In Your Own Words — Heroin and Opioid Addiction

February 23, 2016
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by Chris Amico Interactive Editor
Priyanka Boghani Digital Reporter & Producer

Last week, in advance of the premiere of Chasing Heroin, we asked the FRONTLINE audience to share their stories about heroin and opioid addiction. What role has it played in your life? And what do you wish people understood about the problem? Below are some of your responses. We’ll continue to update this page as more stories come in; you can share your thoughts here.

Anonymous former opioid user in upstate New York

I never woke up one day and decided that I wanted to become a drug addict.

I was in college and working full-time when I stepped on an earring in my apartment. The earring pierced my left heel, and days later an abscess formed. With fevers above 102.5 F for several days, I went to the ER for treatment.

I got IV antibiotics and hydrocodone. The infection cleared, and the pain ceased. I took the extra hydrocodone anyways. It made me feel happy, and dulled the stress of work and school. I started buying OxyContin from someone with a prescription.

Once the makers of OxyContin revealed the abuse-proof formula, the doctor started to prescribe morphine (much cheaper). So, I bought morphine. First, I thought it was okay as long as I only used on my days off. I graduated college so things weren’t too bad…right? Pretty soon I told myself I was okay as long as I only used after work. Then it was okay as long as I only used on my break.

My addiction progressed to using all day everyday. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t support my habit anymore and lived with a constant struggle of trying to find more. Then, I found out I was pregnant. He saved my life.

I finally got help. I have a 6-month-old son, a loving fiancé, a supportive family. I have 14 months in recovery. I am not a junkie. I am someone’s daughter, mother, sister, and friend. For me, it started with a snap decision to take a pill just for fun. That decision nearly destroyed me.

Lisa, who uses opioids for pain

There are many legitimate users of pain medication who suffer from chronic diseases. Patients are not addicts. I suffer from Fibromyalgia and MS and just making through the day is a challenge. I still work full-time but I am on intermittent FMLA since flare ups can happen at any time. I suffered for over 10 years in debilitating pain because doctors thought I was too young to be in such pain. You can not let the possibility of someone being an addict hold you back from treating those who actually need it. There is no reason any person should have to suffer in pain. I have seen the horrors of addiction with friends and my ex-husband, and it is awful, but we as a society must recognize there are millions of us who have true invisible illnesses.

“It’s not just shady, backstreet people who are addicts. They’re executives, soccer moms, teachers that live right next door. I’m that neighbor.”
Anonymous, Virginia Beach, Va.
Keriann in Arlington, Mass.

I wish people understood that once the addict becomes addicted to heroin or opioids, it’s no longer a choice. It does and will consume every part of your life. The drive to get the next is no longer about the actual high, but more about not being sick. The drive turns into needing the drug to just feel normal. The body needs the heroin just to function.

When a heroin addict finally has the desire, desperation, or willingness to put the drug down and get help, the psychological battle will begin … the mind will literally go into panic mode for the next high. Without the right guidance and support it is almost impossible to get clean from this drug. It is a complete lifestyle change, not as simple as just don’t get high. The shame guilt and embarrassment will consume the addict without counseling or therapy.

Recovery is possible. This is not a death sentence. We do overcome the disease of addiction. I am a recovering heroin addict. I have 20 months clean from heroin and any other mind- or mood-altering substance. I now work as a recovery specialist in one of the city’s detox facilities. Also one of the four organizers of my town’s Overcoming Addiction, which holds candlelight vigils but also helps families understand addition and offers support. With that I am also a panelist with the district attorney’s opioid task force, where I can give my experience to lawmakers and city officials — a perspective on the life of an addict, and hopefully give hope to the families that have lost it. Most importantly I am a daughter again a sister, a fiance, and a friend….. no longer a hopeless junkie!

The best advice I can give to people that do not understand this disease is every person in the throes of addiction is someone’s child, mother, brother, sister, father. They were not always the drug addict you see before you. They are lost and need to be found. So before casting any judgement try encouragement. You never know what someone is battling.

“I don’t think anyone can understand heroin unless they live a week in a seasoned heroin addict’s body.”
Anonymous
A worried parent in Phoenix, Ariz.

…This problem is in every socio-economic group. That it could be your child or family member. That finding affordable long-term residential treatment is difficult at best. It’s hard to find a 30-day program that is affordable and fully covered by insurance. Even if found there may be a waiting list, and 30 days is rarely long enough to change an attitude and craving towards heroin.

Along with getting clean, many addicts need to learn vital life skills to become a clean and self-sustaining productive member of society. People who are addicts are someone’s family member who is loved and lost. I wish someone could compile a list of rehab facilities nationwide that were affordable state-funded or nationally-funded. Most families can’t afford treatment.

Anonymous, Green Bay, Wisc.

Because heroin is so addictive, I will live in fear for the rest of my life of my daughter overdosing and dying.

In 2014, she overdosed twice within a two-and-a-half-month period of time. I found her the first time and thought that she was so scared of almost dying that she would never touch it again.

This addiction affects the entire family. I have been caring for her son ever since she had the second overdose. He was not quite nine months of age when she overdosed the second time and went to jail.

Finding treatment is very difficult. The only way that we were able to get her into treatment was to foot the bill ourselves.

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