July 2018

Thursday Luncheon

Concern growing in Kansas about opiate use . . .

Substance Abuse Expert Shares Insights on

Struggles, Solutions

ubstance abuse and opiate use is

not a new phenomenon. 

The poet Edgar Allan Poe

frequented opium dens in the 1800s.

Heroin was a favorite drug in the

1950s. The 1960s brought widespread

use of LSD and marijuana. Cocaine

was a widely used drug in the 1980s.

And the 1990s saw widespread

methamphetamine use.

Today, opiates are being prescribed

for pain relief at a rate that far exceeds

the population in many communities,

said Harold Casey, the chief executive

officer of the Substance Abuse Center

of Kansas. 

“I was at a meeting earlier this week,

and learned that enough opiates are

being prescribed in Wichita that

everybody in this room could have all

they wanted, plus,” Casey said.

Casey spoke about the trend in opiate

prescribing and use during the 2018

Kansas Rural Water Association annual

conference’s Thursday luncheon. 

KRWA President Paul Froelich

introduced Casey during the luncheon.

He said his own sister’s death had been

caused indirectly by opioid addiction.

Froelich has undergone several

orthopedic surgeries and experienced

significant problems with his back. 

“I can see now how very easy it is to

get opioids,” he said.

Casey became involved in substance

abuse counseling in 1982, when he

went to work at a drug and alcohol

detox center, he said. In thinking about

how to begin his address to the KRWA

membership, he said he remembered

what his mother told him at that time.

“‘You are going to find two groups

of people to be the most difficult to

work with: the very, very rich, and the

very, very poor,’” Casey quoted his

mother as saying. “‘They have nothing

to lose.’”

In the years since, he said, he has met

countless people and their families who

have worked through substance abuse

disorders. In the previous week alone,

he said, his best friend’s brother had

died of a heroin overdose. He had met

several times with a family whose son

had been admitted into a treatment

program for heroin use. 

“They are worried about him living

or dying,” he said.

And the consequences of that

addiction, he said, are severe:

unemployment, divorce,

hospitalizations, domestic violence,

time in jail, overdosing, and accidental

or violent death.

An anonymous photo illustration he

displayed during his talk showed a man

perched precariously on a ledge of a

tall building, obviously in distress.

“When I see this photo, I see high-

risk behavior,” he said. “That photo

isn’t of me, but it is of somebody’s


Eight of every ten drug poisonings in

Kansas are caused by pharmaceutical or

illicit drugs, Casey said. Pharmaceutical

opioids are a growing cause of those


The synthetic morphine drug

Fentanyl, which can be prescribed for

severe pain that accompanies cancer

treatment, is now the cause of the

highest risk death from opiates, he said –

and is increasing every year.

Casey focused on youth drug use

during his speech. About half of all

young people using drugs are getting

them from friends and family members,

he said.

A popular party game gaining

notoriety is for young people to raid

their parents’ medicine cabinets for pills

such as Xanax and codeine, then

combine their findings in a bowl to dip

into, potluck style. These parties are

known as “skittles parties” because of

the colorful pills’ resemblance to the

popular candy.

“That’s been going on for years,”

Casey said, but Sedgwick County

Sheriff Jeff Easter reports that “it’s

happening a lot now.”

An irony with drug use among young

people, he said, is that parents often find

their teenagers more agreeable when

they are high.

“When they’re not using, they’re

irritable and combative,” Casey said.

“You get an interesting positive

feedback from the negativity of drug


He also shared his own story of his

struggles with substance abuse and

addiction. His mother helped him enter a

treatment program that worked for him

in 1981. He hasn’t had a drink since.


Harold Casey, CEO of the Substance

Abuse Center of Kansas 

By Sarah Green