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‘This makes me feel better.’ A daughter’s story



Graphic by Drew Landon Harris for the Vicksburg Daily News. All rights reserved.

Rachel Delaney* loved life. It’s not that she always had it easy. As the oldest of eight kids, Rachel had a tough childhood with a lot of responsibility.

My grandmother, she drank a lot,” said Rachel’s youngest child, Beth. “I was told she was a pretty angry person—just negative and mean.” Beth’s grandfather was also an alcoholic and abusive.

When Beth talks about her own childhood memories, though, her voice softens.

“She was a great mom,” Beth said about Rachel, full of life and love. Beth’s favorite memory is a simple one.

“She would have the window open,” she said. “You could hear county music playing. She would have dinner cooking.”

Rachel’s life took an unexpected downturn when she was in her mid-30s. That’s when doctors told Rachel she had rheumatoid arthritis. Unlike osteoarthritis, which is caused by normal wear and tear on our joints, RA is an autoimmune disorder, one of a large group of conditions where the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues and organs.

“It was just really painful,” Beth said. “She was always in pain. … She ended up getting really depressed.”

A hand crippled by rheumatoid arthritis. Photo by Doc James – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The National Institutes of Health says that depression is a common result of Rachel’s condition. With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system triggers abnormal inflammation in the membranes that line the joints (the synovium). When the synovium is inflamed, it causes pain, swelling and stiffness of the joint. In severe cases, the inflammation also affects the bone, cartilage and other tissues within the joint, causing more serious damage. The disease can also affect other parts of the body including the eyes, lungs and blood vessels. RA can lead to severe joint damage, limiting movement, and causing significant disability.

Doctors prescribed a cocktail of powerful drugs for Rachel’s pain and depression: Lorcet, a narcotic (aka an opioid) for pain, plus Ativan and Xanax for anxiety and depression.

“Once she started (taking the drugs), she was like, ‘Oh, this makes me feel better,’ and she just spiraled,” Beth said.

It wasn’t long before Rachel, once meticulous about her house and her appearance, began to let everything go. “It got really bad when I was around 13,” Beth said.

Rachel stopped cleaning the house. She stopped getting her hair and nails done. “She really just stopped caring,” Beth said.


A ‘road map’ to the opioid epidemic

In 2003, Rachel’s doctors started prescribing oxycodone, a more powerful opioid, for her pain. A 2019 study about the use of opioids for RA found that “up to 40% of patients with RA are regular users of opioids.” The study found, however, that the longer an RA patient uses opioids, the less effective they are for pain relief and the more likely the patients will become addicted or worse.

At the same time Rachel was using oxycodone for her pain, a newer, time-release version of the drug, OxyContin, was quickly gaining popularity among doctors. Its manufacturer, Purdue Pharma, promoted OxyContin as a non-addictive substitute for other opioids, one patients were less likely to abuse.

Photo from the National Institutes of Health

“A consistent feature in the promotion and marketing of OxyContin was a systematic effort to minimize the risk of addiction in the use of opioids for the treatment of chronic non–cancer-related pain,” wrote Dr. Art Van Zee, in his 2009 paper “The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy.”

“Purdue pursued an ‘aggressive’ campaign to promote the use of opioids in general and OxyContin in particular,” Zee wrote. “In 2001 alone, the company spent $200 million in an array of approaches to market and promote OxyContin.” Perdue trained its reps to tell doctors that the risk of OxyContin addiction was less than 1 percent.

Between doubling its sales force within the first few years of marketing the drug, to offering their reps lucrative annual bonuses of up to $240,000 and targeting primary care physicians instead of pain specialists, Purdue made a financial killing. From 1997 through 1001, Purdue increased annual prescriptions from about 670 000 and sales of about $44 million to about 6.2 million prescriptions and nearly $3 billion.

“By 2001 it had become the most frequently prescribed brand-name opioid in the United States for treating moderate to severe pain,” Zee wrote. “…and it became the most prevalent abused prescription opioid by 2004.”

