One Mom Recovers from Opioid Addiction, Against All Odds

March 19, 2019
By: NHRMC
Krista Turner 600w

Six years ago, Krista Turner and Dr. William Johnstone were both in very different places.

Krista was a heroin and crack addict who had checked off nearly every box on the list of terrible things that drug addicts do. She had done everything but end up dead, and she had been close to that a couple of times.

Dr. Johnstone, an obstetrician who practices at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, felt little empathy for drug addicts, especially young women who would afflict their unborn babies with the dangers of addiction and the misery of withdrawal.

As the opioid epidemic seized the Cape Fear region, Dr. Johnstone saw more young pregnant women trying to deal with addiction.

“As an OB/GYN, I didn’t know much about addiction, so the result was kind of a haphazard treatment approach,” Dr. Johnstone said. “I recognized the need to educate myself about addiction, and it became apparent that I was going about it the wrong way.”

By studying medical research, he came to realize that addicts don’t choose to become addicted to opioids. Addiction can start with a careless decision by an uninformed teenager. It can be rooted in a dark childhood where irresponsible adults provide no protection, or worse, facilitate the wrongdoing.

Johnstone 600w

“Opioid addiction changes your neurophysiology and pathophysiology,” Dr. Johnstone said. “It’s a disease, and you can’t just stop it. Once you are addicted to opioids, your brain is rewired and you can’t go back.”

Sometimes, the beginning of opioid addiction starts during medical care, when a doctor, trying to satisfy a patient’s need for pain relief, would prescribe an opioid.

As Dr. Johnstone became more educated on addiction, he started working on measures to solve the problem of Opioid Use Disorder in pregnancy. The University of North Carolina Horizons Program was helping pregnant mothers end their addictions, so Dr. Johnstone and a group of advisors worked to emulate that program in Southeastern North Carolina.

A short stay

Krista was in the throes of addiction, having never recovered from a painful, abusive childhood that led her to drugs before she was old enough to apply for a driver’s permit. In her late teens, she gave birth to a son, but her pattern of drug abuse and associated crime caused her to lose custody of her son. She had alienated everyone in her family by lying and stealing and was living on the streets when she wasn’t in jail. During one of her trips to the Emergency Department, she was admitted to NHRMC with endocarditis, a bacterial infection in the heart that, Krista says, was most likely caused by using dirty needles.

As he had before, NHRMC Substance Abuse Counselor Jeremy Mullis offered to enroll Krista in a treatment program. As she had before, Krista turned him away. As soon as she was no longer at risk of immediate death, Krista routinely tried to sneak out of the hospital, more desperate for a fix than to complete her medical recovery. Once, when she had been brought to the hospital from the jail, she locked herself in a bathroom and tried to escape through the ceiling. She soon found out that the walls extend above the ceiling tiles, and she had nowhere to go. She was recaptured, and her efforts only earned her additional criminal charges for absconding.

Building Tides

In 2016, Dr. Johnstone was treating a young pregnant mother. Dr. Johnstone’s obstetrical team delivered the baby and despite all efforts to save her, the young mother died shortly after giving birth.

“She lost her life to dirty needles and heroin,” Dr. Johnstone said. “Her death severely impacted my psyche. I was more determined than ever to help these women. If I could get the organization running, maybe I could save just one person.”

Dr. Johnstone built a Board of Directors from local recovery experts and advisors, and in October 2017, he established The Tides, a non-profit residential treatment program for women with Opioid Use Disorder who are pregnant, anticipating pregnancy, or recently gave birth. The program weaves together community programs to establish an intensive, residential treatment program. The program’s goal is to help the mother get and stay sober and maintain the bond between mother and baby.

It includes medically assisted treatment, substance use treatment, group care, psychiatric care, spiritual care, and many other tools to help these women stay off of drugs. Most importantly, perhaps, Tides employs a team of professionals who believe the women can recover and take care of their babies.

Intersection

In 2018, Krista Turner returned to NHRMC with another bout of endocarditis. At age 29, she was pregnant and in poor health. After 15 years of addiction, she was nearly as tired as she was sick.

