Writer’s note: This is a second in a series of interviews with seemingly ordinary people whose lives have taken a drastic course. They find themselves drowning in the addiction to heroin. The addiction didn’t happen overnight. According to the CDC, 12 million people in the U.S use painkiller for non-medical use. As the Department of Justice noted in 2000 “many OxyContin abusers whose health insurance will no longer pay for prescriptions and who cannot afford the high street-level prices are attracted to heroin.” This is how Jim’s story started and continues today. (Jim’s name has been changed to protect his and his family’s privacy)
February 5th, 2014 The Delaware County Heroin Task Force held a presentation for parents and students to warn of the dangers of heroin and its presence here in Delaware County and other neighboring communities. According to Sharon McKenna, Deputy District Attorney, there are common misconceptions about prescription drugs and that children need the knowledge of the addictive nature of these drugs to stop them from a “path into possible overdose.” Surrounded by photos of young men and women who lost the battle against heroin addiction it was a sober reminder of the danger that is right here in our neighborhood.
Jim looked like a lot of 19 year old young men, but when you looked a little closer you see the dark circles, the hollow of the cheeks and an uneasiness of just sitting still. He started and stopped sentences half way and has a tough time concentrating on anything for any length of time. He was withdrawn, at times very quiet and seems to watch the clock constantly. According to the CDC, these are the symptoms of abuse of opioids. “You know it didn’t start this like this” Jim tells me. When asked what he means by that, he states, “I didn’t think when I tried heroin I would have to have it. I never thought I would feel like my life depends on it. “Jim continues, “I was just a dumb kid who tried a few different types of things like weed, drinking but then I had surgery on my shoulder and next thing you know the doctor gives me a script for pain. It was awesome.”
What was awesome to Jim was that his prescription for painkillers actually made quite popular at school. “When I told a few guys about the script, (prescription) they told me I could make money off of them. The next thing you know, friends want to buy them from me. Now I figured if others wanted them so bad, what I was missing? So I started doubling up on my dosage. Big mistake. I ran out of them faster, but the doctor believed me when I told him the pain had been a lot worse than I ever thought it could be. He upped the prescribed amount. That only lasted for 3 months, though. My parents and the doctor noticed how fast the pills were gone and stop my prescription. They had me go to counseling, but really the taste of the pain MEDs made me feel good. I liked it, that’s for sure. “
In 2013, Delaware County reported there were 63 heroin related deaths from heroin. That is triple the death rate of only 5 years ago. According to the New England Journal of Medicine July of 2012, (https://cdf.nejm.org) in August of 2010, the maker of the prescription painkiller OxyContin released an abuse-resistant formulation of the drug to deter addicts from crushing it and inhaling or injecting it. The new pill had a dramatic effect: OxyContin went from being the primary drug of abuse for 36% of prescription-drug misusers to just 13% about 21 months later. The problem with that is that drug users didn’t simply quit getting high. No, they just switched drugs. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, as abuse of OxyContin (oxycodone) fell, other opioids moved in to fill the gap: drug users choosing high-potency fentanyl and hydromorphone rose from 20% to 32% and when asked, users about the drugs used to “get high in the past 30 days at least once,” OxyContin fell from 47% of respondents to 30%, while heroin use nearly doubled.
“Heroin for me was not a big deal. I wasn’t injecting it. You snort it or at least I did.” Jim goes on, “you have to understand if I wanted to buy a pill like my Oxys it would cost a hundred bucks. I get a bag of heroin it is sometimes 10 or max 20 bucks.” Problem was Jim didn’t like where his life was going. He was flunking classes in school, his parents and as he puts it, “his normal friends” noticed how he had changed. Normal friends were those who were with him before the drugs. His new friends were his drug friends. “They weren’t really friends, they were people who wanted to get high, who shared drugs and who wanted drugs. When I stopped, they disappeared just as fast as they came into my life.”
Jim’s parents and family finally confronted Jim about what was going on and somehow, he found the strength to ask for help. “I was lucky, my family was able to help me get in a rehab program for 90 days then I went to live in a half- way house. I had to learn to live without drugs again, it wasn’t easy. It isn’t easy. I am only as good as this day. This particular day. I learned that each day without the drugs is a victory against the drugs and a win for me.”
Today Jim is at home, he received his GED while in rehab and is planning to attend college this fall. He attends meetings every day and is on medication to help with the withdrawal from heroin and the other opioids. He is no longer that hollowed cheek, wild eyed shell of himself. He has put weight on and works out every day. He keeps himself busy and refuses to even look at those “so called friends” he had while using. “If I saw one of them walking down the street, I would cross to the other side so not to even look at them.”
According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2010, of the 38,329 drug overdose deaths in the United States, 22,134 (60%) were related to pharmaceuticals. Of the 22,134 deaths relating to prescription drug overdose in 2010, 16,652 (75%) involved opioid analgesics (also called opioid pain relievers or prescription painkillers), and 6,497 (30%) involved benzodiazepines. Nearly 15,000 people die every year of overdoses involving prescription painkillers.
Jim admits he was lucky, is lucky. “I still have a lot of work to do. Just because I am recovering doesn’t mean I am well. I have learned that I will have to work to stay clean, every day for the rest of my life and that’s ok.”
As heroin continues its destructive path in our society here are a few warning signs The Partnership at Drugfree.org,
• Drowsiness or lack of energy
• Inability to concentrate or lack of motivation
• Social Behavior changes
• Changes in appearance
• Increased secrecy
If you know someone who may be dependent on prescription painkillers, remember you are not alone. Visit www.theparternshipatdrugfree.org for ways to find help.