After 30 days of rehab, the heroin addict who switched to the harder, more potent fentanyl, was a different person.
When she was discharged from the Behavioral Health Unit of the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital last month and brought to rehab in Piru, Nicole Norwood appeared to be a cluster of twig-like limbs and heavy, slow-moving eyes.
On Tuesday, she was 30 days clean. She was happy and laughing, with a clear complexion, darting eyes and an easy smile.
“I feel a lot better and I’m a lot more optimistic,” she said in front of the rehab center.
She is committed to staying clean, she said, for the only thing that means anything in her life.
“The only thing that means anything to me is my son,” she said.
Norwood followed eight years of heroin addiction with two years addicted to fentanyl. She was caught using the synthetic drug at rehab in March and she was kicked out, ending up in the hospital.
She lost her job, she lost her friends, her family and, ultimately, her son, now being raised by Norwood’s parents.
Since venturing out on the road to drug-free sobriety, she’s had regular visits with her son.
“When he comes here, he doesn’t want to leave,” she said. “He asks my dad if he could leave him here.”
When she was first interviewed by The Signal last month, Norwood described fentanyl as “heroin on steroids.”
She quit taking the drug — all drugs — cold, with no prescription drugs to ease the pain of withdrawal, she said.
“I had to kick it cold,” she said, looking ahead instead of back. “I obviously want to do it for my own sake.”
“I want to go back to work. I know the benefits of recovery and I am intent on improving my life,” she said.
Cary Quashen, founder of Action Family Counseling on Soledad Canyon Road, who runs the rehab in Piru, said the next step for Norwood is a sober living environment.
“It’s a place with a little bit more freedom,” Norwood said.
But, whether the roof over her head is a hospital, rehab or sober living, Nicole Norwood is moving in the direction of her son.
She has a family court hearing on June 24.
“When I met with my social worker the first week here (Piru) she said: ‘I’m going to recommend you don’t get your son back.
“On the last visit, she said: ‘I’m going to reconsider.’ And, that’s a lot better.”
Norwood rambles off a list of goals to hit before she gets her son back: staying clean, getting a job, getting a place.
First things first. And, that first thing remains the most important: stay clean.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Initially developed as a pain management drug for cancer patients, fentanyl is now often added to heroin, according to the DEA website, to increase its potency or to disguise it as highly potent heroin.
“Many users believe that they are purchasing heroin and actually don’t know that they are purchasing fentanyl — which often results in overdose death,” the DEA website reads, noting clandestinely produced fentanyl is primarily manufactured in Mexico.
Norwood’s path to full-blown addiction began when she emerged from surgery and was prescribed opioid painkillers.
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