Horrors of heroin

Recovering addict tells story

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Methadone is a liquid dispensed in a small cup. It is a synthetic opiod used in the treatment of addicts.

The cost of getting high was $1,000 a day. Every hit was followed by the constant need to do it again and find the money, by any means, to make it possible.

“I’d grab what I could and get to work,” said Bobby. “It didn’t come with instructions. I knew it was bad.”

Bobby, a name used here by request so as not to reveal the person’s identity, detailed his story to the Minot Daily News. Following a five-year heroin habit he is now on the road to recovery. This story tells about the power of heroin, offers glimpses into Minot’s drug community and, finally, outlines treatment that is available to addicts like Bobby who are desperate to break from their downward spiral toward prison or death.

“When they say you are powerless over heroin, you truly are. A lot of people have just given up,” said Bobby. “I tried my hardest to quit. I’ve had 8 or 9 treatments, some of them court ordered. I even locked myself in a room. After 12 days of being sick and finally getting over it, in three or four days I was using again.”

Bobby is not alone in Minot. He says there are lots of Minot residents who are addicted to heroin. He has seen them. Some addicts wear blue jeans. Others suits and ties.

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Connie Tyler, left, is the clinical coordinator at Community Medical Services of Minot, also known as the methadone clinic. About 140 clients are currently enrolled at the clinic, a number Tyler says is just the “tip of the iceberg.”

“It’s like every family has one now, on the opiates. It’s not just some kid wanting to go out and party. They come from every type of family,” explained Bobby.

A point is one-tenth of a gram and enough heroin to satisfy beginning users for several days. But that changes as the body begins to build up a tolerance for the drug and users must up the amount of heroin they use to avoid becoming very sick.

Bobby said his habit eventually led to him taking three points of heroin just to get out of bed in the morning. He would take much more throughout the day. As the amount of heroin he needed to avoid painful withdrawal increased, so too did the cost of using the drug.

A typical price for a point of heroin in Minot, said Bobby, is about $60. Elsewhere, such as on the West Coast, heroin sells for about $5 a gram. That makes bringing heroin into the Minot region a very profitable undertaking. One dealer told Bobby he could easily make $40,000 in two weeks.

“He said you’ll have every single little girl after you,” said Bobby. “It’s crazy.”

“People don’t realize the severity of drugs that are being trafficked in from other states to Minot and North Dakota in general,” said Connie Tyler, clinical coordinator at Community Medical Services of Minot where addicts are treated on a daily basis. “We currently service 140 clients. We anticipate that there is a couple thousand in the city that we’re not reaching. We’re not even reaching the tip of the iceberg for what’s going on in Minot right now.”

To get the money needed to buy drugs addicts will do virtually anything under the powerful influence of heroin and the need for more.

“People who I thought were friends would steal from me,” explained Bobby. “They will steal everything from you and I mean everything. They’ll take anything and then there’s the games they play thinking they are so clever. I found myself doing it.”

A number of thefts from homes and businesses in Minot have been linked to suspected drug users. Typically they’ll steal items in the hope of selling them to get money to pay for their next hit of heroin.

“You had to get the next high just to function. You could not live without it,” said Bobby. “Drinking was always a party but opiates and stuff, that is survival.”

The mastery heroin has over a person is immense, much more so than other drugs. It changes a person’s life to such a degree that they are virtually defenseless against the drug. Bobby says he’s had several people “basically die right in front of me.” Dying is a term used in the drug community to describe someone who has overdosed and survived.

“Now they are cool because they survived an OD,” said Bobby. “They shoot up and their eyes roll back in their head. Eight out of ten would survive. As soon as they come out of it they get high again. It doesn’t even scare them.”

According to Bobby, 14 people he knows have died from the effects of heroin in the past three years. Those deaths had little effect on Bobby as he remained under the horrible influence of heroin. One of the deaths was the sister of the his girlfriend, also an addict.

“You know what we did?” asked Bobby. “We got high in the bathroom of her hospital room. Heroin is that powerful. It’s like taking your next breath. You don’t necessarily want to do it but you have to.”

The hospitalized girl died shortly thereafter.

“Your thought process while on heroin is totally different,” said Bobby. “You start doing things you don’t want to do to get money for your next high. I’d steal from my parents. It didn’t matter who it was. There’s so many addicts out there out of control. They are not trying to do bad things.”

Bobby says the people he used to see every day, all of them, are doing time in prison from “dealing or doing something dumb.” With the exception of a seven-day stint, he has managed to avoid time behind bars. Fortunately for him, the week he spent in the Ward County Jail had a profound effect.

“It’s a classroom for criminals. It is horrible. My God, it is horrible,” said Bobby. “It’s about doing more bad when you get out. I’m not meant for prison. I’m not going there.”

A common ploy for addicts in need of money, said Bobby, was to pick up receipts at Walmart, grab matching items and return them.

“Some would get $600 to $700 a day back at Walmart every single day. It’s crazy. Crazy,” remarked Bobby. “There are people so innocent that get affected that don’t deserve it. It’s unbelievable. When I was doing heroin you do the drug and get right back after it. It’s the only thing you think about. It’s the only thing you talk about. It’s the only thing everybody around you talks about.”

No longer, at least not for Bobby. He says he has been heroin free for six months. He credits the local methadone clinic, Community Medical Services of Minot, for guiding him through the beginning stages of a very difficult recovery process.

“The opiate addiction is so powerful you need something. There’s getting to be enough help now. If you want it, you can make it happen,” said Bobby. “The things that have happened to me in the last three months have just been incredible. Methadone helped me not have to go out and search for the drugs. Something good happened. I realized how much I have in life because my family hadn’t given up on me. They should have. I put them through holy hell.”

Methadone is a synthetic opiod that blocks the opiate receptors in the brain so that other opiates can’t make a person high.

“It blocks the pleasure center and helps addicts have a clear mind-set,” said Tyler. “They have clear functioning, feel better, think better and are not getting sick and having troubles with withdrawals. It blocks the cravings.”

Minot’s methadone clinic is open from 6-11 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Many addicts in treatment travel long distances every morning to receive their dose of methadone, usually two to nine milligrams a week. It is a pink colored liquid similar in appearance to Benadryl.

“They have to drink it in front of a nurse and we have to make sure they swallowed it,” said Tyler. “When they get stable we can give them take-home doses, but for at least the first three months they have to come in six days a week.”

“This place has seriously saved my life and my girlfriend’s life and a lot of other people at the clinic,” said Bobby. “I know I’m done with heroin. Somehow, I just know I am through. I’ve had cravings but I’ve said no and that is a huge thing for an addict. Today I have a choice. Miracles happen every day and I have all this good stuff going for me. I could sabotage it by picking up drugs. That’s all it takes and I would lose all. It’s as simple as that.”

Today Bobby is busy on the road to recovery and seems sincere about keeping his body free of drugs. He also has begun contacting those who were affected by his addiction to offer apologies for his behavior while under the influence of heroin. His weekly routine includes a daily trip to the methadone clinic, a visit to a psychiatrist twice a week and regular attendance at meetings of Alcoholic Anonymous, sometimes twice a day.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in the past year, about nine percent of the adults in North Dakota, nearly 52,000 individuals, had a substance use disorder.

Points to Remember

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pod of various opium poppy plants.

Heroin can be a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin.

People inject, sniff, snort, or smoke heroin.

Heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors on cells located in many areas, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and in controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.

Research suggests that misuse of prescription opioid pain medicine is a risk factor for starting heroin use.

Withdrawal symptoms include severe muscle and bone pain, sleep problems, diarrhea and vomiting, and severe heroin cravings.

Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse


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