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tv   This Is Life With Lisa Ling  CNN  December 26, 2014 7:00pm-8:01pm PST

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salt lake city, utah was founded by the mormon church. be a utopia of clean living and family values. >> we believe our body is a temple and should treat it as such. >> there are things we're taught by the mormon church not to do. there are thai de-- there are ideals we strive for. >> the population of the state of utah is mostly mormon, a faith that discourages drinking, smoking and drug use. but over the past few years, it's been rocked by something unexpected. >> oh, we don't want you guys to
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come here. >> unplug the phone. >> damn it. >> and it's taking place behind closed doors. >> i am sorry, mom and dad. >> people are going to do everything they can to hide it. >> prescription pill addiction. it's a problem everywhere, but it's taking a special toll here in utah. >> beautiful area. >> wow. and does your work bring you here often? >> this is where i do the majority of my work. it's the oxycontin that seems to be a big hit. >> more people are dying from pill overdoses in utah than almost any other state in the u.s. >> you know, i'll never forget that first oxycontin i took. it was like a miracle cure. >> and we're here to find out why. ♪
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utah is one of the safest states in the nation. it's scenic and affluent. and yet, people are dying at alarming rates from prescription pill abuse. this isn't exactly the kind of area where you'd expect a lot of drug activity to be taking place, but we're told it's everywhere. it's just hard to get people to talk about it openly on camera, but a woman here and her daughter have agreed to tell us
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about the secrets that her family have been keeping for years. >> there are things that we're taught in the mormon church not to do. drinking and smoking. you know, there are some ideals that we strife for. get married. you know, multiply and replenish the earth. there's that pressure to be perfect. and since we don't drink, there's always the pills that we don't talk about. >> cathy wants to talk about the pills. she's been wrestling with
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sobriety after long-term abuse with painkillers. a leader in her church, she's not exactly the face you'd expect to see representing drug addiction, and neither is her daughter shannon. shannon is just recently clean herself. mother and daughter both addicted, both tired of the secrecy. >> how bad would you say the problem is here in utah? >> i think it's worse than what people realize. >> and why do you say that? >> because i know a lot of people are like me. they want to keep it secret. there's this pressure to be perfect. >> what was it like to grow up here? >> we were very active members of the church and had a good childhood. i never smoked or drank or did anything like that. >> never in your whole life, you never did any of that stuff. >> no. i didn't. >> what happened. >> well, just a few years ago i was rollerblading, and i twisted my ankle really bad. the doctor gave me some painkillers. i started taking them, thinking
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it's like medicine. >> how quickly would you say you spiralled into addiction? >> oh, it, i would say within a few weeks. i found some websites where you could order painkillers online. and have them delivered. and i just kept taking them. >> how did the drugs make you feel? >> they make you feel like everything's okay and you can manage everything. which leads to feeling like they're necessary to get through your daily life. >> how hard was it to hide that from everyone? >> it was absolutely necessary in my mind. i was worried about the shame of it. having this weakness.
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it's not so much the church putting it on people, but it's people getting that idea that there's a certain standard that they've got to live up to. you know, heaven forbid if there's a problem in your life. you're not going to talk about it. >> you know, it's interesting because i didn't know the whole story until now. >> really? >> yeah. >> i never really talked about it. >> cathy kept her addiction a secret. and eventually, she added a few more drugs to her roster, methadone. it added to something she couldn't forget. >> some people came over that were friends of my husband's. i was so strung-out on tranquilizers, and i basically passed out on a chair. and i know that embarrassed him so much. and when i realized, you know, i was really ashamed of it. i went away for a few months, went to a treatment center, and
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i ended up staying there for almost three months. >> but while cathy recovered, shannon, a single mom with her own daughter, fell into the same trap, except she quickly graduated from pills to heroin. a few months ago she was arrested for driving high and lost custody of her 10 month old child. and now, at only 50 days clean, she's trying to sort out what went wrong. >> i felt worthless. i didn't fit in the box of being, like, this housewife. everybody else in church gets married and has five kids by the time they're 30. yeah. they're not telling you to do that, but how do you feel when you go to church and you're the only one that doesn't. >> do you think you felt pressured to fit into that sort of perfect box? >> i think you put that pressure on yourself a little bit. >> yeah, i'll give it that. i'll definitely give it that. >> what do you want people to know about what's happening in
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utah? >> it's deadly. my friend sarah is where i was two months ago. she's going to die if she doesn't get sober. because the kind of drugs we were doing, people don't live to be 30. she put us in touch with her friend sarah, but she is still using and virtually homeless. we are on our way to meet her friend sarah. she's been unresponsive by phone, which is not surprising. she's been using quite heavily, and this place where she's staying is really just a temporary one. so we're hoping she's there. so which one is it?
