Virginia family blames Minnesota bureaucracy for son’s overdose and near death

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WRIC) — A Virginia family is blaming bureaucracy in Minnesota for their son’s overdose and near death.

“His lips were turning blue, his face was growing gray, he was dying,” John Peniche recalled.

Peniche says he never thought his son Joseph would end up addicted to drugs.

“He was always such a great kid, we did a lot of things together when he was younger in the boy scouts, we made trips to Costa Rica, he was my buddy,” John Peniche added.

His parents say they noticed a change a few years ago.

“We began to notice huge mood swings,” said Suzanne, Joseph’s mother.

They said it was apparent Joseph was using drugs. Since then, the Peniches have sent Joseph to different treatment centers. A few months ago, with Joseph on probation, they secured what’s called a travel permit to allow Joseph to get treatment at an addiction center in Minnesota. They say the permit was good for 30 days. As the deadline approached the Peniches say they were told Joseph needed to stay.

“The treatment team at the facility said that they were very concerned should he return to the state of Virginia, they were deeply concerned that he would relapse,” said Suzanne.

Joseph’s probation officer in Virginia filed an emergency request with the Minnesota Department of Corrections to allow Joseph to continue treatment there. It’s a request the Peniches say was denied. Joseph was sent packing. Shortly after returning home, the Peniches say they found their son, unresponsive on the couch.

“I was digging my thumb deeper and deeper into his wrist and I could tell it was getting weak,” said John. “I knew I was losing my son. He was dying in my arms.”

Suzanne rushed to the bathroom to get Narcan, the overdose reversal drug. His father rammed it into his leg and performed CPR.

“I’m praying the whole time, God please don’t let him die,” said Suzanne.

EMT’s worked for 20 minutes and eventually revived Joseph. The Peniches posted his hospital picture on Facebook. Their story was shared thousands of times.

“It’s just another example of not only failure to communicate between agencies but how despicable things can get quickly,” said John Shinholser.

Shinholser with The McShin Foundation, an addiction treatment center, says bureaucracy has become a common hurdle for addicts seeking treatment.

“This happens all the time. When I say all the time, I hear about it weekly,” said Shinholser.

“It’s a lot of extra stress, it’s like having a well-planned family trip and then all of sudden your whole destination and your mode of transit change,” said Molly MacBean.

MacBean says she found out days before her son Andrew was scheduled to go from Richmond’s jail to North Carolina for treatment that his trip had been delayed. She says she had no idea why and it was a week before she got someone to allow her son to leave.

“When you’re talking about a child’s life you can’t take a whole lot of time and you can’t make too many mistakes,” said MacBean.

We reached out to the Minnesota Department of Corrections. They told us legally they couldn’t comment on Joseph Peniche’s case but do say they abide by what’s called the interstate compact. It’s an agreement amongst states with guidelines in regards to supervising offenders from other states.

“Hearing about the Peniches and their family, it’s heartbreaking,” said Attorney General Mark Herring.

Herring says it shouldn’t have happened.

“Here is a family that is incredibly supportive with resources to help and yet even they found out how difficult it was navigating the interstate system,” said Herring. “We may need to look at the procedures that we have in place to be more flexible because after all, we’re talking about people’s lives here.”

“It almost destroys a person’s hope. When you take a hope away from a person, an addict trying to get their life straight, you destroy them completely,” said Shinholser.

“Things have got to change within the system. If you have a relative in the criminal justice system you have to be there as an advocate for them because they will slip through the cracks.” — Suzanne Peniche

“He was a breath away from death, a breath away from death. Things have got to change within the system. If you have a relative in the criminal justice system you have to be there as an advocate for them because they will slip through the cracks,” said Suzanne.

Since his overdose, Joseph has been allowed to return to Minnesota for treatment and can remain there as long as he needs. Meanwhile, the Peniches say there is still concern another family could run into the same obstacles with a more negative outcome.

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