An Addict's Story

A look at the Tri-State's growing heroin problem

CINCINNATI - Not long ago, I overhead a police officer saying he and his colleagues almost never come across cocaine.

The drug they see most often now is heroin.

Once the scourge of the 40's, 50's and 60's, heroin is back. And though it has an inner-city reputation, experts say it's gone suburban, even rural, perhaps next door to you.

Cooking up in a spoon: It's what many heroin addicts do, what they live for, dream about. The god they worship.

Recently, I asked "Steven," a recovering addict, what the first thing he thought of when he woke up.

"First thing is a shot of dope," he said. "I mean, you put it before everything. You put it before work, school, all priorities out the window. I mean, it's right across the river. I can get it. It's way cheaper."

Steven is in his early 20s and says he has been addicted to heroin for two years. His addiction started with pain pills prescribed after a motorcycle accident. But the pills quickly lost their potency and he turned to heroin, first snorting, then injecting it. Steven has been in rehabilitation five times and jailed three times in the last year.

He says the drug has robbed him of his self-esteem and loaded him with guilt.

"I've stole from my family. I've stole necklaces, rings, iPods, DVDs," he said. "You don't ever want to get sick, so you'll do anything not to get sick. I was spending $100 to $150 a day."

For how many times?

"Probably four or five times a day."

Steven's addiction brought him up I-471 to the Pendleton neighborhood. He says he'd be there buying drugs at 3 a.m. and once even got mugged there.

Some people don't think that could happen to people they know, but pay attention to the addresses that recovery expert Jeff Duell of the Awareness and Recovery Group has seen at his recovery center.

"It's Ft. Thomas, Newport, Covington, Ft. Mitchell, Villa Hills," Duell said.

Duell runs treatment centers in Northern Kentucky for many of the people who, like Steven, end up on Cincinnati's streets looking for a fix. He said you'd be surprised at who comes to him for help getting sober.

"We have a soccer mom. We have a young, white male who comes from a very good family in Ft. Mitchell," he said. "So it's not isolated to the inner city."

Duell said the rise of heroin came with changes in Oxycontin that make the drug hard to use for a high and too expensive. And he said heroin use continues to grow.

But Steven is fighting the drug. He says he hit rock bottom when he nearly killed a man in a car crash. Now he wants to be clean. The outcome is far from certain.

"I'm telling myself I'm sick of going to jail," Steven said. "I'm sick of being labeled as a drug addict. I want to live the most normal life that I can live."

"I'm hoping," Duell said, "that a part of him telling his story with you is going to be further help for him and will keep him on that road of recovery. I just don't know."

Then we got an email from a Cincinnati mother with a personal interest in our reporting on the heroin issue.

"It is an unpleasant and unpopular topic, and most people have many misconceptions," she wrote in the email. "My husband and I have blended and raised our five boys together. My youngest son is 26 and has been an addict for almost eight years. He has so much to offer this world, but he cannot quit. It's heartbreaking."

Awareness & Discovery: Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Services

ASAP Cincinnati:  Adolescent substance abuse programs

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