Coalition leader battles her own slippery slope of addiction
Aletha Stolar says it was tough to stop taking pain medication after losing the tip of her right index finger.
October 25, 2012 ·
Not even coalition leaders are immune to dependency or addiction. Meet a Fayette County addiction prevention leader who found even her own knowledge of the problem didn’t help when she faced extreme pain.
Aletha Stolar was sitting on her porch enjoying a cup of coffee on a chilly overcast morning last January. She was watching her dog across a field. The dog was crossing the road; Stolar says cars usually stop.
“A silver colored truck hit her and kept going. So I just jumped up off the porch, ran down,” she said.
“I scoop her up off the road set her down on the side of the road so I can figure out what I’m going to do next."
"When I set her down she latched onto my left forearm. I yanked that away and as I yanked that away I think I dropped my right hand and then she latched onto my right index finger. I pulled my finger out looked down it was dangling and you know in a couple seconds time my life changed very quickly.”
Stolar is the director of the Fayette County Family Resource Network. She’s also right handed.
She phoned a friend who took her to the hospital where she endured 15 stitches in her left forearm. An ambulance carried her to Morgantown to see an orthopedic hand specialist for her dangling right index finger.
“The dog bit right below my nail and so it actually broke that top bone in half," she said, "severed both arteries and it was really what they call hanging by a skin bridge."
“So the initial amputation which they did at the emergency department at Ruby Memorial is they cut away the nail bed took that piece of skin and made like a mushroom cap.”
After the first amputation, Stolar says she was asked repeatedly if she needed a prescription for the pain but she was content just taking an over the counter medicine. She had worked with the Substance Abuse Task Force in the region and did not want to become addicted to a narcotic pain medicine.
“I had talked to a lot of people and I had gotten a lot of first second and third hand stories," she said, "about what happened with substance abuse and how it started with an injury let’s say child birth and they were prescribed pain medication.”
“Somebody had a back injury or somebody got abuse from domestic violence trauma and how this started out as taking these medications and I think here are appropriate places for pain medication I think they’re needed. I’m not saying do away with them.”
Stolar’s finger was healing with no infection. Then, she found out her joint was dislocated so she was scheduled for a second amputation surgery. Doctors inserted a pin with a yellow ball on the end that stuck out of her hand for weeks.
Still Stolar was determined to avoid a narcotic pain prescription.
“When I got that pain medication after surgery I didn’t have it filled,” she said, “went home like I said I felt great but that was on a Monday but it wasn’t until like Tuesday late afternoon maybe early evening that the pain really started to hit and that night was heinous.”
Stolar remembers the first time taking her prescribed Percocet.
“The first one I took it just kind of gave me kind of a weird head buzz that I really didn’t like," she said, "but that was the only time and then after that it really did just took away the pain and it also makes you feel, a friend of mine the way she described was it makes you feel less unpleasant."
"It doesn’t really make you feel good it makes you feel less unpleasant.”
The cast was removed and doctors prescribed Stolar more Percocet. Dealing with her new reality was a challenge. She had expected to dive back into everyday life soon after surgery, but that wasn’t the case.
“It was really tricky learning to do things again and frustrating at times of things that I couldn’t do,” she said. “I’ve learned to work around some things but you know a lot of things it would be like, ‘uhg, if I could just pick that up!”
Months after the cast came off Stolar found even the simple act of touching a keyboard a challenge, and she was having a hard time coping with her new reality.
“But I was sitting on my couch and I was just feeling blue," she said. "My finger really didn’t hurt so I thought, you know what I could just take one of those Percocets and then it just kind of hit me. Oh my gosh, I didn’t need it for the pain; I wanted it to take away my blues.”
Through all of the training- all the stories of addiction she’s heard at the more than 50 Substance Abuse Task Force meetings she attended- all the reports she had read about how narcotics affect your brain, through all this Stolar still found herself becoming dependent on this pain killer-even without pain.
“I remember when I went in to have my final checkup,” she said. “I found myself at this time which is the irony of this and this is just to me amazing what the drug can do to your thinking process.”
“When I went in the last time and I was close to being out or I was out of Percocets, I faked. I upped my pain level even though it really wasn’t hurting that bad because I really wanted that drug."
“I had also found myself counting out my drugs at the very end kind of to say okay I’m going to get through tomorrow. I’ll get through tomorrow and then when I ran out and I phoned in to try to get the prescription refilled and wasn’t able to get it refilled, found out that you can’t call in a schedule two narcotic."
"I found I was actively seeking. I was calling the pharmacy every day. I was calling Morgantown every day seeing where they were, did they get the message I need to get this refilled. I still have a lot of pain and about four or five days of doing that I went, Oh my gosh, I am actively seeking this drug."
"Then I just stopped and I haven’t even taken an aspirin since then. My finger hurts a little bit or from time to time but it’s not thing that I can’t deal with."
She battled this for almost two months until she says a friend convinced her to go for a walk. Now she says staying active has become her new drug.
“I just really felt this amazing calm," she said, "and just kind of like everything is OK."
"That has helped me through this whole process of not needing those drugs anymore, not even wanting them. You know if it were in front of me would I take one I would probably consider it but would I really do it no.”
“What Aletha describes is something we see all the time," Dr. Dan Doyle a family physician at the New River Health Association in Fayette County said.
“Aletha’s story is definitely a reminder for me on how easy it is for people to become dependent on these medicines and how we need to be careful."
"One guideline that I try to follow is no chronic daily opiates beyond 8 weeks from an injury.”
Doyle believes Stolar was on a road to dependency, which can often lead to addiction. He sees this with many of his patients. Stolar doesn’t ask for Percocet anymore and she hopes her story might help someone else to do the same.
“This is a heads up it can happen to anybody," she said. "Other people is like I had no idea it happened to you, you know so much about this stuff. You do all these things and I’m just like yeah it did happen or nearly happened for me."