Overcoming fentanyl: A mother's love, NARCAN, and the road to recovery

As they embrace, Monica Adolph tells her 32-year-old son Nathan, "I love you all the time. I love you." And, it's taken a lot of love to overcome the scourge of fentanyl and other illicit drugs he used over many years. 

"I didn't care if I was alive. All that mattered was the next high," Nathan said.

Besides his mother's love, it's also taken a lot of NARCAN to keep him among the living. Something his mom didn't know how to use until she had too.

Nathan said that were it not for his mom, he'd be dead. 

"It is true," she said. "I wasn't going to just wait there for paramedics while his face was turning blue. You know he's not breathing. What would you do?"

Nathan said he used a number of drugs to stay high. He's used everything from methamphetamine to heroin which he said "gave me a feeling I never felt before. It was just a warm comforting feeling and I felt like all my problems in the world didn't exist anymore."

But, then, a friend offered him powdered fentanyl. He took it.

"I'm not going to turn down free drugs. So, obviously I took it," Nathan said. "I stuck a key inside of it and sniffed it a little bit... I guess I overdosed from it."

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And, as he turned to fentanyl, which he injected into his veins, he said, "it felt amazing... so powerful, and that drug grabbed me and got a hold of me. Now, after feeling such an intense high, like that, heroin was out of the picture. Now, I was chasing a high that was way more intense."

And, Nathan sais, he stayed high "... all day ... every day." But, it was expensive. He said he sold drugs to support his habit. The more he needed, the darker things got.

"It got me into crime to support my habit," Nathan said. "…Fraud, stealing, robbing people… a lot of things I know. I started doing things I knew [weren't] really me. (Hal: Like what) fraud, stealing, robbing people... a lot of things I know... I started doing things I knew wasn't really me."

He said he enver hurt anybody physically but, for him, physically, "...it was like getting a warm hug on a cold day."

When Nathan overdosed, though, he turned cold.

"His lips and face started to turn blue. He wasn't breathing," Adolph said. "[I yelled] ‘Nathan Nathan move your head around.’ What do you do? You get nervous."

Nathan said his mom found him unconscious many times, forcing her to use NARCAN, but also for chest compressions which she didn't know how to do until she had to. 

"I just figured I just gotta pump and hope I didn't break anything," she said.

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Adolph said she saved him the first time he overdosed. But then there were many more times; so many that she lost track. Nathan tried to get clean, but it was tough. After several attempts, on Jan. 11, 2021, feeling broken, Nathan checked himself into a rehabilitation center called CRI-Help, and found himself on the road to recovery.

Fentanyl is "very serious," said CRI-Help's Clinical Director Gary Horejsi. He says there are many Nathans in their 135 rooms in North Hollywood. From where he sits, "the fentanyl crisis is getting worse."

"I think what's scary for me is that it's not only killing hardcore addicts anymore. It's killing kids, people that are experimenting with drugs for the first time in their life," said Horejsi.

Now, Nathan hopes to be a force for good. He's working at CRI-Help a couple of days a week and serves as a sober-companion and a sober-coach.

On love, he says he now loves himself. On pain, he said, "I'm hurt. I put someone who loves me more than anything in the world through pain like that... I can't imagine." On the future, he said he's keeping clean "by helping out another addict." To him, that is "the best addiction I could ever [have]."

There's a long sentence tattooed along his arm that reads, "God never said it was going to be easy... just promised it would be worth it."