Part Three: Nurse Falls Victim to Prescription Pills, Kicks Addiction at Recovery Home
Drug addiction can affect anyone - including the people who are knowledgeable about the effects of drugs and are handling prescription medications that are found at the heart of the opioid crisis.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Drug addiction can affect anyone - including the people who are knowledgeable about the effects of drugs and are handling prescription medications that are found at the heart of the opioid crisis.
One nurse learned that the hard way, and she lost nearly everything before she was able to get her life back on track at Georgia's Healing House.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, NBC29 introduced you to people who fell victim to drugs and alcohol and how they worked to turn their lives around at this recovery home in Charlottesville. For the third and final installment of this series, we'll take you into the life of a hardworking waitress who traveled down the wrong path many years ago.
Gilie Garth works six days a week as a server at La Taza in Charlottesville. But 20 years ago, her life was very different.
"It’s terrible,” says Garth. “My record is terrible."
That record includes three felonies, eight suspended license convictions, three shoplifting charges, several other misdemeanors, and the loss of her career as a nurse.
“I felt that I had lost such a huge part of my identity,” says Garth. “There just wasn't a reason to try anymore.”
Garth was working at a nursing home in Charlottesville when her life took a turn for the worse.
“My husband, when he was 30 - which was about a year into our marriage - was diagnosed with terminal cancer," says Garth.
Garth was 28 at the time, with a son who wasn't even a year old.
“It was the catalyst that led me down the really hard road of addiction," says Garth.
She says her coworker in charge of distributing medication noticed she was having a hard time getting through the work day.
“She said, ‘why don't you come back here and I'll have something for you,’” says Garth. “And she handed me two pills and they were Percocets. I knew exactly what they were, but I asked her what they were and she said 'just shut up and take 'em.'"
That's when her road to addiction began.
“Oh my god, it was like I had - I had found the answer to every problem I ever thought I ever had," says Garth. "My next thought was I need to find a way to get my medication nurse to give me more."
Garth kept up the act of pretending like she needed pills to do her job for six months until she finally stopped lying to herself. She got together with her friend who’d been providing her with the drugs and came clean.
“We both sat down and discussed the fact that we were drug addicts and we liked the way the drugs made us feel and we, you know, colluded together to pilfer these drugs from work,” says Garth.
Whenever a patient died or left the facility, it was Garth's responsibility in her position at the nursing home to call the pharmacist, fill out the appropriate paperwork, and destroy the medication.
But she started to do the opposite.
“I took those medications and destroyed the evidence,” says Garth. “I destroyed the paperwork."
Eventually, the nursing home picked up on what she was doing. Her employers suspended her license and gave her a chance to get clean.
She took the opportunity to try to kick her addiction, but her efforts didn’t stick.
“I actually overdosed on the job with a very large amount of my patient's fentanyl and they found me in the bathroom in a pool of blood with a needle in my arm," says Garth.
After that incident, she lost her job, her license, and her access to drugs.
So, she went to a doctor.
“He left the room one time, and I swiped a couple of prescription pads from him,” says Garth.
She did this for nine months before she was caught and received her first felony charge.
“Between the years of 2002 and 2007 my life consisted of jail, treatment, or smoking crack," says Garth.
In 2007, Garth faced a divorce. Her husband, who was still coping with cancer, raised their son. She was newly invigorated to kick the habit at this point, but she says she needed the drugs to feel normal.
It wasn’t until she was caught driving on a suspended for the eighth time and had to spend a month in jail that she finally began to head down the path toward recovery.
Since she couldn’t get access to the drugs she was addicted to while she was in jail, she went through a forced detox and was often sick as a result. When she got out, she was determined to stay clean.
"I just wanted something different and better," says Garth.
She read a lot, spent time in the library looking for jobs, and finally found her way to Georgia's Healing House.
“This house has been life-saving to me," says Garth.
She lived there for 18 months, got a job at La Taza, and regularly went to 12-step meetings.
“When we pass milestones in recovery, people routinely ask you - it's kind of a tradition - 'how did you do it?' and people who are successful in their recovery will relay that their recovery program became a part of their life," says Dorothy Tompkins, who founded the house.
Garth has since moved out and now lives on her own, and she’s been clean for almost three years.
"I dropped my head, because I couldn't believe it,” says Garth. “I couldn't believe after 14 years that I was gonna get a second chance."
Garth is also celebrating another victory: she got her nursing license back.
But even though Garth has accomplished many things since her days as an addict, she still sees her future as a nurse as uncertain.
“They see two applicants, they see me, I may be more qualified but let’s take the one that doesn't have the addiction issues and the history,” says Garth. “And I understand all that, I do. But, I have to hope that somebody’s willing to give me a second chance - and everybody loves a comeback story."
Georgia's Healing House is currently in the middle of a capital campaign.
It’s called the Hope Heals Campaign, and it got its name based on the stories from the many women who have sought out help to kick their addictions and have relied on hope to get through recovery. If you're interested in donating to the campaign, click here.