How shannon got off drugs
BONUS: How shannon got off drugs
For Shannon McCarty, two things were crucial in her recovery: connections and timing. It started with timing – a key encounter just when she wanted to get off the drugs. And then it was the connections that kept her going. A police officer she could depend on. A sister who stayed in touch. A dog who gets her out of the house a few times a day. Shannon’s story helps us understand how solutions to the opioid epidemic can be incredibly personal.
TRANSCRIPT OF FINDING FIXES: BONUS EPISODE - HOW SHANNON GOT OFF DRUGS
(Click the play button at the top of this page to listen)
Anna Boiko-Weyrauch: Hi. This is Anna Boiko-Weyrauch, host of the Finding Fixes podcast.
If you haven’t heard Season One of Finding Fixes, we recommend going back and starting from episode one. You’ll like it!
If you have heard Season One, you know Snohomish County is addressing the opioid epidemic in a bunch of different ways. In this episode, we’re zooming in to the story of just one woman in recovery and how those big picture policy decisions show up in her life. And what’s worked for her to get off the streets and off drugs.
Boiko-Weyrauch: We begin at a dental office in suburban Lynnwood, Washington. Today’s a big day for the patient, Shannon McCarty. After years of smoking heroin and meth, she’s excited because she’s going to get her pretty smile back.
Dentist: Ok, let’s see. Open now? Close just a little bit. A little pinch here.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Shannon leans back in the dentist’s chair, and the dentist takes a look inside her mouth. He sees a lot of empty space—those are her gums—punctuated by clusters of jagged teeth, many of them are streaked with black. All those teeth have to go.
Dentist: So, what is planned now is to have all of your teeth out and then have new upper and lower dentures. Right?
Shannon McCarty: Yeah, whatever makes it easiest.
Boiko-Weyrauch: The dentist is doing this for free. We’re not identifying him, by the way, at his request. First the dentist numbs up her mouth, and the dental hygienist reassures Shannon.
Dental Hygienist: Good job. Good job.
Boiko-Weyrauch: The dentist says every one of her teeth is infected.
Dentist: These teeth have probably been bothering you for a while, huh?
McCarty: Oh yeah.
Boiko-Weyrauch: He pries each one out. Some crumble under the pressure of the pliers, so he takes them out one piece at a time.
Dentist: Turn to the left just a little bit? Thank you.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Shannon nods off at one point. At the end, he sews up her mouth. Producer Kyle Norris and I help her out to the car.
McCarty: It didn’t take that long.
Boiko-Weyrauch: It didn’t take that long! It’s 11:45 So—
Kyle Norris: An hour and a half?
Boiko-Weyrauch: Shannon is woozy from the numbing medicine and she has to bite down on gauze to make the bleeding stop. She can’t even talk—but she keeps trying to.
Boiko-Weyrauch: You gotta keep the gauze for one hour. Ok? So don’t worry about talking.
Boiko-Weyrauch: She’s in no state to take the bus 20 miles home alone. We don’t usually give people we interview rides, but we drive her back to her friend’s house where she’s couchsurfing.
Today, Shannon checked off one to-do. For her, this dentist appointment is one thing on a long list of things supporting her recovery. People are also on that list. Especially this person.
Inci Yarkut: Me?
Yarkut: I’m officer Inci Yarkut, I work for the Everett Police Department.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Officer Inci is on special team of police that reaches out to homeless people with addiction and offers them services, instead of arresting them. Four months before that dentist appointment, the officer got a call about some people living in a car. She walked up to the window, and saw Shannon.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Inci when you first met Shannon, what did she look like?
Yarkut: She looked like somebody that was having to live in her car. I mean she didn't look happy. She was not a healthy person by any means. And—
McCarty: I was really skinny.
Yarkut: She was very skinny. I mean she looked—she looked like a drug addict. To be honest with you. Very skinny, very pale. So to see what she looks like today. She looks healthy. She has a big ol’ smile on her face. I mean you can just see in her face what a changed person she is, and it's pretty awesome.
McCarty: It is awesome.
Norris: You’ve got tears in your eyes.
McCarty: I do. Cause I’ve been through a lot.”
Boiko-Weyrauch: Shannon has been through a lot. Starting from when she was a kid.