The NHRMC medical team nursed her back to stability again. For the 11th time, a substance abuse counselor visited Krista to see if she would enroll in treatment. This time, she let him in.

Krista listened to the options available to her and realized that the lifeline being presented to her might truly be her last chance at surviving addiction. Plus, she had a baby to consider.

“There was a big change in her disposition,” said Mullis, the substance abuse counselor. “Normally she just blew me off, but this time she sat up and said she wanted to get better.”

Knowing her history of attempted elopement, Krista asked to be labeled as an involuntary commitment. That meant that a sitter would stay in her room at all times to ensure that she didn’t attempt to run away from her room and her needed medical care.

Mullis’ work is part of Code Outreach Safety Team, an NHRMC program designed to treat patients with Substance Use Disorder. The program includes substance abuse counseling through weekly meetings, regular appointments with social workers, pain management, and alternative therapies such as yoga and music therapy. A significant part of the program is connecting the patients to resources outside the hospital where they can continue to receive help after discharge. If patients can be connected to an external doctor, they stand a better chance of staying sober.  

Krista enrolled in the Tides program, where she met Dr. Johnstone. Despite Krista’s fragile state and regrettable past, Dr. Johnstone gave her a sense of hope and the reassurance that he truly believed she could recover from addiction and be present in her baby’s life.

“Our purpose is to keep the mother-baby unit intact,” Dr. Johnstone said. “Our communities' foster family programs are overburdened, so we want to keep the baby with mom, or in a supervised kinship, where mom has supervised visits. We want the baby to breastfeed, feel mom’s skin and hear mom’s voice.”

Krista had faced the challenges of sobriety before, usually from inside a jail cell. So, she knew the anguish she would have to endure. But with a new outlook borne of dedication to her baby and desperation in her own life, Krista was determined to turn her life around.

The postpartum stage is particularly tough for recovering moms, Dr. Johnstone said, because postpartum depression can trigger and intensify cravings.

“That’s why we can’t stop treating these women a few weeks after they deliver their babies,” Dr. Johnstone said.

The Tides Program refers patients to NHRMC - Coastal Family Medicine to enable program participants to continue care for mothers and babies.

As part of her treatment in the Tides program, Krista was prescribed buprenorphine, which stimulates opioid receptors in the brain without providing a “high.” Subutex (the brand name of buprenorphine) poses its own challenges, so Krista will have to continue Subutex indefinitely, slowly taper her use, or face withdrawal.

Recovery Advocate

Since giving birth to Raelyn, Krista has avoided drugs, an accomplishment she never envisioned when she was an addict lying, stealing and prostituting to get her next fix. She is now closing in on one year of recovery.

Krista Raelyn 600

In addition to being a proud mom, she has adopted a dog, reclaimed her driver’s license and started painting as a hobby – all because of her sobriety.

As she works through recovery, she has spoken openly about her past – detailing the darkness of her childhood and subsequent addiction in a January Facebook Live interview with motivational speaker Earle Van that reached more than 6,000 views and received more than 900 comments. In February, public radio station WHQR interviewed her for a piece about addiction and recovery.

“I want to help take away the stigma of recovery,” Krista said. “I want to help others who are struggling with some of the same things I went through.”

This openness signals a shift from shame and denial to ownership of addiction. As addicts openly form recovery support groups, they are trying to change public perception.

Dr. Johnstone is among those who have had a change of heart.

“Three years ago, I was on board with putting these women in jail,” he said. “My colleagues say, ‘Boy, you’ve changed.’ And I have. I’ve educated myself about addiction and I feel more empathy and compassion for these women.”

Krista understands that others won’t easily forgive the lying, stealing and other acts of desperation that severely damaged relationships. But she sees the changes in herself and believes that others can take the same steps to repair relationships and overcome their past.

She’s in training to become a peer counselor for those with Substance Use Disorder.

“If I see someone in recovery who needs help, I will do whatever I can for them,” she said. “Somebody has to believe in them for them to be successful.”

For her, it was Dr. Johnstone.

“He saved my life,” she said, and it’s not hyperbole.

