- Associated Press - Friday, November 3, 2017

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Crystal McKellips can talk with calm clarity about the day in 2008 that she would have died if not for the quick action of her 10-year-old son.

A couple of hours before the boy discovered she wasn’t breathing and asked another Walmart shopper to call 911, McKellips had fed her opioid addiction by licking half of the gel off of a three-day fentanyl patch and swallowing some Lortab pills.

“I took it too far,” she told The Salina Journal . “I wasn’t trying to die. I was trying to get high.”

After four days in the intensive care unit at Salina Regional Health Center, McKellips went to court on a charge of possession of fentanyl, a controlled substance. She was placed on Community Corrections-supervised probation. But it wasn’t long before the vomiting, chills and body aches of withdrawal prompted her to use opioids again, and the probation violations became a prison sentence.

The 35-year-old Salina woman said her addiction started about four years before her near-fatal overdose, when she was prescribed Lortab for a shoulder injury. By the time she overdosed, she had been feeding her increasing need for opiates by stealing prescription drugs from family members, buying them from cancer patients and acquiring them from an addicted nurse who was calling in false prescriptions.

She had unsuccessfully tried treatment on three previous occasions, but in prison, she finally got clean.

And she’s stayed clean.

“For me to get off opiates, I had to go to prison and stay clean for nine months and lose everything I had and everybody pretty much,” she said.

McKellips said she spent four months in Saline County Jail followed by nine months drying out in prison. While she was incarcerated, her father died; two of her three sons went temporarily into foster care and then to live with their grandparents, and the third went to live with his father.

For about the first two weeks of her incarceration, she was placed in a maximum-security cell on her own as she endured the vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms of withdrawal. About four years before she started using opioids, she had kicked a methamphetamine addiction on her own. She said she couldn’t do that with opiates, which had effects even more far-ranging than the physical dependence they caused.

“My mind was so far out of it I couldn’t even grasp reality,” she said.

McKellips said she has only hazy memories of the nearly four years she spent chasing the feelings of energy and euphoria the pills had given her and trying to keep the sickness she felt without them at bay. Her mother and brother have told her about times she would nearly fall asleep while driving after having taken pills. Her son, who is now 21, talks about how horrible his early childhood was.

She said her children had to endure her mood swings, her excessive sleeping, an abusive caregiver and separation anxiety caused by uncertainty about whether their mother would be there when they returned.

“There’s nothing I can say about it because it’s true,” she said. “Just because I didn’t mean to get addicted doesn’t excuse what I did to my children.”

While she was in prison, McKellips attended church for the first time and began singing in a choir.

“When I got out, God had changed my heart so I wanted a different life,” she said. “I’ve dealt with it with God. I’ve forgiven myself. My sons have forgiven me, as long as I can continue to walk down the right path. They’re adamant about Mom going to church and being involved. That’s my salvation.”


Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, http://www.salina.com

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