Firsthand Stories of Heroin Abuse
Statistical data on heroin abuse and addiction
provide one perspective on the growing, serious epidemic. While valuable, statistics can dehumanize the critical struggles faced by real people. PBS recently aired an in-depth, two hour Frontline documentary
that sheds light on a handful of people by telling their heroin stories interwoven with a broader view of drug policy and approaches being taken at both the national and local level.
Three stories stood out in the documentary. One of a suburban housewife, a second of a young father and a third of a suburban high-school athlete. Their stories are unique and sobering.
A Mother's Bouts with Pain, Prescription Medication and Heroin
Cari's story of heroin addiction might be a different one than you'd expect. Cari is a stay-at-home mother who became dependent on prescription pain medication. That is where her heroin story starts. Following the birth of her second child, Cari was prescribed Vicodin for pain. As the Vicodin ran out, Cari's craving for it continued, and she needed more.
Heroin Addiction Story - Cari
To get it, she would visit her doctor and fabricate a reason why she needed the pain killer. When it ran out, she'd create another reason why she needed more. The ruse worked, and worked well. From one doctor alone Cari was holding prescriptions that could be filled for hundreds of pills each month. And, her doctor wasn't the only one being fooled. She carried out a normal, suburban lifestyle. Her daughter noted that she was a mom that "everybody looked up to and wanted to be." In contrast, she was self-medicating with up to twenty painkillers every day.
The pills made Cari feel like a better version of herself. She believed the medication made her better in most every way. She lived this way for two years until she was out of medication and got a dose of reality from the same doctor that was prescribing the meds. How it happened was by way of a loved one - her husband. Faced with a sobering reality, she reached out to her ex-husband. He in turn spoke with the doctor issuing the prescriptions who responded by placing the blame on her; she should have been smart enough not to abuse the medication she was given.
That was a turning point. She promised to stop, but it was far easier said then done. The addiction continued. Her behavior changed, however. Instead of solely relying on doctor prescriptions, Cari started finding her fix wherever she could. She would rummage through her friends' and families' medicine cabinets looking for more. She would telephone refill requests in on prescriptions and say she was merely picking them up for someone else. Eventually her run ran out. A pharmacy called the issuing doctor of a prescription only to confirm that the refill was not authorized. She avoided prosecution, but did have a run in with the law. The result was her agreeing to in-patient residential rehab.
Although Cari's time in rehab was coined a success, her struggles with addiction continued. A decade after her becoming addicted to opiods she moved out of her home leaving her husband and two children behind. Her addiction progressed. Moving from prescription to street drugs she dabbled in crystal meth and then back to opiates in the form of heroin. It wasn't long until Cari was living in a drug house with over a dozen other addicts. Living conditions were poor. The home served one purpose to its residents: getting their fix. Cari's downward spiral had landed in a dangerous place of full-blown addiction. The suburban mother of two reflects on that time: "I lost it all. And it really didn’t matter to me. As long as I could get high, it was OK."
To pay for heroin she began selling, and selling in high volume. It wasn't going unnoticed by the local narcotics authorities. And, when Cari sold drugs to a narcotics officer, her most serious legal wrangling began. To avoid jail time, she opted into a methadone program and attended programs to help keep her off heroin, opiods and any other drug. Cari still struggles with addiction today, but is lucky to be alive. Her path often ends with a much more tragic event.
Reclaiming Fatherhood and Life from Heroin's Grip
Johnny's story shares similarities with Cari and many who fall victim to drug addiction. In his 20's, Johnny's future looked bright. He reflects on a more than decade old run with success leading up to 2012. He exuded positivity and had a work ethic and outlook that made success look all but impossible. Johnny had struggled with drugs in the past. But, he had been off them for seven years. He was in a healthy relationship with his now ex-wife, had completed college and was known as a top music producer in the area.
Heroin Addiction Story - Johnny
Then, he had a late relapse with drugs; this time it was hard drugs. Looking back at his life before taking hard drugs compared to what it had become. Heroin has become a full-blown addiction, and Johnny hasn't had contact with his son or daughter since just before 2013. He knows what he has lost. He finds himself thinking about the simple things, such as what they are doing in school, what clothes they wear or remembering how his daughter's hair smelled when he would be with her. The seriousness and direness of heroin addiction is evident whenever Johnny speaks of it. He desperately wants his life back. He wants to see and spend time with his children. He wants to have a productive job in what he is passionate about. Heroin overrides all of that, however, only servicing itself, able to retrain his thoughts on what it needs - more heroin.
Johnny's doctor recommended suboxone to treat his specific addiction. So far, it's working. Suboxone blocks the effects of heroin, effectively making it a null experience. After three months of sobriety, Johnny has been able to get a room of his own at an aftercare facility. It's a big step. He is in the process of getting his life back. He takes things day-by-day, and focuses on what he loves - music and his children. Johnny knows he's just starting the journey. His children are driving him to win his internal fight with addiction; toward the end of the program, Johnny states "there’s two kids out there that probably wonder if I love them or not. I wonder if they love me or not."
A Tragic Story of a Middle-American Teen's Heroin Addiction
Of all the heroin stories in the PBS special, Marah's is the most heartbreaking. Marah's parents recant memories of Marah before her addiction: "Marah was a born athlete. Everyone knew who she was." By the time she reached her teenage years, she was pitching at over sixty miles per hour. Her childhood seemed good by any account. Her mother worked at the local television station and her father stayed at home with the kids. Marah took piano and ballet lessons, but really excelled in sports. The Williams' family attended good schools and lived in a safe suburban neighborhood.
Heroin Addiction Story - Marah
Marah's struggles began with bouts of depression, anxiety, ADHD and an eating disorder. As the family searched for the right therapy to help her, they learned that she had taken matters into her own hands, medicating herself. One night before Christmas she snuck out of her house, drinking alcohol and staying the night at a boy's home. She was in the early stages of trying not only alcohol, but also marijuana. Her parents kept a watchful eye on her. Doing what many parents would do - light searches of her bedroom looking for any clues that alerted them to destructive behavior.
On one such search her mother came across a piece of jewelry - a locket. Opening it she found cocaine. Marah's parents weren't without the means to help their child. They found a treatment program that sounded good and opted for a longer-than-average stay: three months. It cost tens of thousands of dollars to send her to the intensive in-patient rehab program
. After completing her stay in the program, things were looking up. Her mother recalls that she seemed happy and appeared to be healthy again. They surmised she was still clean, no longer doing drugs. Unfortunately, the treatment program hadn't been effective. Marah was now taking OxyContin. Her family was alerted to this when she was caught stealing it.
That was until her father got a phone call from another parent from Marah's school. Marah and their daughter had been caught doing heroin in a bathroom. Marah wasn't opposed to getting help. She knew she was in trouble and asked to go into treatment. After a month of rehab, she returned. She worked hard this time, focusing on her studies and on staying off drugs. Despite her efforts, she relapsed. She confided to her parents that she had done heroin, but that she wasn't going to do it again. Her parents tried to help, but the unthinkable happened to their daughter. A few months later, Marah was dead. She had overdosed on heroin and was found still in the bathroom where it happened.
All bouts with heroin addiction are serious and dangerous. Marah's case is the most tragic of the three. What all these cases share is a seemingly happy, healthy life full of promise which somehow descends down a path to serious addiction.
If you or someone you care for is struggling with addiction to heroin
or any other substance we urge you to get help. If you're considering The Recovery Village, know that we are available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to help take that first step.