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Path to recovery

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Recovering addict discusses the depth of her addiction, graduating from Drug Court, rebuilding relationships

By Jennifer Corbett

During the darkest times in her life, Jenny Brumley remembers being consumed with finding that next high — by whatever means necessary.

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“You get ruthless,” Brumley said of the lengths she went to get prescription pills. “You just do not care. You are just consumed.”

Thirty-year-old Brumley said she had her engagement ring, high school ring and her mother’s wedding ring melted down for extra cash. She also stole several checks from her parents and grandparents — a move that ultimately landed her in jail.

Sitting in the living room of her Bardstown apartment, Brumley openly admits that she has done some bad things in her past. And she is still working to rebuild some of those relationships with her family and fiancé’s family.

Brumley, a recent graduate of the Nelson County Drug Court program, recently spoke with the Standard, discussing where she has come from, what led to prescription pill addiction, how she beat it and how she plans to address her addiction with her son when he’s old enough.

Looking back, Brumley never thought she would ever complete Drug Court. Her drug abuse was that bad.

“I never thought I would graduate Drug Court,” Brumley said. “I didn’t think I could do it. I figured I would be dead before it happened.”

A growing trend

Brumley’s story of addiction is illustrative of a growing trend throughout the state, which has the sixth-highest per capita death rate in the country from prescription drug overdose and increasing numbers of people seeking treatment.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths in the United States outnumbered deaths from motor vehicle crashes for the first time in 2009. That trend continued in 2010.

Locally, the amount of deaths due to drug overdose has been steadily increasing. In 2012, there were five reported overdose deaths, according to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. In 2013, there were six reported deaths.

According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, five people — one female and four males — were between the ages of 32 and 59. Two of the individuals took 10 different types of drugs before their deaths.

But not all drug overdoses are fatal.

From Aug. 31, 2013, to Aug. 31, 2014, Nelson County EMS responded to 58 overdoses, according to EMS Director Joe Prewitt.

Local officials say the trend of drug abuse and addiction can affect every age group and demographic.

Kayce Osborne, supervisor of the Drug Court program in Nelson County, said those currently enrolled in the program range in age from 19 to 51.

In Kentucky, defendants can avoid a jail sentence by becoming eligible to complete Drug Court, a substance abuse program, which is supervised by a judge.

The program aims to intervene and break the cycle of substance abuse, addiction and crime.

“It’s very challenging,” said Nelson Circuit Judge Charles Simms, who helped begin the program in Nelson County in spring 2006. “We have people who really do well. I’ve had some that went back to college, one got their plumber’s license, another got their cosmetology license. I’ve seen a lot of people make drastic improvements. You wish all would succeed, but all don’t. Some end up continuing to use and have to serve a sentence.”

Osborne said there are currently 25 people enrolled in Nelson County’s Drug Court program. Enrollment has stayed the same over the past couple of years, she said, adding that Brumley’s story of success is a testament to the power of Drug Court.

“Jenny continues to find success in her recovery because she is putting the tools that she acquired in Drug Court to use,” Osborne said. “She’s still using those tools every day and applies them in every aspect of her life.”

“Jenny is a really good person,” Simms added. “She’s the type of person Drug Court is designed for.”

Living with addiction

Brumley’s story began when she was prescribed pain pills after a foot surgery. She said a doctor in Taylorsville would write her a prescription for anything. At one point, he prescribed her phentermine, an appetite suppressant typically prescribed to obese people.

Brumley was 115 pounds at the time.

If you’re not obese, the drug gives you a high, Brumley said.

After spending two weeks in rehab, Brumley began attending meetings and her addiction grew to Roxicodone, or “Roxys,” 15 and 30 milligrams of Percocet, Oxycodone and Opanas.

“It’s progressive,” Brumley said of her addiction. “It starts out to where you can maintain, you can function normal, you don’t need them every day. And slowly it gets to where your tolerance builds. You got to get to a higher level of pain medicine to achieve that ultimate high.”

Brumley spent two weeks at the Jefferson Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center, or JDAC, in Louisville in January 2010. By June, she found out she was pregnant with her son.

Brumley went back into treatment and spent 32 days in the facility, where she said she was prescribed methadone to wean her off pain pills.