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>> the top left with the boarded up windows. >> so we're all going to go and see if it's okay with the people she's staying with. go. my producers head up to check things out, leaving the cameras below. sarah no longer has her own place to live. she no longer has her own phone, but some friends are letting her stay here temporarily. [ knocking ] >> you can try calling her again. >> we wait a few hours. but sarah is a no-show. late that night my producer gets a message.
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courtney, it's sarah, i finally found a phone to call you. she says she's home now, it's 11:00. and we want to go and try and talk to her while we can. the one thing i know about addicts, they aren't exactly the most reliable people. >> hi. are you sarah? >> no. we don't want you guys to come here. >> no. we just want to pick sarah up. >> sarah, come on. >> hold on a second. >> sorry. >> hi. >> hi. how are you? >> i'm lisa. nice to meet you. i hope we didn't -- >> no, it's fine. they're irritated about it. i'm so sorry, guys. >> like shannon, sarah is also a young, single mom. she says she's been homeless since her mother took custody of her daughter. she's not allowed near the family unless she's clean. >> how long you have been living in this place? >> about a week. >> we take sarah to a hotel where she feels most comfortable talking. >> so how did you get addicted to drugs? >> one time i was at a party, and this man gave me an oxycontin. and every day after that, my habit became like two a day. i'm like, 50, 60, $70 a pill. and then all of a sudden just couldn't find them anymore. and ever since that, it was just heroin, cocaine. meth. >> what were you like when were you on oxys? >> it's like a, you feel like super woman. it's hard to explain. >> can i ask what you are on right now?
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>> heroin and meth. once i wake up, i start getting high. >> and what happens if you don't? what happens to you? >> i'll get sick. i'll have cold sweats. muscles ache. you just, anxiety really bad. so i make sure i always have it. >> how are you supporting your habit? >> by selling pills, drugs. i mean, people call me for it. and i just know where to get it. >> sarah tells me she was diagnosed with a.d.d. as a child and still gets a monthly
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prescription for adderall. >> what kind of influence did the mormon church have on your life when you were younger? >> my dad is catholic and my mom is mormon. my mom has never drunk, smoke, done drugs. she doesn't relate to me at all. we don't relate to each other. >> why do you think addiction is so rampant amongst mormons here? >> honestly? i think they're depressed or hiding some type of issue in their life. you know? they just don't want to be judged by their church. >> dangerous, your life? >> oh, yeah. oh, yeah. a month ago i got jumped when i was sleeping, they broke my ribs, punctured my lung. i was in the hospital for five
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days. if i don't change my life i'm going to be dead or worse offer than i already am. >> we dropped sarah off. while we're winding down, her night is just beginning. since we aren't welcome where she's staying, we left her with a camera to film her daily life with addiction. >> i spent time with three people from relatively well-to-do affluent places. and all three of them, in the early part of their lives really strived to do everything right. they, they wanted to be perfect. but there's no such thing. that'll get your holiday bell ringing.
