A look into life of heroin addict

A look into life of heroin addict

Published: Saturday, January 05, 2013
By ROSE QUINN rquinn@delcotimes.com, @rquinndelco http://www.delcotimes.com/articles/2013/01/05/news/doc50e8f9d6ee9bb636656507.txt?viewmode=fullstory At the height of a his heroin addiction, he had graduated from college with a psychology degree and landed a job as a counselor to clients diagnosed with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, as well as dual drug and alcohol problems similar to his own. “I was a heroin addict working as a mental health counselor and I got employee of the year,” said “Jay,” a pseudonym for the now unemployed, formerly homeless Delaware County resident who as of Friday was about two weeks into his umpteenth recovery. “I know it’s hypocritical. But I was able to help them and not able to help myself,” he said. Jay, 27, vividly remembers sitting as a sixth-grader in the Chichester School District in an assembly about the dangers of heroin and thinking, “Oh my God, heroin is so bad. I’m never going to do that.” Never heroin and never needles, he was so sure in his youth. By age 18, Jay was addicted to opioids and by 23, a hardcore, needle-pushing heroin addict. Jay’s not alone in his uphill battle. And it’s a problem that doesn’t discriminate. Jay’s party companions over the years have included business professionals and vagrants. “It’s a lot bigger problem than people would like to think,” he said. Jay’s heard people compare withdrawal to having the flu. He laughs. “No one is going to go into their mom’s purse and take money because they have the flu,” he said. While Jay is not associated with the Delaware County Heroin Task Force, District Attorney Jack Whelan said Friday he hopes to use real-life stories like Jay’s as part of a heroin education/awareness program.  
If asked, Jay said he would like to share his experiences, as long as he’s healthy enough to do it. “I would say that I am in recovery but that could change tomorrow. There ain’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about it,” Jay said. Jay’s been to rehab five times, twice when he was working as a counselor. His employer thought his problem was alcohol. “I’ve been trying to stop for three years now, with good intention,” Jay said, adding that he’s taking Suboxone, a treatment for opioid addiction. “Taking Suboxone helps me to feel normal,” he said. His last rehab stint was in 2012. Looking back, he described his school’s heroin program as hard-hitting and shocking. “My advice would be not to sugarcoat any of it,” Jay said of any public effort. “When you’ve been addicted to opiates, it’s something you have to do every day or you are sick. That is what people don’t understand,” he said. “I would tell people that no high is worth ruining your life. Even if you have issues you don’t want to face, there is help.” It’s a harsh reality, but Jay said, “My life will never be the same. I know that.”  
Before heroin, he said he tried it all. He’s also had issues with gambling and hookers. “Once heroin came into the picture, everything else I was addicted to, stopped,” Jay said. Interviewed by telephone, Jay said just looking at him, no one would ever know he is a heroin addict. Laughing again, he said, “I’m still fat.” Despite the drug use, he said he’s always kept his weight over 200 pounds. He described himself as about 5 feet 8 inches tall. Arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, Jay is also facing some legal problems. But he knows his situation could be much worse. After he got kicked out of a shabby apartment recently and was living outside in the cold, Jay appealed to his mom to let him come home to live with her and his dad. Though his parents are letting him stay with them while he looks for a job, the arrangement is temporary. “My mom asks, ‘Why can’t you just stop?’ I tell her that she will never understand,” Jay said. Looking back, Jay said he knew as a teenager he was different, in terms of dealing with life’s disappointments. At 14, he said he was downing six-packs. “It’s not an excuse, and everyone has a different story to tell,” he said. “I just couldn’t deal with things like other people could.” He used the death of his grandfather as an example. And when his first love broke up with him around the same time, he just couldn’t cope with the hurt and disappointment over the loss. As young as sixth grade, Jay said he was “doing this and that” drug, referring mostly to prescription pills like valium he’d get from relatives’ medicine cabinets. He was also drinking, but mostly just for fun with other youths on the weekends. The conduct continued throughout high school.  
He said his parents knew about the drinking, but were oblivious to his drug use. Though he would deny it, his father was battling a drug/alcohol problem of his own, Jay said. By college, Jay was popping Percocets and Oxycontin. When Oxy got too expensive, he moved on to heroin. Jay was sniffing heroin and spending $100 when a friend said he could get a better but cheaper high “if you shoot two bags.” By then, Jay said his reluctance to shoot heroin was worn by a breakup with his girlfriend, his second heartbreak. But he couldn’t bring himself to shoot up. Jay eventually met up with a girl whom he said, “would shoot me up.” But Jay said he had to turn his eyes away. It wasn’t long before he could inject himself — out of necessity. When he was employed as a counselor, Jay said he was earning $1,800 a month, all of which went toward heroin. “For me, heroin was easier to get than weed,” he said. Looking ahead, Jay hopes to get back into counseling. “I want to help people. I’m good at doing that,” he said. “I just got to help myself first. That is what I am trying to do now.” Recently, Jay met with up with a former classmate. It was then he learned that Pink Floyd’s classic, “Wish You Were Here,” which was one of the songs he remembered from that anti-drug program back in the sixth grade, had a lingering significance. “He told me that whenever he hears that song, ‘I think of you and wonder if you are still alive,’” Jay said. And given his history, Jay said, “Thank God I’ve never OD’d … plenty of times I should have died.”