Heroin hits close to home

With the use of heroin growing steadily over the last few years, many people have been affected. Whether you know it or not, friends, family, neighbors, coworkers may be dealing with a hidden addiction. It could be your boyfriend, whose behavior recently changed, your middle school science teacher, or your own child.

Here are two stories of how the heroin epidemic has hit close to home.

“The two times I OD’d I wasn’t trying to overdose or end my life,” said Andy Price (whose name has been changed to protect his
identity), a local man
who’s a graduate of Indian River High School.

“There had been times that I had enough stuff to put me out for good. I even tried it once — I tried overdosing by myself — and I woke up the next morning like nothing happened.”

Price has been drug-free for four months but said his two overdoses took place within three months of each other.

“The two times I overdosed, I was just trying to party — get high with friends. I didn’t have a care in the world. I would do speedballs — the thing that killed John Belushi and Chris Farley. They mix coke and heroin in the same spoon, put it in a needle and shoot it all up at the same time — I was doing that,” he explained.

“The first time, I remember loading up about a half a gram of cocaine and seven bags of heroin in one shot. I remember shooting it. I remember sitting on the couch and talking to somebody, and then I remember waking up on the floor.”

Price said his friends called his next-door neighbors over to help when he overdosed.

“The lady that lived next-door was a nurse, and her husband was a paramedic. My friends said they banged on the wall, and they ran over and gave me the narco shot.”

While such a near-death experience might have given Price a wakeup call, it didn’t.

“That’s how sick it is. I remember being pissed off because I wasn’t high anymore because they gave me a shot to wake me up and it knocked it out of my system. I was pissed off because I had paid money to get high and I got real high, and ‘Who cares if they saved my life?’ ‘Who cares if I was about to die?’ I was more worried that I had wasted money to get high and now didn’t feel a damn thing.”

Three months later, paramedics revived him from his second overdose, in West Ocean City, Md.

“They gave me the shot. I woke up and felt sick. They explained to me how close I was to dying and said that I should reevaluate what I was doing. Then I went home and got high. I was upset because I knew how much money I had spent on the drugs that I just did to get high and I didn’t get to feel the effects.”

Not only has Price himself overdosed, but he’s lost friends to overdoses.

“It’s almost normal. It’s like being involved in a gang and someone dies. You almost expect to lose somebody,” he explained, adding that their deaths didn’t affect his outlook on his drug use at the time. “My whole thing was, ‘I’m smarter than everybody. I know how much I can use, what to do and what not to do.’”

Growing up, Price said, he never thought he would take drugs.

“I had relatives growing up that were using heroin, and I saw how it was affecting them and their family. And I told myself that I would never get tied up in that.”

Then, at 13, he smoked marijuana for the first time. He would go on to try cocaine at 16, take prescription medications at 17 and eventually move on to heroin at 23.

“It all ties in. You do one, and then you want to try everything else. Then, eventually, you’re not going to find something you like — you’re going to find something that likes you. It’s sickening. It’s unbelievable how close you can come to death and not care. But a lot of people use because they don’t feel their self-worth, and that’s not a bad option for them.

Price said that, before he began taking heroin, he would snort Roxicet, Roxicodone, Oxycodone Hydrochloride, but once state and federal laws made it more difficult to get pills, he made the switch.

“Even when I started using pills and got addicted to pills, my thought was, ‘Well, at least I’m not doing heroin.’ There are a lot of people out there who will not do heroin, but it’s just a matter of time before it gets too expensive and they’re going to switch to heroin,” he said. “That’s pretty much what happened to me. It was cheaper, more readily available. I didn’t have to wait around to get it, because everybody had it.”

“There were a lot of people who drew the line. ‘I’ll do pills but I’ll never do heroin.’ As people started picking up heroin and were hanging around with people who did pills, they eventually turned them onto heroin,” he said, adding that he believes the legislation didn’t solve the drug problem.

“Instead, they just cut the supply… Well, people are still going to get high regardless. You aren’t giving them a permanent solution — you’re just making it harder for them to get what they want to get. But they’ll find a way.”

When he was at his peak of using heroin, Price would use between three and five bundles a day, totaling 60 bags of heroin.

“I also did cocaine on top of that. If I wanted to do cocaine that day, I’d do three bundles of heroin and an 8-ball of cocaine.”

He would also sell heroin for larger dealers to various acquaintances in the area to feed his own habit.

“I would drive up to Wilmington, spend $30 on something and come back down here and sell for $70. If I bought 10 things, I would only have to sell five of them to make all my money back and then some. And I’d still have five for myself.”