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within the last decade, the number of pill-related deaths in utah has increased by over 400%. and this is the state best known for healthy, clean living, thanks to the majority of mormons to live here. the lds church was hesitant to
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offer an official spokesperson, but one local bishop has agreed to give us his personal views on the problem. can you explain what the word of wisdom is? >> we believe our body is a temple and we should treat it as such, don't take in things that would defile our bodies but take in things that are healthy and nutritious. >> so prescription drugs fit into a gray area with the words of wisdom. >> it does. >> there is a pressure here to be perfect. how do you respond to that? >> i think the gospel of jesus christ teaches us to become more like him. and so, to become more like him means to be as perfect as we can. >> do you get the sense that
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people in the lds church are concerned about being judged? >> i think people do have that fear. they're scared that their family will reject them or maybe the congregations, if they found out, they would reject them. i haven't experienced that. i think we're harder on ourselves than others are. your church leads the world in addiction. >> just to know my members are struggling with something like that, i truly hurt for them. i, myself, have lost a sibling to alcoholism. it was hard, it was hard to watch that. but i also believe that unless people want the help, we can't, as a church or a friend or brother and sister can't change them. >> sorry about your brother. >> it's okay. it ended up being a strengthening experience. and when people come in and say,
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you don't understand. i understand. i know what they're going through, and i don't want them to go through that. i want them to have their little brother. and, you know what? some of the people i work with, they are the little brother. and it's a scourge on our society. >> last year more people in utah died from prescription pill overdoses than car accidents. more little brothers and
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sisters, more dads and mothers. this is a new kind of drug war. and the front line is the neighborhood pharmacy. >> are you surprised that pain pill abuse is so rampant in this state? >> i am a little surprised, just because there is such a large religious community here in utah, but i think that people try to find some type of validation through their doctors that prescription pain medication isn't considered illegal drugs or illicit drug use. >> is there a typical profile of someone who you think is using drugs? >> there's not. a lot of times it's how they act. if they get nervous. if we look for patients that go really far away from home. patients tend to go to pharmacies where we don't know them. >> have you had those red flags raised often? >> yes. at least a couple times a week. >> utah is fighting back against the problem, hard. their new regulations on prescribing pills and new ways
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to track the abusers. but the crackdown has its own deadly side effect. when the pills get harder to come by legally, there are always the illegal options. i'm with an undercover cop who can't reveal his identity, but he wants to show me what can happen when an addict's pill supply runs out. he's taking me to a place right near the temple. >> if you're a drug user, it's only a matter of time before you end up in a place like this. the open-air drug area. >> we pull over to watch the action. the big product here is black tar heroin. >> what you'll see is you'll see a car pull up, a hand to hand transaction. and the car's gone in a matter of five to ten seconds. >> we're not looking for the players. we're looking for the amateurs. and soon enough, we found
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someone who may fit our profile. >> this is a guy who's not street smart. he obviously doesn't have a hookup. see, there you go, there's a hand to hand. >> he probably asked for something, right? >> let's see where they tell him to go. this would be your traditional pill head. you know, who's got to get something else. they are so intent on getting what they need. it amazes me sometimes. we were burned. >> we can go, we can go. >> this is definitely not a place where cameras are welcome. >> is this something you would have pictured in salt lake city, three blocks from the temple? probably not.
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we're two hours outside of salt lake city in a very rural
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part of utah. the population of the town is very small, and it's mostly mormon. sanpete county is one of the original settlements of the mormon pioneers. it's like going back in town, a place where people walk to church, where everyone knows each other. but this community is being shattered by drug addiction. last year the town lost teens, grandmothers to heroin and pills. ryan palmer is a church leader and has lived here all his life. just a few months ago his world was rocked to the core.
