CINCINNATI — Britney Dill had tunnel vision when she wasn’t high.
“I don’t care what’s going on. I have my mind on one thing and one thing only,” Dill said.
When the craving for heroin struck the 28-year old recovering addict, not even her 8- and 9-year-old daughters could keep her away from it.
“I just couldn’t wait. Like, my body just hurt so bad. I was sick and thought it would help me function,” she said. “I wanted to do everything with my kids, but I couldn’t do anything at all. I couldn’t even take them to the park without (getting high).”
So the Florence mom got high every day. And it didn't matter who was watching.
“There was this one time I took them to Dairy Queen, and I fell asleep in the parking lot for I don’t know how long after getting the ice creams. I woke up to them screaming trying to wake me up at the steering wheel,” she said.
It’s a story that thousands of Tri-State heroin addicts also share — highs so strong and withdrawals so severe that their children aren't guarded from the sight of needles and straws.
Heroin addicts are more likely to use the drug in front of their children than parents battling other addictions like cocaine and alcoholism, experts said.
"Other drugs seem to not hold on as hard or as tight. They are able to say, ‘Let me get out of the room before I do this,’ or ‘Let me hide this a little bit more.’ I think once heroin gets ahold of you, you lose the ability to care about anything but the heroin,” said Georgine Getty, executive director of Glad House, a mental health and prevention agency that works with children impacted by a family member with addiction.
Margo Spence has worked in the addition treatment field for more than 30 years. As the director of First Step Home, a treatment center for addicts and their children, she’s watched heroin addicts behave irresponsibly with their kids over the years.
“With the alcoholic and the person that used crack cocaine, there seemed to be a different bond with the children as opposed to the women that are addicted to opiates,” Spence said. “We have heard and seen some clients that have actually used in front of their children and overdosed… You also hear a lot more about people using in the car with their children. You just never heard about those things with other drugs.”
And it plays out privately inside Tri-State homes every day.
"It's almost like a medicine to them. They use it, and they start feeling better. They want to feel better right away," said Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, who chairs the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition, a collaboration of agencies addressing the heroin epidemic. "We didn't see people buying crack and using it on the spot. Generally, they went home and used it."
Tessa Davis, 25, of Newport knows what it’s like to choose heroin over her 4-year-old son.
“(He) would be wanting to play or whatever, and I’d say, ‘Hang on. Momma’s busy.’ And then I’d do a line of dope. It was sickening,” Davis said.
Davis, who now lives at Brighton Recovery Center, said heroin gave her the illusion that she could be a better mom on the drug.
"I guess it was because I knew, like, my body was hurting, and as soon as I got it in me, like, I’d be able to be that mom with the making him food and stuff,” she said. “At the time, I knew like ‘I’ll feel better’ and then I can be the mom.
Ingra Duncan, 54, of Sycamore Township is a recovering crack cocaine addict living at First Step Home. She said she’s never tried heroin, but said she rarely had the severe craving that heroin addicts describe. That's why she said it was easy to hide her crack use from her son.
“I would wait to do it,” Duncan said. “Very seldom was (there that kind of urge)."
For Dill, it's hard to fathom what she did in front of her two girls, but she's facing it now by allowing them to confront her about the past.
"I thought that (talking about my drug use) would help my kids honestly. I want to be able to hear how I've impacted their lives so I can not do it again in a negative way," she said. "I hope that they see that they wouldn't want to go down my path."
Her daughters now live with their grandparents in Florence as she overcomes her addiction at the Brighton Recovery Center.