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Established seller since Seller Inventory LQ This book is printed on demand. Theirs did not come from Ortenzio, at least not directly, but the supply of pills was exploding, due in large part to doctors like him who were overprescribing them. Ortenzio should have noticed what the pills were doing, to his patients and his community, but he was less and less himself. After his late-night encounter with Vicodin in , he had begun his own slide into addiction. By the late s, he was using 20 to 30 pills a day, depleting even the plentiful supply of free samples from the ubiquitous sales reps.
Desperate to get his hands on more pills, he found a friend he could trust, a middle-aged accountant and a patient of his. Soon a dozen or so trusted patients were helping Ortenzio. He knew he was out of control and needed help—even the amount of acetaminophen he was consuming was toxic—but he feared that seeking treatment for his addiction might cost him his medical license.
Around , he found a new way to get his fix. Ortenzio could plainly see that the claim that these pills were nonaddictive was untrue. He would try to quit and feel the symptoms of withdrawal. His patients, too, were terrified of going without. Ortenzio saw no way to break the cycle the pills had created for the people in his care. He never found a way to get his patients down to lower doses of narcotics. They rebelled when he suggested tapering; just cutting people off made them sick. Without good alternatives for his patients, he kept on writing prescriptions.
A ddiction and overwork had estranged Ortenzio from his wife and children. As Clarksburg declined, his wife moved the kids to Pittsburgh to find better schools.
In , after more than a decade of living in different cities, they divorced. Raised Catholic but without much feeling for the Church, Ortenzio joined a Protestant congregation. Ultimately, he found Jesus in his exam room. During an appointment one day, he and a patient, a Baptist, talked of his search for redemption. The patient knelt with Ortenzio on the linoleum floor and prayed for the doctor. Ortenzio marks that moment as his new beginning.
Chicago college student found dead in campus parking garage The body of Ruth George, an undergrad at the University of Illinois, was found in the back of a family car; person of interest in custody. Marks laughed remembering how she ribbed Dr. In West Virginia yesterday, a man was arrested for stealing several blow-up dolls. There is a convergence of the hideous and the divine. Our students come from all over the world.
He managed to taper off the drugs. A couple of months later, he was baptized in a deep section of Elk Creek, where baptisms have taken place since the early s. Not long after that, federal agents raided his office. They interrogated his staff and confiscated hundreds of patient records. The investigation dragged on for nearly two years. His children had to testify before a grand jury that they knew nothing about the prescriptions their father had written in their names. In October , prosecutors charged Ortenzio with health-care fraud and fraudulent prescribing. That year, West Virginians died from opioid overdoses, more than double the number of people five years earlier.
By , according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, physicians were writing opioid prescriptions for every West Virginians. In March , Ortenzio pleaded guilty.
More than people wrote to the judge on his behalf. He would serve no prison time, but he did lose his medical license. At 53, Ortenzio was unemployed. A temp agency offered him a landscaping job at the Stonewall Resort, where, as a doctor, he had taken his family for Sunday brunch. He worked at the resort for a couple of months, then as the janitor at a local community center before returning to Stonewall as a full-time groundskeeper.
He also found a night job. When the doorbell rang, he opened the door and there stood Lou Ortenzio, holding a pie. It took a minute before Dyer realized: Doc O was now a pizza-delivery guy. They felt very uncomfortable, felt sorry for me. I was in a much better place. Ortenzio eventually left pizza delivery. But the way he told me the story, the job was an important step in his recovery: Every pie he delivered liberated him. T oday, Ortenzio spends his days trying to atone. He does this through constant work.
There are places in and around Clarksburg where addicts can get help, and Ortenzio can be found at most of them. The shelter started with a few beds, intended for alcoholics and homeless veterans.
A neon-blue jesus saves sign outside has remained illuminated for all the years since, as the shelter has expanded. Today, many of its beds are occupied by opioid addicts. One afternoon, I met Ortenzio in a small, windowless office at the Mission.
Now 66, he is thin, gray-haired, and bespectacled; he dresses in a hoodie, blue jeans, and sneakers. He does a bit of everything at the Mission, from helping the addicted find treatment to helping them find a coat, or shoes for their children, or a ride to the probation department. Ortenzio is also involved with two newer initiatives, which suggest the challenges of repairing the damage done by opioids.
A wood-beamed downtown church is home to Celebrate Recovery, a Christian ministry founded in Orange County, California. Celebrate Recovery has grown nationwide due in large part to the opioid epidemic. The flock is about or so strong. One evening, a young mother named Sarah stood before the congregation to give her testimony. It featured father figures who were coal miners and truck drivers and a stepfather who molested her repeatedly, beginning when she was 8.
Then a life of illicit drugs, marriage, divorce, and addiction to prescription pain pills. The place these churches once held in this community has been taken by new churches proclaiming a gospel of prosperity, insisting that God wants us all to be rich. And by ministries such as Celebrate Recovery. Ortenzio coordinates the training of recovery coaches at the church, people who can help addicts as they try to wean themselves from narcotics.
Addiction, however, seems as present as ever in Clarksburg. At the Mission one day, I met a group of recovering young drug users. Several of them had started out on heroin but then turned to meth. In Clarksburg and many other parts of the country, meth is coming on strong, poised to be the fourth stage in an epidemic that began with prescribed pills, then moved to heroin, and then to fentanyl. Whatever the case, like the various forms of opioids before it, meth is now in plentiful supply in Clarksburg.
A couple of years ago, Ortenzio decided to open a sober-living house downtown, where recovering addicts could spend six months or more stabilizing their lives. In , more than two West Virginians a day were being claimed by opioids. Recovering addicts needed places where they could maintain sobriety.
Instead, the idea of a sober-living house outraged many in town. The principals of two local schools were concerned that the house was too close to their campuses. But Ortenzio persisted, and a bank eventually granted him a mortgage. Since July , he has run a six-bed home for men, with daily supervision and no problems—no spike in crime nearby, no complaints of loitering—reported so far.