Recently, The Washington Post waged a year-long legal battle for access to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, known as ARCOS, which the government and the drug industry had sought to keep secret. The Post and HD Media, which publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, gained access to the database as the result of a court order.

“It was disclosed as part of a civil action brought by nearly 2,000 cities, towns and counties alleging nearly two dozen drug companies conspired to saturate the nation with opioids,” The Post writes.

The database “tracks the path of every single pain pill sold in the United States — from manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies in every town and city … [and] is a virtual road map to the epidemic.”

Among the Post’s findings:

The data reveal the depth of the prescription opioid epidemic in every state and county in the nation down to individual pharmacies. In Mississippi and in Warren County:

  • From 2006 to 2012 there were 854,553,185 prescription pain pills supplied to Mississippi.
  • From 2006 to 2012 there were 14,787,270 prescription pain pills, enough for 43 pills per person per year, supplied to Warren County, Miss.


‘Please stop giving this to her’

“The pills would make her crazy,” Beth said. “She was like a zombie.”

Rachel would fall asleep putting on mascara. She would fall asleep standing up while cooking dinner. After one such incident, Rachel’s son told her she would never be alone with her grandchildren again.

When she wasn’t nodding off, Rachel would go out drinking or looking for more pills. She got a couple of DUI citations, Beth said.

By the time Beth was 16, she was the last of Rachel’s four children living at home. “I was taking care of her,” she said. Beth could see that Rachel was taking far too many pills. In one week, Rachel would go through a prescription meant to last a month. Then, she would buy more pills off the street.

At one point, Rachel began leaving Beth notes. “Please leave some money, I need to get stuff for the house,” Beth recalled her writing. If Beth left money, Rachel would buy pills with it.

From time to time, Beth would find solace with one of her sisters. “Anytime my mom was not OK, she would take me,” Beth said. When they were younger, Beth’s siblings thought it was cool to stay with Rachel because she would let them do whatever they wanted. As they grew older, though, Rachel’s children wanted less and less to do with her.

Rachel knew she was addicted. Beth remembers clearly that her mother called and asked for help to get off the pills. Whatever help she got, though, didn’t work. Rachel never had the support systems needed to beat her addiction.

“It was easier for her to numb everything than to try to deal with it,” Beth said.

Things came to a head one day when Rachel fell asleep and crashed her car into a mailbox. Beth knew she had to act. She called her mother’s doctors and told them she was abusing the drugs. “Can you please stop giving this to her?” she begged.

The doctors didn’t pay attention, dismissing her as nothing more than a hysterical teenager. They continued to prescribe the opioids that were slowly destroying her mother.

By 2008, the courts had taken Beth away from Rachel, giving custody to her youth pastor. Beth wasn’t unhappy about it, she said, because Rachel “was high all the time, and I hated it.”

“The whole week before she died, she had been calling for me to spend the night,” Beth said. Instead, Rachel went out with Beth’s oldest sister, who was an alcoholic at the time. The two went out on the town and had a great time the night before Rachel was found dead of an overdose. She was 52.


‘It is what it is’

Deaths from opioid overdoses continue to rise. The Centers for Disease Control says that two-thirds of the 63,632 drug overdose deaths in 2016 were due to opioids. Drug overdoses resulted in 70,237 deaths during 2017; among these, 47,600 (67.8 percent) involved opioids (14.9 per 100,000 population), representing a 12.0 percent rate increase from 2016. Roughly 41 percent of opioid deaths were from prescription pain relievers.

The rate of drug overdose deaths has not significantly changed in Mississippi over the past several years, and in contrast with national statistics, the rate is deceptively low.

In 2017, there were 12.2 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 persons in Mississippi. However, “While the majority of drug overdose deaths in 2017 involved an opioid, overdose deaths involving opioids are not included for the state because the data reported did not meet inclusion criteria,” the CDC states.

Recently, Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy acknowledged that prescription drugs make up the largest number of opioid-related deaths in the state.

