WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Krista Turner started experimenting with dangerous drugs like hallucinogens when she was in her teens and her struggle with drug addiction continued about 10 years.
“You get hooked on that first high,” Turner said. “So that’s what you’re always chasing and you never get that again.”
Turner says she and her ex-boyfriend committed all sorts of crimes to pay for their next fix.
“We would break into people’s houses, sheds and steal their tools and pawn those,” she said. “Pretty much steal anything that wasn’t nailed down.”
It was a life of crime that eventually sent her to prison.
When she was released, her addictive behaviors resurfaced, this time tempting her to experiment with even more dangerous drugs like opioids and forcing her to resort to dangerous lifestyle choices to generate the cash needed to satisfy her habit.
“I had to figure out how to make money and I resorted to prostitution,” she said. ” You’re already numb because of the drugs, so the need and the want for the drug trumps everything.”
Turner admits she was headed down a path of self-destruction.
In 2017, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 47,000 people died from overdoses involving opioids.
That same year, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,884 opioid-related deaths statewide.
Turner developed a condition called bacterial endocarditis which is directly related to sharing dirty needles to inject drugs.
During her fourth trip to New Hanover Regional Medical Center (NHRMC), a test indicated she was 14 weeks pregnant.
“So I had used that entire time,” she said. “Truthfully, if I were still on drugs, then she [Turner’s daughter] wouldn’t be here because my first thought when I found out I was pregnant was to get an abortion.”
But she didn’t.
“I knew that my life was in the balance and so was this child I was carrying so I made the choice to ask for help,” she said.
One of the people who treated Turner was Dr. William Johnstone, a NHRMC obstetrics and gynecology physician.
As of June 2018, 14 percent of pregnant women seeking services at NHRMC related to pregnancy, whether it be in the prenatal clinic or labor and delivery, admitted to a history of illicit drug use or recent use of illicit drugs, Johnstone said.
“I noticed the treatment of care we used to treat these patients was haphazard because we are not trained addictionologists,” he said. “We’re trained surgeons and deliverers of babies and provide gynecological and obstetrical care.”
The death of one of his patients two years ago set Johnstone on a mission.
“I admitted a patient on Christmas Day with complications associated with pregnancy we later discovered was related to her heroin use and she passed away a few weeks later,” he said. “It really affected me and my psyche and I think about it just about every day.”
Johnstone said he had to do something.
“We’re losing a generation in my opinion,” he said. “New Hanover County lost 165 of its citizens last year to overdoses. When that generation is being decimated and destroyed by addiction, their offspring is the next generation of folks to get involved with illicit substances and become addicts themselves.”
When a pregnant woman dies, Johnstone says it causes a ripple effect.
“A child being raised without a mother, a motherless child, is heart-wrenching because you want to put that child on a glide path to success, and lots of times in those situations, it just continues, the cycle continues,” he said.
As for Turner, she’s grateful Johnstone was able to counsel her about making lifestyle changes before it was too late.
“For somebody to be so passionate about wanting to help addicts, I feel completely grateful to him because he did save my life,” she said.
Not only saving her life, but Turner’s baby, too.
“Its surreal and its overwhelming and a lot of the time I catch myself just staring at her while she’s sleeping or playing and I’m just so grateful to be here today and to be able to give her the best life that I possibly can.”
Be sure to tune in to WWAY’s Good Morning Carolina on Tuesday, May 21, at 6:30 a.m. to see Part 2 of “Life After Addiction.” We’ll tell you about a nonprofit Johnstone created called TIDES which specifically helps pregnant women like Turner who are trying to overcome their addiction to opioids and other drugs.
Resources and agencies working to combat opioid addiction in the Cape Fear