SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s not the first risk you think of with gastric bypass surgery, but studies show the potential for addiction is strong.
We are bringing you the story of Jessica Pfau, who became addicted to opioids after being prescribed them after the weight-loss surgery.
At one point, her addiction switched to alcohol and then after failing the 24/7 program, she went back to pills, eventually becoming an intravenous heroin user.
For the last eight years, Jessica has been in and out of the legal system, but hasn’t been able to find the right treatment for her substance use disorder. She’s even come frighteningly close to death.
Jessica will never be the same woman she was before 2011, but not because she lost 200 pounds after gastric bypass surgery.
Jessica’s struggle with substance use disorder has changed the course of her life. Despite the high success rate of DUI Court, Jessica was not among those happy stories.
“I don’t blame DUI court at all for terminating me because I was completely untrustworthy at the time. I lied to them about everything. I don’t have any blame for that program,” Jessica said.
She couldn’t stop using and ended up in the Women’s Prison in Pierre for three months in 2018. She says prison set her back even further.
“It was some the darkest and worst times in life,” Jessica said.
The most difficult was being apart from her husband Greg and her toddler son.
“I can’t get the time back that I’ve lost. I wasn’t supposed to be able to have children. I was always told I couldn’t. So I know he was the only one I’ll have. And missing his life because of the choices I’ve made,” Jessica said.
When she got out, she gave up all hope of recovery.
Nothing was the same. There was no trust. I felt like I had let my best friend down. I had let my son down. I missed so many different things. I got overwhelmed and one day I got so overwhelmed, I was like, ‘Screw it. I’m not going to go to work today and I’m going to go find something and I’m going to use.Jessica Pfau
She hadn’t used for seven months. However on March 18, she bought what she thought were crushed up OxyContin pills.
“I knew what it could lead to, but the pull was so strong of not wanting to feel anymore that eventually I went and bought three little shooters of vodka, just so I could have the courage to go into Lewis Drug store and buy the syringes and use in the parking lot,” Jessica said.
Greg called her as she began to put the needle in her arm and asked her to come home. She remembers telling him “no.”
“Somebody walked out to their car and saw that I was passed out in my vehicle with a needle in my arm and called,” Jessica said.
Paramedics on the scene revived her with Narcan.
Kennecke: What was in the drug?
Jessica: Heroin, laced with fentanyl.
Kennecke: It was fentanyl?
Jessica: Uh huh.
Kennecke: Did you go to the emergency room? What kind of help have you been given?
Jessica: I was in the ER. And once they stabilized me, I was put in county jail on the new charges.
Kennecke: You weren’t offered any kind of medically-assisted treatment for opioid addiction?
Jessica: Uh uh, no.
A judge sentenced Jessica to two years in prison for possession, ingestion, and her 6th DUI because she had been behind the wheel of car when she overdosed.
“How to you prepare a two-and-a-half, or almost three-year-old that mommy’s not going to be here for a while? And that’s a heartbreaker for me, because Monday when I do report to go back to prison, then he’s going to lose that trust because I’m not going to be back. And what I’ve gained with my husband for the last seven months, it’s not going to just be put on hold,” Jessica said.
Kennecke: Will you get treatment in prison?
Jessica: There is no treatment in prison; not in the women’s prison. They are really short on counselors.
According to the South Dakota Department of Social Services, which provides treatment programs in prison, only three of the five addiction counselor positions in the Women’s Prison are filled.
“I don’t think we do enough in our prison system. If people are sitting there in prison, and not getting any help, I think we’re doing them a disservice,” Governor Kristi Noem said.
Governor Noem says 80 percent of the women in prison are struggling with addiction issues. Noem says she’s calling on the Department of Corrections to come up with a more comprehensive plan and follow-up care once an inmate is released.
Meanwhile Jessica says she has found help in her church. Members of the Sioux Falls Church of Christ and her family accompanied Jessica as she reported to jail to begin her serving her sentence.
“For me, 12-step programs and treatment alone didn’t work. I went back to church and the people in my congregation–the way they’ve reached out and supported and helped,” Jessica said.
She hopes that her faith and the support of her church will make a difference during her second stint in prison. In her final moments of freedom, there’s one person whose forgiveness she feels she has finally received.
“My mom at supper time last night looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘I would go for you, if I could.’ And for her to say that, I know things are getting better. I know amends are being made. She never would have said that to me before. For the first time in my life, I don’t desire to go back to that life. I don’t desire to be numb anymore. Feeling, whether it be good or bad, it’s not easy; but it’s completely better than any other life I’ve lived,” Jessica said.
She is hopeful that her story doesn’t end the way so many others’ have.
“She can’t. She can’t use again. It will kill her,” Jessica’s husband, Greg Pfau, said.
KELOLAND Investigates asked the Department of Corrections if we could bring our news camera to the Women’s Prison in Pierre and show what treatment Jessica receives.
Although we have her consent, a DOC spokesperson told us that request violates DOC policy and confidentiality standards associated with treatment.
We will, however, follow Jessica’s story through her prison sentence, when she gets released and we will bring you updates on how she is doing.