Drug overdose deaths, rate per 100,000 persons, in the U.S. and Mississippi. Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse, CDC WONDER

“Typically, what we had been seeing for the last two or three years is about 70 percent to 74 percent of all overdose deaths in the state of Mississippi were opioid related,” Dowdy told WAPT. He added that doctors who understand there is an over-prescribing problem in the state have helped decrease the number of opioid prescriptions, and pharmacists are paying more attention to patients who try to get multiple prescriptions from different doctors.

When Rachel died, the autopsy showed tranquilizers and Benadryl in her system, Beth said. “She also had pills in her pocket.”

Beth and her family have come to terms with Rachel’s addiction and her death. “She was kind of set up to be an addict from the beginning,” she said, given the family tendency toward addiction and her constant pain from RA.

“I just wish things were different,” Beth said. “It is what is.”

Every year on Rachel’s birthday, Beth writes a long Facebook post using her mom’s story as a cautionary tale. “If you need help, get help,” she tells her friends.

Beth has been married for 10 years now and is raising three boys. On many days, she wishes Rachel had lived long enough to meet them. “She was always talking about grandbabies,” she said.

Asked what she wants to tell readers about opioid addiction, Beth was quick to answer. “If you know somebody that has a problem, don’t ignore it,” she said.

”Don’t let no news be good news.”

This story is the second of an ongoing series about the opioid drug crises in Mississippi, focusing on the people of Vicksburg and Warren County. Read the first story: “‘It was just kind of normal.’ A Vicksburg family struggles with opioid addiction.”

*At their request, we have changed the names and some personal details to protect the privacy of the family featured in this story.


Multiple vehicle wreck at Mission 66 and Indiana Avenue



First responders were on the scene of a multiple vehicle accident at Mission 66 and Indiana Avenue in Vicksburg Saturday evening.

Police and rescue vehicles were called to the scene around 7 p.m.

First reports say there are multiple injuries in this accident.

The Vicksburg Daily News will provide additional details as they become available. Please avoid the area if you can.

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Mississippi sets new one-day COVID-19 case record Saturday with 1,972 reported



Mississippi zoomed past the previous one-day record of new COVID-19 cases Saturday, with the Mississippi State Department of Health reporting 1,972. The previous record of 1,775 new cases was reported July 30.

Three weeks into November, the number of new cases reported is more than all the cases reported in October.

The state’s seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases continues to climb toward the numbers seen in this summer’s surge. Saturday, the average neared 1,300 per day. A steep rise in hospitalizations is accompanying the rise in new cases, threatening once again to overwhelm the state’s health care system.

Across the U.S., the surge is gathering speed. Friday, at least 198,500 new cases were reported, another record, and the seven-day average of new cases is quickly approaching 200,000 per day. Cases are rising in 47 states. Hospitalizations are soaring as well, with more than 82,000 patients.

Friday, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced it has submitted its application for emergency use of its vaccine to the Federal Food and Drug Administration. Approval is expected to take about three weeks. If approved, the vaccine could be available to high-risk groups such as health-care workers and the elderly before the end of the year.

In Warren County, MSDH reported 16 new COVID-19 cases Saturday and no new deaths. The cumulative number of cases in Warren County to date is 1,707, and the county’s death toll is 56. Although the county has been spared the huge increases seen elsewhere, the 14-day average has risen from about five cases per day to nearly 7 cases in the past few weeks. No deaths have been reported in the county in November.

Statewide, MSDH reported 1,972 new COVID-19 cases Saturday, the highest one-day increase since the crisis began, bringing the total cumulative confirmed cases in Mississippi to 142,401. The seven-day average of new cases is 1,294 per day, about 536 cases and nearly 60% higher than the seven-day average a month ago. The average is on par with numbers seen in July.

At the beginning of the crises, the age group with the most COVID-19 cases were those over 65. Now, most new cases are seen in younger people who are more likely to survive the virus than those 65 and older. In September, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi were 18 to 24 years old. That has shifted to a slightly older group. In November, the age group reporting the most cases in Mississippi are from 25 to 39 years old followed by those 50 to 64 years old.

