Addiction can take hold of anyone – it is something from which no person seems to be immune, regardless of economic or social status. It sends the best of people into their deepest nightmares. It is an evil that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go.
It is no shock to anyone these days that Southern Ohio is facing a terrible heroin crisis. Weekly indictments handed down by the Grand Jury for trafficking heroin, theft, burglary, and manufacturing methamphetamine dominate the headlines in the newspaper weekly.
When you enter the depths and pits of addiction’s despair, it takes a hold of you and at times, won’t let go until a person has nothing left. Fortunately, for Allen, who asked to not have his last name revealed, he is well on his way to recovery for heroin use.
“It’s not much of a choice anymore, he said. “My life revolves around staying well.”
The now 24-year-old Allen lives in Dayton and continues to struggle with keeping “well” every day, as he describes it. He said he comes from an average background, his step-father is a preacher and factory worker and his mother is a homemaker. Like many who get into heroin use, Allen moved from opiate painkillers to heroin when he discovered it was cheaper and got him the high he was looking for.
“I had used prescription opiates in the past and loved the way they made me feel,” Allen said. “Just that warm fuzzy feeling. Like being hugged on your insides. I didn’t feel lost anymore. And heroin happens to be way cheaper and easier to obtain so it’s almost an inevitable set if you continue to follow that path.”
His use of opiates wasn’t a result of trying to escape a problem or dealing with depression, but rather a medical issue from an injury. Allen had suffered a torn rotator cuff. Allen had surgery and was given opiates for the pain.
“The prescription opiates started after I had a surgery on my shoulder,” he continued. “A friend saw how many pain pills I was about to snort and said, “Dude, how about you just snort this little line of dope, it will actually work better.’”
Allen said it was an out of this world experience. Something you cannot describe with words, but only with experience.
“It was better than anything I had ever felt in my life,” he said.
But the high did not last as long as he thought it could. Eventually he saw the problem he was having and decided to make a change.
“I just saw all the money I was spending and working two jobs without a dollar in my pocket,” he said. “It’s a sad life. Eventually you have to make a change.”
Allen said lots of things made him feel like he could not stop and it continues to be a struggle.
“The withdrawal symptoms. The violent shakes, the vomiting and runs. All you want is just for them to stop,” he said. “Even if you make it past all of that, when this is all you’ve done for years it’s hard to step out of the cycle when you know all it takes is one phone call to feel happy about life again.”
But getting past the withdrawal challenged Allen to see how strong he was. He decided to go stay with his grandparents and locked himself in a room for his vacation.
“I used my vacation time at work and just spent seven days puking and (expletive) all over myself and taking 28 showers a day while they were at work,” he said. “Day 3 is by far the worst.”
Even after the week was up, Allen said things weren’t easy and it remained a struggle.
“ You feel weak and lost,” he said, “not at all ready to take on the world. But most of the symptoms are gone at that point. You still can’t eat or sleep well. It was about a month before I would say I was ‘normal.’”
Allen’s story is not uncommon in Ohio. The drug knows no difference between people and status. Sitting at the Milford Skyline, Jackie, 23, eats a three-way chili while answering questions about drug use. Jackie has been using opiates since college but got her start on speed.
“In college you are cramming for exams and needing just a boost to stay awake,” she said. “They are passing out ADHD medicine like it is candy, it was so easy to get.”
Jackie began using Adderall, an amphetamine upper with similar effects to that of methamphetamine. Her use of amphetamines led to sleeping problems and needing to ‘come down’ from the high. She began using prescription opiates.
“I couldn’t sleep, I would stay up for three or four days at a time before I would crash,” she said.
She said the sleeping problems and personal problems led to her use of opiates, eventually landing her behind bars for possession of a controlled substance. She went into rehab, but didn’t want to get clean.
“I had the choice between jail or rehab,” she said. “I knew I didn’t want to go to jail, so I went to rehab.”
When she got out, she returned to using – this time, getting into intravenous drug use. She started doing what is known as a “speedball,”’ a mix of heroin and methamphetamine to experience a high.
“It is something you cannot describe, it is out of this world,” she said. “It is like the best feeling you have ever felt. You are warm, fuzzy, excited relaxed – everything all at once.”
She described herself as a “highly-functional user” but said she didn’t think she was an addict. She said she doesn’t tell friends of her intravenous drug use for fear they will judge her, but says she has no plans to stop using when she needs to.
“As long as I can remain functioning, who cares?” she said. “We’re all going to die someday, right?”
Drug abuse is a problem most residents see, but do not know how to fix. Rampant use has an impact on the lives of the user, family, and taxpayer in the county. Users overload a system that is strapped for resources. The county has more cases than it knows what to do with and it eats away at various county wide resources from the court, child and family services, jail, juveniles, and the school system. No one department is equipped to handle the multitude of problems facing Brown County in the very near future. The problem is real, but the solutions are still a mystery.