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Opioid addiction ‘a very real issue’ for Nevada legislator

Prescription opioid addiction happens in the best of families, but that fact provides small solace to Patricia Farley these days.

A mother of two and successful business owner, Farley is also a legislator who represents District 8 in the state Senate. She’s one of four members of a family raised by a hardworking single father. In fact, most of Tom Farley’s children learned the value of a strong work ethic, stayed in school and have achieved success in their lives.

But the family’s collective best efforts haven’t yet been able to pull 38-year-old brother James Farley from the abyss of oxycodone addiction.

“It’s a very real issue,” Farley said after reading a recent column highlighting the opioid abuse epidemic. “Right now I’m in the middle of intervening in my younger brother’s life. … I’ve been trying to get his straightened out. I’ve spent the last week and a half taking all of his options away. … The sad reality is, it’s not just him and his girlfriend. There are children involved.”

It’s not the first time. And as always in cases of long-term addiction, there’s no shortage of collateral damage. Convicted of drug-related offenses and living in Tom Farley’s home in Mesa, Arizona, James Farley has fathered four children — two of whom were born addicted to opiates. One baby was in the neonatal intensive care unit for more than six weeks. While the father has been in and out of trouble and treatment, they have been diagnosed with learning disabilities.

The son’s opioid abuse has taken a toll on the ailing patriarch of the family, too. That’s the waking nightmare: No family member goes untouched by addiction. Trust, money, relationships are all consumed along the way.

As his sister recalls, James had behavior and drug problems in high school and a circle of friends that led him astray. After an incident a decade ago that left him injured, he received prescribed medicine for pain and quickly became addicted to oxycodone.

The family has continued to battle on his behalf, but as the years have passed, the damage has accrued. Not just to the addict, but to members of his family as well. That’s the reality of addiction.

The lies are endless, the drain on family financial resources constant. The painful process of drug rehabilitation must repeated. The disappointment is ceaseless.

Although many people get the better of their addiction, Farley said her brother continues to struggle.

“He signed up for rehab outpatient and never went,” she says. “He went right back to the oxy and that life. … To be honest, it’s taken a phenomenal toll. My whole family was pretty close with the exception of James. My brother will steal anything he can. The cycle’s never-ending.”

As heart-wrenching as it is, the Farley family story is actually neither extraordinary nor rare. Most families dealing with addiction can share similar experiences.

In states across the country, opioid overdose has risen so dramatically that lawmakers are responding with tougher sanctions and greater treatment. In Washington, Senate and House bills establishing grants to combat drug abuse have bipartisan support. With nearly 47,000 people dying from heroin and opioid overdose in 2014, and more than half killing themselves with prescription medicines, there’s little time for political gamesmanship.

That’s what separates Farley from most other family members of opioid addicts. She’s a Nevada legislator. As a member of the Senate, and in concert with David Marlon, president of Solutions Recovery substance abuse rehabilitation center, Farley says she plans to fight for legislation that will toughen state law and increase scrutiny of pain management clinics that have gained a reputation as “pill mills.”

She explains how opioid abusers still find it too easy to prescription shop between doctors. Addicts commonly collect enough pills to support themselves and have enough left over to sell on the street at a hefty profit, Farley says.

“We want to make it harder for people like my brother who are in the business of selling oxy and the doctors who are living off it,” she says.

Farley knows what most people know: When it comes to prescription opioids, addiction happens in the best of families.

— John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Contact him at 702 383-0295, or jsmith@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith

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