probability that you're going to get addicted to these pain killers," she said. "I didn't know. I'd never been around that stuff."
She had to have brain surgery. Sick and in pain, she was on pain medication for about a year and then stopped cold turkey.
Then a friend introduced her to heroin. She smoked it for three years before shooting up. Then she did meth and any drug she could find.
Eventually she started seeking out fentanyl, an opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin and responsible for a huge spike in overdose deaths across Los Angeles County.
"I had a lot going for me and I just didn't care," she said. "The fact that I'm OK with shooting up something that could literally kill me right then and there, even though I have a kid, is sick."
She's seen the toll the drug can take.
"I've had people die in my car. I've had people die in my house. I've had people die in front of me and like it happens really fast," she said.
She's been lucky.
She's had help from Carey Quashan, who owns the rehab center Action Family Counseling in Santa Clarita.
"She went from looking like death to somebody that's now alive," he said. "Everything she's lost is due to those drugs."
Norwood, meanwhile, takes it one day at a time as she fights to stay clean so she can raise a young son on her own.
"I'm a great mom when I'm sober," she said. "I just want to have a kid back, and my life back."
Her father, Ara, believes in her.
"It's very painful to go through," he said. "It has done serious damage to all the family relationships. It's been very tough on all of us."
He has hope.
"I think she's capable of being a great mother."