During his time using, he encountered many people from all walks of life who were also addicted to heroin. Price said many users lead normal lives, with good jobs, and have families.

“I know people right now who use pills and heroin every day, and they have a house, are married with three kids, a dog and cars. They have professional jobs… people who have their careers established, and they’re using,” he said. “That’s the thing. People think the only people who use are poor people or people who have nothing to live for, and that’s not true at all. I’ve seen so many people that you would never think use pills or heroin, and they do.”

He added that the larger dealers, to the outside world, would look like normal, everyday folks.

“I took a drive with somebody down south where we drove back with about $300,000 worth of coke and dope. They sold that over a period of four months. He lives in a beautiful house, kids go to a great school, his wife doesn’t work. They attend their kids’ sports games and go to church. It’s like, ‘Keeping Up With the Joneses.’”

According to Price, it’s because of the strong high that users continue to use, no matter where they are in life.

“When you wake up in the morning your first thought is, ‘I want to get high. How am I going to get high? I’ve got to get high,’ then, as soon as you get high, you get this remorse, ‘I’m going to quit tomorrow’… It’s really hard to get out of the cycle,” he said. “It’s a very dangerous high. That’s why people steal for it, that’s why people kill for it, that’s why people lose their loved ones and family.

“I’ve seen plenty of families lose their kids. The love a mother has for a child — there’s nothing like that in the world. But I’ve seen women drop their kids off with complete strangers to go get high and not come back for two days because of the high.”

When Price was addicted to prescription drugs, he would crush the pills and snort the resulting powder. At first, when he started taking heroin, he did the same thing, before moving on to injecting.

“Then it got to the point where you can get higher with the same amount of heroin if you shot it up,” he said. “If you have a needle full of heroin, it’ll get you higher and last just as long, and there’s a rush. When you snort it, you kind of feel high immediately, but in a minute or two it’s really there. When you shoot it, the second you pull back the plunger and see blood, you know it’s in and shoot it in. As soon as you push that plunger in, you melt.”

Price said that, looking back, he’s not only lucky to still be alive, but to have not contracted any disease from his needle use.

“After I got clean this time, my biggest fear was catching something. I never shared any needles, but there’s always a risk — if you use the same needle twice and don’t know you used it. You’re high. You can’t keep track of that stuff. Praise the Lord I didn’t get anything… I’m 100 percent clean. I praise God for, being as stupid as I was, doing the things I did, that I was kept safe.”

He said that, although he used disposable hypodermic needles, they were difficult to purchase in Delaware, and many people would end up reusing the same needles.

“It’s harder to get in Delaware, but you can go to Maryland pharmacies and get a box of them. People will spend $20 for 100 needles in Maryland and end up selling them for $10 apiece here. People in Delaware are paying $10 for a clean needle and use them for as long as they can.”

The high, he said, is what kept him going back to the drug day after day.

“The reason why it’s the most addictive drug in the world is because the high is awesome. Even to this day, even though I never want to touch it again, never want to see it again, never want to be around it, it’s the best feeling a substance can give you — better than coke, alcohol, pot, better than anything.”

So, what exactly does the high feel like?

“It’s a numb warmth — that feeling I get on a day where it’s snowy or rainy and kind of cold and I’m cuddled up on the couch under a blanket with a good movie on, wearing sweatpants. It’s like that feeling all the time, and on top of that you’re numb. Not numb how cocaine makes your face physically numb, but numb to feeling, to pressure, to stress.”

While he was high, Price said, he functioned like a normal person.

“But if I didn’t use and I wasn’t high, I was sick — people could tell I wasn’t myself,” he explained. “I always have energy. When I was using dope, I used enough of it every day, for my normal self — I had to use. So when I was sick, that’s when people would think something was up with me.”

Although Price said he kept his addiction secret from his family, his habit did draw suspicions.

“My family may have suspected things. They would notice the last month, right before I would get clean, but wouldn’t notice the 18 months before that of me using, because I would still show up, I’d still be active. I lived a normal life,” he said.

“My nephew is 8 years old now. There were times when he was around me and I was around him and I’d be high. Or he would be spending the weekend with me but I’d drop him off on my dad so I could go get pills or heroin and come back and put on a movie for him so I could pass out on the couch. I was just a terrible uncle, a terrible example.”

Looking back, Price said, he can see how neglectful the drug use caused him to be in relationships.

“I dated a girl on and off over three and a half years, and I was using for about 85 percent of the time I was with her. We would just barely talk. She’d go out and do things with her friends because I didn’t want to do anything. I eventually lost her. For the longest time, I blamed it on her.”

