I recently had the pleasure of watching a good documentary brought to us by A&E (as part of their Intervention series). The documentary was entitled: In Depth: Heroin Hits Home and takes a look at the effect that heroin is having on the city of Boston by interviewing some individuals whose lives have been drastically affected by the drug. Donnie Wahlberg narrated the documentary.
The special episode begins by recounting the exposure of the heroin epidemic in the cities surrounding Brockton by a local journalist named Steve Damish who works for the Enterprise Newspaper. He researched the deaths of young people in the surrounding cities and found that there was a high occurrence of heroin overdose (144 deaths in 3.5 years). This made “opiate overdose” the most common cause of death for young people in these communities. Steve considers the issue to be an epidemic that threatens an entire generation of young adults. He discusses his frustration with the neighborhoods which he says are steeped in denial and will not give the heroin epidemic the attention it deserves.
The victims of this addictive phenomenon were typically introduced to opiates by using OxyContin or “OC.” If you find it surprising that suburban kids from loving families can become hooked on heroin and overdose, you need look no further than the phenomenon of O.C. addiction that has ravaged the ranks of young people (and people of all ages) in our country. The cravings and withdrawals for OxyContin are so intense that cheaper alternative heroin is sought out by men and women who have unwittingly become hooked on Oxies.
Our treatment center has adapted our programs to accommodate the users of many new drugs our twenty five years of addiction treatment – including crack cocaine and the crystal methamphetamine epidemic. The “silent epidemic” of prescription drug addiction has disturbed us immensely because the lack of adequate response is being given to this deadly phenomenon. We have been very surprised at how innocent and young the boys and girls often are that arrive at our facility addicted to a sinister street drug like heroin. OxyContin is usually the gateway and these young people generally and we have created special programs for OC addiction treatment.
Sarah and Shannah
We are then introduced to Sarah and Shannah. Sarah was an honor roll student whose life became derailed after being introduced to OxyContin (“OC”). Sarah graduated from taking the powerful painkiller orally to crushing the pill and snorting it.
Then as we are shown a photo montage of Shannah and Sarah narrates how they were once the best of friends and you can only guess what must have become of Shannah by this point.
By senior year, Sarah and Shannah were so hooked on OCs that they inevitably became interested in using heroin. Although a drug like heroin has such a stigma in society, the combination of severe mental and physical addiction and the high price tag of obtaining OxyContin made using heroin a necessity.
Sarah and Shannah took advantage of the perception that they were “good girls” to sneak away from high school and buy heroin every day. Shannah started to use the drug intravenously. Sarah recounts the experience of Shannah learning how to shoot up the first time.
Eventually Sarah went voluntarily to detox from heroin and Shannah got the news that she was pregnant with a baby boy who she named Aiden. Bother girls got clean and things seemed to be much better for both of them. One day, after going to the beach, Shannah confessed that she had used heroin the night before (using intravenously at five months pregnant).
Sarah believed that Shannah was done using heroin for good after this confession. The next day Shannah’s mom found her dead from heroin overdose. Soon Sarah called Shannah’s cell phone and Shannah’s mom had to answer and explain to her dead daughter’s friend that Shannah had overdosed on heroin.
Many of Shannah’s friends were high on OxyContin and heroin at her funeral.
Shannah’s mom instigated an investigation into the policies of Brockton High School regarding drug use and a school administrator is interviewed who discusses the stringent repercussions that students will be subjected to if caught using drugs.
At the end of the episode, Sarah is picking up the pieces of her life and wants to become a nurse. She considers working in the addiction field. Sarah attends Narcotics Anonymous multiple times a week and spends time with Shannah’s mom Linda.
Peter is a twenty year old who has spiked hair and a gravelly voice. He looks much older than his age. He recounts the story of how sick he became when he snorted OxyContin for the first time at age 12. Peter, the youngest of five siblings, was adventurous and creative in his youth and that adventurous streak led him down the road of O.C. addiction. He was a daily user by the age of 13. Peter also suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and this co-occurring disorder almost certainly complicates the treatment of his addiction to opiates.
Peter’s sister then discusses what it is like living with a family member who is addicted to heroin and OxyContin. She talks about checking his breathing every morning before leaving the house for work (to see if he’s alive).
Peter twitches and slurs when he recounts the progression from snorting Oxys to snorting heroin then finally injecting it intravenously. He became unrecognizable to his family who felt helpless to stop his addiction.
Peter’s mom recounts how many times he’s overdosed and been to detox (33 times). She describes how pathetic he had become without the drug during his withdrawals. She even tried to force her son to go to rehab by pursuing a court ordered “Section 35″ (a last resort for families who are trying to save the lives of their loved ones). For 30 days Peter went to rehab (again) but again relapsed yet again immediately after treatment.
Peter’s mom seems exhausted by Peter’s inability to quit heroin, while Peter also expresses frustration at the “never ending cycle” of heroin addiction. Dena (Peter’s Mom) talks about how she feels shame at Peter’s addiction and suspects that her neighbors and the people in the town blame her for Peter’s addiction.
Peter begins a methadone maintenance program. Methadone is a legal alternative to heroin use. It is a better alternative to heroin use, but methadone is also an addictive substance and the heroin relapse rate for methadone users is high.
The camera the follows Dena as she enters a support group meeting which at first looks like an Alanon meeting (which is surprising because I’ve never seen this type of meeting be documented on Intervention or any other TV show). It is actually a meeting of an organization called Learn to Cope which helps parents of OxyContin and heroin-addicted kids come to grips with the situation and decide how to address the issues. Joanne Peterson, the founder of Learn to Cope talks about starting the group during her own son’s heroin addiction. Joanne also forced her son into rehab using the court ordered “Section 35″ but unlike Peter, Joanne’s son has remained sober since his involuntary rehab stay.
Pat first tried OxyContin at the age of fifteen. He had never tried drugs when he started his freshman year at Brockton’s High School and was so involved in sports like baseball it would seem he was not a candidate for drug addiction. According to Pat, feelings of social awkwardness and the discovery that his mother had cancer compelled him to experiment with marijuana and OC.
Pat also progressed from OxyContin use to heroin use. Pat eventually was struggling for money to the point where he robbed someone by threatening them with a syringe. Pat went to High Point Treatment Center at the judge’s request but relapsed and then began stealing from his family to support his habit. Pat repeatedly detoxified from heroin but then would take advantage of his newly reduced tolerance to feel heroin use even more intensely. This is known as “spin drying.”
Finally, Pat attended a more intensive and long term rehabilitation program and found the courage and strength to move into a sober living house with other men who wanted to stay sober permanently.
After a year of sobriety from heroin, Pat broke up with his girlfriend which he claims caused him to relapse. Pat recounts stealing the engagement ring of his dead mother (which was in a safe at his Dad’s house underneath the ashes of his mother). Pat had traded the ring for $50 and used the money to buy drugs. Pat’s father had Pat him arrested after this incident.
As the episode comes to an end, Pat talks about how he is hopeful about his heroin recovery, but he tempers the hope by discussing how strong and unpredictable the cravings can be. Pat’s father talks about how he feels that Pat gets to feel high and “forget about everything” while he has to sit at home worrying about Pat and the things he is doing. Pat’s father feels like his son’s addiction is unjust in this regard.
If you or someone you love is addicted to OxyContin, heroin or any other drug, you are not alone. Millions of people suffer from addiction in the United States and many of them overcome their suffering by reaching out for help from a drug treatment facility like ours.