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>> we just, we found him right here behind the mini van. and we did cpr for probably four, five minutes while the ambulance got here. cpr's very grueling. you could tell i broke a few ribs. it's just insane that you have to do that to your own child. >> this is the neighbor's driveway where ryan found jeremy, where his friends left him after he overdosed on morphine pills. >> have you been back here since? >> driven by. this is the scene of the horrific part of what we had to deal with. >> this is the last place you saw your son? >> yeah. we farm. and jeremy would have been the fifth generation farm boy. jeremy started hanging out with
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me in the shop from the time he was probably 6 or 7 years old. he was my sidekick. >> jeremy wasn't just the pride of his family. he was the pride of the town. star athlete, eagle scout. but few people knew what was going on behind the scenes. >> a lot of people would feel uneasy about their family's problems. >> people are always worried about what the neighbors think. the lds church lives by a higher standard. and if they're living their life in a way that's wrong then yeah, they're going to do everything they can to hide it. >> do you know when jeremy started experimenting with drugs? >> i know he did it his freshman year. he tried lortabs and xanax. >> where do you think he got the pills? >> his mother and i had had some surgeries, and we had some
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lortabs here. i know that other, his friends' parents had had surgeries. >> why do you think jeremy felt he needed those drugs? >> i've asked myself that question 100 times or more. jeremy was taught the word of wisdom. jeremy was a star athlete. jeremy took care of himself, where that changed, i'm not exactly sure. i think kids think that they're never going to be the one that dies. >> in a town with little alcohol use, pills were what was available. and what started as youthful experimentation grew into something much worse. >> he was defiant to authority. he became belligerent, and we could see through into those dimples and those beautiful eyes that, where's our boy, you know? >> after high school, jeremy came to work in the family business, and the problem became harder to ignore. >> this is the shop where we worked. jeremy worked with us. this is the, this is where all of the stuff takes place, as far
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as our farm equipment restoration. >> and so when jeremy was under the influence, how dangerous was this work for him? >> it's, it's something that you can't take the risk. there's just so many ways a person could get hurt. >> ryan tried to get help for jeremy through treatment programs. but as things got worse, he had to make a hard choice. >> if he is using, then he's a danger to himself. he's a danger to those around him. we determined that we would drug test him. and we did that. and he was not clean. and we had to fire him. crushed me. because, in order for him to
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respect me, i had to fire him like i told him i would. >> jeremy left home and moved in with some older friends with harder drugs. a few months later, ryan got the call every parent fears. >> my wife emily took the call, and it was just around 6:30 in the morning. and i told her, this was the call. this is the bad one. his friends went to a drug house and purchased morphine and whatever else. he got into trouble breathing. through the night, they had plenty of opportunities, six or seven hours, to get him some medical attention. they chose not to. and the next morning at 6:30, we found our boy dead under a sheet. dropped off as a piece of garbage, because they didn't
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want to be involved. >> this was the day you were fearing. >> it's the day i was fearing. then you go through that vortex of what if. what if i wouldn't have fired him? what if i wouldn't have kept him out of the house? i absolutely feel ripped off. but my boy's gone. but we know, through our faith, that we'll get to see that little guy again. >> ryan couldn't save jeremy, but now he has a new mission, to save others by breaking the silence.
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i've now heard first hand just how easy it is to overdose. ryan's son jeremy is gone. and it makes me fear for sarah. >> hi. >> the last time we saw her, we gave her a video camera. >> i just took a nap. i'm tired. i had, i stayed up all night last night. >> so she could do some filming of her life on her own terms. >> oh, god. >> roommates. messy. you can't ever clean up. money. mine. >> today she's meeting me to hand off the footage. >> hey, sarah.
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>> hi. >> how are you doing? >> good. how are you? >> good. were you able to shoot anything? >> yes, actually i did. been kind of fun. >> what's been going on with you? >> just roommate drama. >> really? >> yeah. >> i just kind of can't imagine what that's like not knowing where you're staying week to week. >> it's tough. there have been points where we've just had it. calling my parents, begging them just to help, but just kind of have to suck it up and deal with it. my own, you know. >> do you like your life? >> no. i'm not happy at all. at all. >> people say that addicts, they have to want to stop. do you want to?
