After crushing his leg in a mining accident, West Virginia resident Jasen Edwards was prescribed painkillers. He became addicted—and lost his job and marriage as a result. But today, Jasen’s on the road to recovery.
A Coal Miner's Story of Addiction and Recovery
Published: December 6, 2018
Jasen Edwards:West Virginia was the perfect storm. The whole state’s dominated by one of the hardest and most dangerous jobs in the world. Most of the old-timers that work in the mines work with pain. And then pain pills started flooding the community, and people that you used to know weren’t the same people that they used to be. I mean, it, it ruined everything.
Narrator: Jasen Edwards and his two brothers, Scott and Mark, grew up in Sophia, West Virginia. The town was near the Winding Gulf coalfield. Most of its residents were miners, including the Edwards family. All three sons would struggle with pain pills.
Jasen got his first prescription after crushing his leg in a mining accident.
Edwards: They cut my leg off the day after Christmas in 2008, and I was back underground mid- to late February. The first day I went back to work, I had to crawl everywhere or ride everywhere I went, because my stump was still too swollen to put my prosthetic leg on. A man hurts his back, if he is not back to work, they will replace him. And I could not have supported my family on the disability.
Narrator: Soon, a few pills a day could no longer stop the pain. But Jasen could easily buy more by visiting doctors and showing his artificial leg.
Edwards: The first time I realized that I was in trouble is when I couldn’t go to work because I didn’t have any pain pills. And it wasn’t because of how bad I was hurting, it was because of the sickness due to detoxing.
Edwards: Withdrawals will make your bones ache. I couldn’t leave the house, because I couldn’t take a step without soiling myself from the withdrawals. You couldn’t talk to me. I’d throw something at you or bite your head off.
Narrator: When opioids are abruptly stopped, stress hormones are released at catastrophic levels. This imbalance triggers the opposite symptoms of opioid use, including shaking, anxiety, pain and intense dysphoria.
Edwards: My wife, at the time, went to see her sister for nine days, and I spent $21,000 while she was gone, on pain medicine. I did lose my job. I didn’t care; only thing I cared about was that magical date on the calendar when I went back to the doctor.
Narrator:Some people recover on their own, but it’s rare. Jasen is one who beat the odds. He is remarried and delivers cars for his brother Mark’s business.
Edwards: I am not the man that I want to be, but I’m not the man I used to be, thank god. I try to become better every day. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed, but I keep trying.
Written, Produced, and Directed by: Sarah Holt
Camera: Stephen McCarthy
Additional Camera: Nikki Bramley
Assistant Camera / AP: Jaro Salvo
Co-Producer: Julie Crawford
Sound: Stephen Schmidt
Digital Producer: Sukee Bennett
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2018