Price said that, during their relationship, he would get clean periodically but would later relapse.

“We broke up at one point, and I figured if I wasn’t going to be with her I might as well use, because the only reason I quit was to make things good with her. Eventually, we got back together and I got clean. Then I relapsed again, but we stayed together for two years. I used the entire time. It’s incredible how I was able to keep it hidden for as long as I did without anyone being the wiser.”

Last November, Price said, he knew that he wanted to be free of drugs for good.

“I had the thought in my mind that I needed to stop, but I didn’t acknowledge it. I had the thought, but I tried to suppress it. One night when I was high, I had that remorse and thought, ‘I’m done.’ I called a buddy of mine and asked him to take me to detox in the morning. He said, ‘Alright — we’re going to do this.’”

Price woke up the next morning, still high from the night before, and went to a detox facility in New Castle County. He detoxed without the aid of medications such as methadone.

“It was the first time I had ever wanted to quit cold turkey. I feel it was God telling me, ‘It’s time for me to get you out of this,’” he recalled. “The other times in my life where I had gotten clean, it was with the aid of methadone, but then I would get addicted with that. Even though there are drugs that keep people off of heroin, when you withdrawal from that it’s worse than the heroin,” he said. “It’ll make the first week of detox bearable, but if you continue to do it after that, you’re just going to get addicted to that.”

The detox process without the medication, he said, is extremely difficult but was a learning experience.

“I didn’t quit for the longest time because I didn’t want to be sick. It’s so stupid to look back now and think, ‘Wow — all I have to do is be sick for three or four days and then I’ll be clean and healthy and sober for the rest of my life.’ You kind of have to go through all of that to learn, because people learn from pain and from their mistakes. So those days you’re in bed, throwing up, shaking, having cold sweats — you learn from that.”

He added that getting clean on his own terms is what led to his sobriety.

“Anytime I’ve ever quit, it was because my mom said I had to stop, my dad or sister. I’d always quit for them, but if you’re not quitting for yourself, you’re always going to go back for it. You have to want to be done and have to want to be done for good — never again. I know, for my mind for sure, I’ll never touch that again. And I’m happy about that.”

Once out of detox, Price began attending as many support group meetings as he could.

“It’s critical to keep your mind busy, talk to people who have been through it.”

Price said that his relationship with God has been a driving force throughout his recovery process.

“God is never going to give us things that we can’t handle. The Lord saved my life. I replaced my addictiveness with the knowledge of knowing I am under the protection of the Lord. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Since he’s been clean, Price said, he’s taken a handful of friends and acquaintances to detox facilities.

“People I’ve known from my past who are still in the thick of it and know what I’m doing now, they call me out of the blue. I’ll always give them time out of my day to talk to them and help them however I can,” he said. “I’m real with them; you have to want help because you want it. You can’t be getting threatened that your mom is going to kick you out or your girlfriend is going to leave you. You have to want to be clean.”

Price said he sees people from his past all the time but tries to keep his distance.

“I just saw three people today. I see dealers, people I sold to, people I used to use with. I just encourage a lot of people to get help. I’ve taken a lot of people to go to detox. I have to keep certain people out of my life just to be safe, even though I’ve guaranteed my sobriety. I don’t want to be a part of that anymore.”

Price said he tries to tell as many people as he can that life is so much better when you aren’t dependent on a substance.

“When you have to wake up every day and you can’t do anything at all until you get your high, you know right then and there that that drug is controlling you. To the people who are comfortable having a substance control their life, I tell them it’s very realistic that you could die.”

He added that educating today’s youth is an important part of solving the growing drug problem.

“Be open and honest with your kids. Don’t be afraid to talk to them. Speak to them. You need to tell your kids, let them know there are things in this world and there are things in this area that are harmful and ruin people’s lives. And that they just have to be an independent, strong person.”

Price said that, today, he has no embarrassment about his history with substance abuse and hopes that some addicts will be able to find hope in his story.

“There are people out there who have lost complete hope and complete faith in everything. It’s really hard to get someone back up when they’ve lost the will to live, but there’s always so much more. You have to go through the bad to get to the good. I had to go through everything I’ve been through to be where I am now.

“I want everyone to know what I’ve gone through, hoping they can relate to any part of what I’ve gone through. Life is so much better when you know it’s worth living. No matter where you are or how far in you think you are, there’s always hope.”

In next week’s Coastal Point: What organizations, recovery programs and State agencies are doing to address the growing heroin issue.