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>> i want to stop more than you know. i've been in and out of jail. i've lost everything. >> what do you need, sarah? >> i wish i had my parents. i wish i had my daughter. maybe it's too late, you know? last time i saw her, she's gotten so big. she's, she just wants me to see how much she's grown and how much she's learned, and i can't believe i've missed so much. there's some times when i just want to scream out where's my mom, you know? i'm 26 years old, and i just want a hug from my mom. how hard is that? >> still a lot of life ahead of you, you know? you're only 26. >> i know. >> it's kind of a great time
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right now to put it all behind you. >> i want to so bad, you know. >> all the heroin's doing is like covering up your feelings. it's okay to feel like shit, you know? you know what i mean? >> i know. >> it's okay to feel that way, otherwise you'll never get help. >> sarah seems so ready to quit. >> i'm an addict, you know what i mean? i am. >> tonight i've been invited to an addiction recovery meeting. i figure there's no harm in asking. >> i'm going to a 12-step program at the church. i'd like to take you with me. but you wouldn't want to go, would you? >> yeah. >> you wouldn't want to go to tonight, would you? >> yeah. absolutely. do something to get away from this bullshit. yeah. >> we make plans to pick sarah up, but a few hours later,
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there's no answer at her door. meanwhile, a new door has opened up to us. for the first time, the mormon church is allowing our cameras into a very private place. the lds church acknowledges that addiction is a problem. so it's instituted its own 12-step program for its members. but the meetings don't happen just in salt lake city. there are 2,800 meetings all around the world. and we've been invited to the one here in salt lake. >> welcome to the recovery meeting. >> step one. admit that you, of yourself -- >> it's the first that was by alcoholic anonymous. >> step five, admit to yourself and the heavenly father in the name of jesus christ -- >> step six. >> the attendees are all members of the church, going through the same struggle of faith and addiction. >> i will never forget the first
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oxycontin i took. i was on a golf course. it was like a miracle cure. >> i wanted to be the good church-going soccer mom. and what i found is that pills solved that problem for me. a few years later i found myself with a needle in my arm, living in my car, got a divorce, had absolutely nothing. >> i can't help but wish sarah had come to hear that other people once felt just as hopeless and got better. >> my mom took me to my first meeting, and for the first time i have felt hope. i have been healed through this program. >> my savior, jesus christ is my best friend. this addiction is his. he paid for it. >> i'm grateful to the church of latter-day saints. i'm grateful to have a seat in these meetings, because i have earned it. >> the lds 12-step meeting was
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really emotional. everyone in that room shared such painful and candid details about their addiction, not just with each other, but for the world to see. i couldn't have done it. don't just visit new york.
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on one of my last dates in salt lake i have one more chance to get sarah some help. i was struck by some of the things that some of the women told. so i asked sarah if she would be interested in meeting these women, and she said yes, but she had to leave the place she was staying and she was staying in a motel. we were trying to reach her today. we told her we'd pick her up at 2:00, and she's been unresponsive to our calls.
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the first time someone answered and said she was in the shower. the second time a man answered and said she's gone to see her dad. as we get closer to the motel, we call her dad's office to see if she's there. >> hello? >> she hasn't called me back. >> so she's not with him today? >> all right. thank you very much. >> no problem. >> okay. bye. >> that was sarah's father's secretary. this guy told us that sarah said she'd be with her father, but obviously, she's not with him. the last place she said she was is this motel. so we're going to see if she's in here. [ phone ringing ] >> hi, can i have room 213 please? >> hello. >> is sarah there? >> she's not. can i take a message? >> yeah. this is lisa. we were supposed to meet her at this place at 2:00. we're outside. >> oh, um, let me see if i can get ahold of her, but i don't know, i think she forgot.
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>> yeah, we called her dad. she's not with her dad. >> she's not here at this second, but let me see if i can get ahold of her, okay? >> thank you. >> you're welcome. okay. bye. >> bye. >> we wait, then we try her room again.