Krista was certainly on a dangerous path, and her health was deteriorating rapidly. Still, Dr. Johnstone won’t take all the credit.

“She saved her own life,” he said. “She chose to begin recovery. We are here to make sure she has the resources to be successful. Watching people like Krista reach milestones gives me hope and faith.”

 

TIDES

Dr. William Johnstone expressed his thanks to the volunteers and advisors of Tides, for working to help these mothers overcome their addictions.

Volunteers

  • Elizabeth Harris (Board member/officer)
  • Martin Greene
  • Mary Heintz

Advisors

  • Frankie Roberts (Board Chairman)
  • Kenny House (Board)
  • John Thorpe (Board)
  • Hendree Jones
  • Scott Whisnant (Board)

Info@TidesWilmington.org; 910.372.4020

Categories: Patient Stories
This story was totally amazing! Great work and a real heart warming story! I hope Krista continues to tell her story as she is an inspiration to everyone and she will make a difference in the lives of many others. Thank you Dr. Johnstone! Please continue your great work!
I have known krista since she was just a sweet little girl around 3 and I have seen the journey she has traveled. I am so proud of her that she has chose to live and turn her life around for the best.I love you krista. God bless you
This is an amazing program. I wish there were more like it. Subutex is a miracle drug that has a horrible stigma attached to it. I have been sober 4 years and have accomplished so much because I chose to get sober and Subutex helped. Pharmacies, doctor's and even other people in recovery still look down on Subutex users. Proud of Krista and thankful for the doctor. Education about addiction and Subutex is the key.
I heard Krista’s amazing story of recovery on a FB live. I have since become her Facebook friend. She is a motivational speaker, poet and artist. I thank God for her, she proves there is hope for the hopeless and EVERY life out there matters!
Thank you Krista for all you do and may God just bless your socks off! XO
I was in a relationship with krista for years and married her and I’m the father of her first born son, Cameron! Krista has made an amazing turn around and I as well as our son can’t b more happy to have her back in his life! Congratulations krista I’m proud of yu and your accomplishments! I mean it too
Mrs. Krista.. I don't know you but after reading your story, my heart has truly been blessed. You are an amazing woman.. You are proof that no matter what life throws at you, "YOU CAN" overcome it. Be blessed my dear and please continue the good work and may God continue to bless your journey..:)
She is such a inspiration to a lot of people in my group. They relate to what she has been though and the line she is walking now. We wish her all the best from South Africa and we are behind her 100%
We have a niece who is a heroin addict. She alienated everyone in our family with her lying, stealing and horrible behavior. She became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful little girl who had to endure the pain of withdrawal. Krista's story is inspiring and I pray my niece can find a program like Tides. The gap is never too big to build a bridge and hopefully one day we can restore our relationship. Thank you for sharing this story!
Krista, what an amazing story of hope, healing and inspiration! Your bravery to share a very difficult life story speaks volumes. May God continue to bless you as you take time to pour into others that are enduring the same struggles that you have in the past. Thank you to Dr. Johnstone, the volunteers and advisors for your willingness to help in the TIDES program to restore the lives of these ladies.
Great story! As the nation becomes more and more divided it's rewarding to hear stories like this. I am a firm believer that once person can identify the need for help and seek help redemption is possible! After 17 in ministry I have seen the hopeless change once given the chance.
News like this that bring joy in my heart. Knowing there is good people out there willing to help others. Letting them know that there is peace, joy, love and hope and the end of a rocky road. Continue to do that which God put in your all heart to do. I thank God for all of you. Thank God for Krista's not backing down this time. Knowing that you are so beautiful inside and outside. You are a "Queen."
It is great that this young woman is not using illegal drugs anymore. However, this part of her story, "...so Krista will have to continue Subutex indefinitely, slowly taper her use, or face withdrawal." is deeply problematic. Hopefully some day, she will find true recovery through some 12-Step program or by some other peer support group.
Dear Dr. Johnstone: Would love to know what you think about Kraytom and Iborgane? Seems our Country is behind as well as Big pharma! Thanks for all u do.

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