After completing her stay at JDAC, Brumley lived at Freedom House, a homeless shelter for pregnant women in recovery, until February 2011.

After completing treatment, Brumley moved to Bardstown.

Within two months, she relapsed.

“Wrong people, places and things,” Brumley said.

Everything went awry after she moved in with her parents in Shelby County.

“That was when I was introduced to Opanas, not taking them by mouth, snorting them — that was the quickest way to achieve that high,” she said. “The Opanas are what took me down the quickest. That’s when I started taking checks from my parents.”

Not only did Brumley take checks from her parents, she would also use her parents’ and fiancé’s debit card.

Brumley landed in jail in July 2011 for six counts of forgery. She was granted pretrial diversion, but reoffended soon after her sentence with three more counts of forgery.

By April 2012, Brumley was enrolled in Drug Court. But a month into the program, Brumley was sentenced to three weeks in jail for a Drug Court sanction due to drug use. Brumley said she lied to the judge and lied to Osborne about her drug use.

But, according to Simms, Brumley’s behavior at the time is not uncommon.

“Jenny is not unlike a lot of people who start off in Drug Court,” he said. “They’re being asked to change their lives and not use drugs.” They have to change their way of thinking, he said.

Normally, when a Drug Court participant is sanctioned, she is sentenced to a week in jail if she’s honest and admits to using, Osborne said. If she doesn’t admit to using, the defendant has to serve 14 days in jail.

When asked the number of sanctions allowed, Osborne said it’s on a case-by-case basis.

“Everybody has a different situation,” she said.

After her three-week jail sentence, Brumley stayed sober for four months, during which time she got a new job.

But health issues soon arose, which caused Brumley to have surgery. She was prescribed pain medication and the cycle began again.

“It picks up right where it left off,” Brumley said of drug addiction.

During her fourth and final stint in jail, Brumley said something clicked — she knew she needed to change.

“I was at my absolute rock bottom,” Brumley said.

Brumley’s relationship with her fiancé was falling apart and she barely got to see her son. Her parents had no interest in talking to her, or as Brumley puts it, they loved her from a distance. She had no vehicle, no job, no money and no place to go after her sentence.

During her three-week sentence, Brumley found out she would be released back into Drug Court.

It was then that Osborne noticed a difference in Brumley.

“When Jenny first started (Drug Court), this was a way to stay out of jail and she was just going to do the bare minimum,” Osborne said. Coming back a second time, “you could tell a difference in her. Her attitude changed. She surrendered and decided there was a better way of life.”

The program would bring a new outlook on life to the recovering addict.

Learning to live again

Brumley recently celebrated two years of sobriety, an accomplishment in which she takes great pride.

The accomplishment took a lot of willpower, as Brumley said she had to learn to live without a dependence on prescription pills.

It’s the simple things she had to learn to do, such as laughing during a funny movie or accepting herself when she looked in the mirror.

“For the first time in several years, I could stand to look at myself in the mirror,” Brumley recalled. “I could stand to see the person that was looking back at me.”

Since completing Drug Court, Brumley has been attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings, where she sponsors two women.

Even with sobriety, Brumley said she has bad days, where something might trigger memories of addiction. For instance, her son had cut up a drinking straw one time, which almost triggered Brumley because that was one of the means she took to get high.

“It’s stuff like that you’ve got to be aware of,” she said. “It can come out of nowhere.”

She’s also rebuilding relationships she’s hurt in the past.

“One thing you learn in recovery is everybody’s healing process is different,” she said. “No matter how much I say ‘I’m sorry,’ they’re not going to hear ‘I’m sorry.’ Because I’ve said it time and time again. It has no meaning. They have to see it.”

So if Brumley tells her fiancé she is going to pay a bill, she shows him a receipt. If she tells her parents she’s bringing her son to their house, they have to see her physically show up. If she makes a promise, even if it’s something as simple as baking cookies for her son, Brumley will follow through with it.

But her family has always been there to support her. They were at her recent Drug Court graduation.

When it comes to her son, Brumley said she’d be open with him about her past drug use when he’s older.

“I don’t want him growing up sheltered and not knowing about drugs, not knowing that there’s this big, scary world out there,” Brumley said. “I want him to be fully aware that there is a world outside of mom’s and dad’s world. Drugs are out there and his mom has been in the grips of it.”