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[ phone ringing ] probably unplugged the phone. damn it. so somebody's in there, maybe even sarah, but now they're not answering the phone. got a group of lds women waiting, and i don't think they're going to meet sarah today. >> hey. >> hey. >> how are you doing? >> good, how are you? >> i'm frustrated. how are you? >> hi. >> how are you doing? >> good, how are you? >> first of all, i feel bad, because i know you took off time from work and i had such high hopes for this. she was staying in this motel. and we sat out there in the car and walked by the room. we could clearly hear her voice. >> it sounds familiar. welcome to the drug world. you're basically living moment to moment. i mean, honestly, if you even
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live, if you feel like you're living. she's probably just hopeless, you know. >> when i asked her like, do you want to be clean. she said you have no idea. you have no idea. i mean, i truly believe she does. >> absolutely. >> are you surprised that this happened? >> no. oh, no. it happens more times than not, you know, you should expect that they're not going to show up. you should expect that they're going to use drugs and not get sober. because really, the miracle is when they decide to stop and get sober. >> the sad thing is, i don't know if we saw sarah for the last time last night. who knows if we'll ever see her again. >> we'll keep her in our prayers and hope that one day we will meet her. and that's, she has our number. >> back at the hotel, i watch sarah's video. >> hi. >> the one she shot for us and
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gave me that day at the diner. >> this would be process of getting ready for the day. >> this is what i do. >> the things we put ourselves through, just to forget for a little while. >> it's surprising to see someone be so candid and use openly right there on camera, but then i think i know what this is really for. >> i am sorry, mom and dad, that you had to see me like this. but i think that, i don't know. i don't know why i want you guys to see how i live, but i do. and hopefully later on, i can look at this and -- i don't know what i would say about it, but -- >> this is what sarah does three or more times a day. there's such a sadness about her, and to me, it seems like she's really crying out. she's addressing her mom and dad
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i'm stopping by cathy's house to check in. and i find her dealing with a real consequence of pill
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addiction. so cathy, what's happening? >> i'm, well, i've had this piano that i'm really going to miss it. but i need the money. i've spent so much on rehab facilities. >> are you selling a lot of things? >> i'm pretty much selling everything that's not nailed down. so, i've had a piano since i was a little girl. i mean, in one way or another, we've always had a piano in our house growing up. it's the first time i haven't had one. >> private in patient drug treatment can cost over $30,000 a month. cathy has spent almost $600,000 on both her and shannon's recovery. but it could be a lot worse. to our south, ryan palmer has
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lost much more. and today he's taking a big step. >> so what are you doing today, ryan? >> we're doing an assembly for the students of manti high. >> he'll be talking to hundreds of kids about jeremy's death, and he's doing it at jeremy's old high school. >> it's biggest crowd you've spoken in front of. are you nervous? >> a little bit nervous. the speaking is the easy part.
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it's just choking down the emotion that goes with it. >> but this is really important to you? >> it's really important. >> okay. let's go. >> i want to introduce mr. palmer to you. [ applause ] >> teens are bombarded with the "just say no" message, but this is such a different drug issue. i wonder if ryan's story will get through to them. >> can i ask you in the audience how many of you knew my son jeremy? okay. this is a picture of jeremy out in sterling for his eagle scout project. he refinished the flagpoles. we were pretty proud of him. now the rest of the story.
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this is jeremy being buried under those flagpoles he painted. my young friends, drugs kill. many of us think that because a doctor prescribed prescription drugs it's okay. problem is they alter your mind. they change who you are. your parents love you. your mom and dads worry about you every day. there's not one of you sitting in here that want to be missed. if one of you will say no after this assembly today, it will not have been in vain. thank you for your time today. [ applause ] >> the assembly today that ryan led was so emotional, and afterwards, i saw students approach him and i overheard them say things like, my brother o.d.ed and my family doesn't talk about it.
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it's an epidemic here, and it's been pretty shocking to hear how many people's lives have been affected by drug addiction. >> love you. >> love your efforts. >> finally, it seems people like ryan, people like cathy, people like shannon are feeling that it's important enough to start breaking the silence and speaking out. i'm grateful to sarah for sharing her story. i just, i hope i'll see sarah again. ♪ it's the weekend, and five women hit the road. like more than 10 million americans, we travel for our jobs. we're independent. we're providers. >> nothing is ever handed to you. i don't rely on any man to take care of me. >> wherever we go, we learn things. meet new people and hear their stories. >> i've met doctors and lawyers who want to tell me all their secrets. >> we get the job done. but only one of us keeps our


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