MSDH reported Saturday that 15 more Mississippians died of COVID-19 statewide. The cumulative number of deaths in the state is 3,657. The state’s rate of deaths to confirmed cases is about 2.6%. This rate has dropped slightly as the number of cases are going up faster than the number of deaths at this time.

Deaths are a lagging indicator. While July saw the highest number of new cases since the crisis began, August saw the highest number of deaths. The highest number of deaths in any one day in Mississippi was 67 reported Aug. 25.

The deaths MSDH reported Saturday occurred between Nov. 13 and Nov. 20 in the following counties:

County Deaths reported Saturday
Holmes 1
Jackson 3
Jefferson Davis 1
Lafayette 1
Lee 1
Madison 1
Pearl River 1
Perry 1
Rankin 1
Tate 1
Walthall 1
Yazoo 1

Another six COVID-19 related deaths occurred between Oct. 31 and Nov. 13 and were identified from death certificate reports.

County Deaths identified from death certificate reports
DeSoto 2
Harrison 1
Marshall 2
Sharkey 1

New cases and deaths were reported to MSDH as of 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20. MSDH usually reports statistics on the COVID-19 coronavirus each day based on the previous day’s testing and death reports.

The primary metric concerning state health officials are the numbers of people hospitalized, and that number rose steadily with the rise of new cases in July and August. On June 6, the number of Mississippians hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19 was at 358. Hospitalizations tripled by late July.

Hospitalizations then steadily dropped through Oct. 3 when they began rising again along with increased cases. The last week in October, hospitalizations were levelling off; however, since Nov. 4 hospitals have seen a steady rise in COVID-19 patients once again.

The number of Mississippians hospitalized for the virus as of 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, was 965, about 80% of the late July peak of about 1,200. The number includes 863 with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 102 people with suspected but unconfirmed cases. Of those with confirmed infections, 225 were critically ill and in intensive care units and 99 were on ventilators.

Source: MSDH

MSDH has estimated the number of people who can be presumed recovered from COVID-19 in Mississippi. That number is 116,683 through Sunday, Nov. 15. It represents about 81.9% of the cumulative 142,401 cases reported as of Saturday, Nov. 21.

The number of cases in Warren County three weeks ago, Saturday, Oct. 31, was 1,576, therefore the estimated number of people presumed recovered in the county is 1,520, or about 89% of the 1,707 cumulative cases reported as of Saturday, Nov. 21. The county has an estimated 131 active cases.

These estimates are based on MSDH’s guidelines for calculating estimated recoveries when hospitalizations are not known, using the number of cases 21 days ago, less known outcomes (deaths).

The total number of Mississippians tested for COVID-19 (PCR and antigen tests identifying current infections) as of Saturday, Nov. 14, is 1,165,593 or about 39.2% of the state’s 2.976 million residents. MSDH reports statewide test results once a week. Without daily updated numbers of tests, it is impossible to accurately calculate Mississippi’s positivity rate (positive results to tests, seven-day average); however, the rate was 19.7% Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The national rate is 10%, and 5% or lower indicates adequate testing.

The total number of outbreaks in long-term care facilities was 173 Saturday, an increase of three since Friday. About 38.3%, or 1,400, of the state’s total deaths were people in long-term care facilities. The cumulative number of COVID-19 cases in LTC facilities is 7,384, about 5.2% of the state’s total cases.

A total of 26 deaths in Warren County were residents of LTC facilities.

MSDH is no longer reporting outbreaks in individual long-term care facilities in Mississippi and has replaced it with access to a database from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. You can access and search the data by provider here. The latest data available is for the week ending Nov. 6.

For additional information, visit the MSDH website.

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CDC recommends people not travel for Thanksgiving



The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended people not travel to Thanksgiving celebrations this year.

As COVID-19 cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with, the agency writes on its website.

Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.

Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.

“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people in your household,” said the CDC’s Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz.

More than 1 million COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States over the last seven days.

The CDC offers guidance having a safe Thanksgiving, including wearing a mask and practicing social distancing in addition to hygiene recommendations such as frequent hand-washing. Also recommended are alternatives to big gatherings such as sharing meals virtually and playing games at home with the family.

For more information, visit the CDC website.

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