McCarty: Three words to describe my childhood. Yeah. Sad, lonely, maybe, and scared. I guess—sad, lonely, and scared.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Being an adult wasn’t much easier: chronic pain, mental illness, divorce, drugs. Shannon says she started smoking meth to deal with the long hours of working two jobs, then she moved on to heroin, too—got hooked. Long story short—after a few years she was homeless and miserable.
Shannon says she was tired of being dope sick. She was just tired—she didn’t want to do it anymore.
McCarty: The problem is, you're not going to quit until you're ready and I was so ready and I decided that I didn't want to die anymore. I decided I wanted to live.
Boiko-Weyrauch: That was when she met Inci, the police officer.
McCarty: And what happened was, the police showed up because, they said, they got a call that we were shooting up in the car.
Yarkut: I kind of explained who I was and what my role in the police department was and what our program was about and provided her with my business card and you know, said, “Hey if there's something that we can do for you—because I think there are things that we can do for you—and that we can help you, give me a call.”
Boiko-Weyrauch: In Season One, we talked a little bit about this kind of policing. In Snohomish County, the police and social workers are partnering up and going out to homeless camps and parks. Instead of arresting them, the teams reach out to folks and see if they want help.
It doesn’t always work the first time. Inci had actually met Shannon before, at a park, but Shannon wasn’t ready to take her help. And so the cops say they have to be persistent—they never know when they’ll catch someone in the right frame of mind.
On top of that, they keep in touch. They text. Yeah, police officers and people with addiction living on the street text each other. Shannon held onto Officer Inci’s number, and sent her a message.
McCarty: Oh I have my message from my birthday that I sent you. It says, “Hello Inci, I tried to send you a message a few weeks ago I'm not sure if you got it. I was hoping to set up a time to meet with you for your help on the stuff we had talked about. I don't want to go to jail or have a record as I am just the lost, depressed, (choking up) hurt woman who has made a few poor choices.Basically trying to end my life because I can't take pain and hurt anymore. I’m in so much pain. I have major depression, P.T.S.D., anxiety bipolar, and chronic pain. I have lost a lot over the last three years including my will, it seems. I don't want to be this judged person anymore. I just need some help and I am not usually one to ask for help, but I want to be me again. I am sorry and thank you for listening and I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you for your time. Shannon.” And then I gave you my other number and then you said—
Yarkut: I said, “Hi Shannon. I never got a message from you. I'm so happy to hear from you. I would love to meet and see if we can help you out. You can call or text me or come by the police department and ask for me. Please hang on—we’ll help you.”
Boiko-Weyrauch: Step-by-step. Step one—Stop being dope sick, stop using heroin. Shannon got some suboxone off a friend. That’s not legal, but it’s how a few people have told us they started to get off of heroin. Suboxone, also known as Buprenorphine, is a proven drug to treat opioid addiction.
Step two—Get addiction treatment, the legal way. With Inci’s business card, Shannon set up meetings with the police officers and the social workers. They helped get her an appointment at Ideal Option—the Suboxone clinic that we talked about in Episode One.
Step three through, oh, I don’t know, step 173? Set up a new life.
No big deal, right?
Boiko-Weyrauch: Okay, can you describe where we are?
Yarkut: We're at the Everett station which is the train-slash-bus station and we're going to get Shannon an Orca Card which will allow her to use the bus and get around.
Boiko-Weyrauch: We went with Shannon and Inci to get Shannon a bus pass—we call them Orca Cards around these parts.
Yarkut: Hi, how are you?
Woman: Good, how are you?
Yarkut: Good. So she filled out her application to get the reduced fare so—
Boiko-Weyrauch: Shannon gets her picture taken.
Woman: One, two, and three. You’re good.
Boiko-Weyrauch: And then we’re done.
Yarkut: Thank you.
McCarty: (Laughing) It’s a horrible picture.
Yarkut: It’s a bus card. I don’t think anybody’s picture would look good on that thing.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Ok, so what does a bus card have to do with anything? Setting up a new life when you’re homeless and trying to recover from addiction means you need a lot of appointments. Appointments to see doctors. Appointments to see counselors. Appointments to see people to get housing. The bus card helps her get around.
If you’ve never been addicted to anything—maybe it seems kind of easy. Just stop using drugs. What’s so hard about that? But, that's not how it works. It’s hard. Addiction is a medical condition. Recovery is hard. And, it can be complicated.
