Special Reports

Hooked Heroes: Veterans battle opioid epidemic

Opioid overdose deaths quadruple

Special report: Hooked Heroes

A former Fort Bliss soldier overdosed on opioids in August and his family is hopeful their story will help save lives

Doctors are struggling to help veterans in need as an opioid epidemic sweeps across the nation.

"It is such a big deal, the surgeon general actually issued a letter to all physicians about addressing this concern," said VA Psychiatrist Dr. Kristen Glass.

The letter from the surgeon general, dated August 2016, requests help to "solve an urgent health crisis facing Americans." The letter states opioid deaths have quadrupled since 1999 and nearly two million Americans have a "prescription opioid disorder."

Dr. Glass says her role is to help educate veterans when they are prescribed highly addictive pain killers."We provide education to patients about what an opioid abuse disorder is and how to treat it," Glass said.

In 2015, more than 63,000 U.S. Veterans sough help from the VA to get off the highly addictive drugs. While hundreds of veterans in El Paso are still waiting months for appointments, Glass says they are doing the best they can to spread the word. 'We do see things moving forward, but change does take time," she said.

The same month the surgeon general sent out the requesting assistance, a former Fort Bliss soldier overdosed on opioids.

Kyle Aubrey Evans served in the Army four years. During his time in service, he was deployed to Iraq. Fred Evans, Kyle's father, says it was tough on his son. "While he was there, two of his friends were killed by IEDs" Fred Evans said.

When Kyle returned home, he was stationed at Fort Bliss His health would slowly decline. Kyle suffered from depression, PTSD, TBI and a back injury. The VA prescribed Kyle opioids to help with the pain, but he would slowly begin to abuse them.

"His addiction to the prescription medication was kind of steady for a long time," Fred said, " he was highly functional."

Kyle was prescribed xanax, zoloft, vicodin and ambien to sleep. "He would take massive quantities of the prescription meds," Fred said. "It ended up taking a heavy toll on him. He called me one time and said, 'dad I don't want to go on, this is too much for me, I am thinking of hurting myself.'"

Fred would leave Fresno, California to be with Kyle in El Paso for several months following that phone call. The addiction, however, was slowly consuming Kyle and the son the Evans Family once knew was no longer recognizable.

"He was not the same," Kyle's mother, Donna Evans, said. "He wasn't that loving person. He still cared a lot for people but it was a different type."

Donna and Fred said Kyle's hygiene crashed as the addiction worsened. Kyle wouldn't shower or bath, he would lose his teeth and would wear the same clothes all the time.

In an attempt to get better, Kyle sought outpatient treatment from the VA. "The last week of his life, he went to the doctor for the VA and he said, 'please do something for me, please. I can't take this depression' and the doctor waved him off," Fred Evans said, "(He) treated Kyle like he was med-seeking."

On the eve of Kyle's death, he would reach out to his father for help. Fred refused to let Kyle stay at their home, unless he promised to seek help from the VA. "He never felt like he was worth it or deserved it," Fred Evans said, adding "we couldn't make him go get help."

Kyle would call his mother that night.

"I asked him to call me in the morning and I said you're going to be OK, right? He said I'll be OK, mom." Donna went on to say that Kyle promised to call her in the morning, but the call never came.
On August 10, 2016,  at the age of 30, Kyle would overdose on opioids.

"I am not blaming the VA," Fred said, "What else could have been done for him?"

Kyle leaves behind two kids, a wife, two brother and his parents.

Kyle's parents are hopeful his story will help others struggling with addiction to come forward and request assistance.

"We loved our son and we miss him so much, he was such a wonderful person," the father said.

Kyle's father wrote ABC-7 reporter Evan Folan a five-page letter on his son. Click here to read the letter.

LINK: VA Treatment Programs for Substance Use Problems

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