Pastor puts human face on Oklahoma's opioid epidemic
NORMAN — During one of the darkest hours of his life, Norman youth pastor John McGregor took a syringe intended for horses and used it to shoot heroin into his body.
McGregor, 34, said his downward spiral began years earlier when he obtained a prescription for Lortab and took his first opioid pill. He never envisioned the depths to which he would plunge, he said.
McGregor told his emotional story from the witness stand Friday during Day 9 of a trial in Cleveland County District Court where Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries have been accused of helping create a public nuisance through false or misleading advertising of their opioid painkillers.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has accused the companies of helping cause thousands of Oklahoma overdose deaths and addictions.
Much of Friday's testimony was about numbers and statistics.
In 2017, enough opioids were dispensed in Oklahoma for every adult in the state to have the equivalent of 156 hydrocodone 10 mg tablets, Claire Nguyen, an administrative program manager for the state Health Department, testified Friday.
More than 6,100 Oklahomans died from prescription drug overdoses from 2000 through 2017, she said.
From 1994-2009, there was a 15-fold increase in prescription drug-related overdose deaths, she said.
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The rapid increase in the state's unintentional prescription drug death rate from 1994 to 2013 closely tracked the increased sales of various opioid prescription drugs during that same time period, she said.
While the statistics were thought-provoking, it was McGregor's testimony that put a human face on Oklahoma's opioid crisis.
McGregor testified he was born with a congenital health condition where his ribs were inverted and growing inward toward his lungs. At age 3, he had to go through a surgery where they broke his ribs and reconstructed his rib cage.
A couple of years after high school, the pain started getting a lot worse, he said. McGregor went to the doctor who prescribed Lortab.
McGregor said he took the first pill and the relief was immediate.
"Truth of the matter, I loved it," he testified.
When the pills ran out, McGregor said he started buying pills from friends.
Each pill would bring relief, but then the pain would come back — sometimes stronger than before and sometimes in other parts of his body.
Supporting his addiction became expensive, he said, adding that he once paid $3,000 for a bottle of pills.
McGregor said he ended up broke and homeless and resorted to stealing to support the addiction.
McGregor turned to heroin because it was cheaper, he said. His family had a ranch east of Norman and he said he used the horse syringes to inject the heroin because that would leave more money for drugs.
McGregor said the turning point for him came 5 1/2 years ago on a subfreezing January day. McGregor was with a drug-dealing friend on the west side of town when Norman police swarmed their car, he said.
McGregor said he jumped out of the car, ran and jumped a couple of fences and before falling down in a field. McGregor said he laid there for four or five hours and nearly died, before somehow getting up and making his way to an abandoned farmhouse.
A SWAT team raided the house and he was arrested, he said.
McGregor credits drug court with saving his life.
He testified he has been clean and sober for more than five years now, has his family back and is a church youth pastor and Norman businessman.
In response to questions from a Johnson & Johnson attorney, McGregor testified that none of the opioids he took were brands manufactured by Johnson & Johnson. There had been previous testimony that Johnson & Johnson provided the raw active ingredient for opioids that went into drugs manufactured by several other companies.
Testimony in the trial is scheduled to resume 8:30 a.m. Monday.