With Shannon’s story we really see that so many things can build on each other. Big pieces, little pieces, even really little pieces. Like a few loving words.
McCarty: And since day nine, my sister Sondee and she sends me a message every single day and it says, “Happy Day—” whatever I'm on. And I told her, I said, you do not know—or realize how much those three little words mean to me every single day.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Fast forward a little bit. We’re now 10 months down the road from the big dentist visit. And, this is exciting, Shannon has her own place.
McCarty: So, anyways, this is my apartment, I have a toilet and then just a bedroom. So, and then we have shared showers, shared kitchen.
Boiko-Weyrauch: February 2019, producers Kyle Norris and Julia Drachman got a tour.
Julia Drachman: When did you move in here?
McCarty: I moved in here August 31st. So I’ve been here, what month is it?
SeptemberOctoberNovemberDecemberJanuaryFeb—So I’ve been here about six months.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Shannon has a low-rent studio apartment in a building in downtown Everett for people who used to be homeless. It’s a single room with a bed, a couch, and piles of her stuff. Soup cans, a coffee machine, and a fridge. Oh, and she has the heat cranked up to 80-something. She doesn’t like the cold.
McCarty: Hi, buddy. Hi, baby doggy.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Shannon has a new dog.
McCarty: This is Axel Schnikelfritz Blackshear.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Axel was the name he came with. Schnikelfritz is a nickname and Blackshear is her boyfriend’s last name. Axel Schnikelfritz Blackshear chubby little mix—part chihuahua, part pug, part weiner dog.
As of this interview, Shannon has now been sober for 403 days. January 2019, marked one year without drugs. She texted Inci to let her know. And she went out with her sister to celebrate.
McCarty: It was my Year Clean Date. We went to Bingo. Didn’t win nothing, but we had fun.
Boiko-Weyrauch: And her sister still texts her every day.
McCarty: So, this is my friend Kenny.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Her friend Kenny stops by too.
Kenny: Wow, it’s warm in here.
Norris: I know.
Kenny: Jesus Christ. I’m gonna get some air in here. Hey buddy (to dog) I didn’t bring you nothing.
McCarty: Oh, you bought milk, thank you. He comes over and cooks and cleans for me and stuff. To help me out. Because I’ve been in such a depression.
Norris: Yeah, what’s going on?
McCarty: Because I put on—I got really depressed because I put on a lot of weight since I got clean.
Kenny: It’s ok. Tell ‘em about it. You’re doing great.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Shannon tears up and Kenny says, “It’s ok, tell em about it. You’re doing great.” Shannon takes meds for depression, and they’re making her gain weight.
McCarty: But I’ve come a long way. I don’t like all the weight I’ve gained, though. You know. Everybody says I look good but I don’t think I look good.
Norris: I think you look good. You’ve come so far! Do you think of it that way?
McCarty: No I just look at myself like a fat roly-poly-oly.
Boiko-Weyrauch: It really bothers her, and she’s working on her self-esteem. She started going to the YMCA down the street and meeting with a trainer.
Also, she’s lonely. She misses her boyfriend who’s in prison. So, Axel is her emotional support.
McCarty: Wanna go for a walk? Come on.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Every day, no matter what, rain, snow, or sunshine, Shannon takes her dog down the elevator and outside.
McCarty: You wanna go for a walky walk? He’s a good boy. Hi, buddy.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Shannon is waiting for a few more years for her boyfriend to get out of prison. They want to start a business together.
Compared to when she was on drugs and living in a car, Shannon says she’s doing a lot better. She’s come a long way. Life is still a struggle, but she says she’s trying really hard.
Drachman: Okay, take care.
Norris: Goodbye! We’ll be in touch.
Norris: Bye, take care.
Boiko-Weyrauch: Finding Fixes is a project of Investigate West, a nonprofit journalism organization working in the public interest.
Financial support comes from the Philadelphia Foundation, The Moccasin Lake Foundation, and listeners like you. You can make a tax deductible donation to this podcast at findingfixes.com.
This episode was created by Julia Drachman, Kyle Norris, and me, Anna Boiko-Weyrauch. Music by Jake Weholt.
Special thanks to Shannon McCarty for sharing her story with us.
And thanks so much to you so much for listening.