For more than five years, heroin has been brewing into an epidemic in Ohio and leaving a deadly toll in its wake. Three people are dying a day – every day – on average in Ohio, state statistics show.
That number is just those who died from heroin. When other drugs such as pills (a common precursor to heroin) are factored in, the number of deaths jumps to seven a day.
But these are not just statistics. These are Ohioans. Those dying are getting younger all the time.
We look deeper into how and why this became an epidemic and issues that hinder the road to recovery for many. Hear from parents of recovering addicts and from parents who lost their children on the warning signs of a user.
Finally, hear from families, advocates and recovering addicts on where hope lies for ending this epidemic.
The four former addicts all say heroin found them in Columbus suburbs. And for each of them, the road to heroin all came the same way, through the use of prescription pills.
“Mostly parties,” Dakota Brooks said. “That is where I first started with marijuana then and everyone had these different pills and it's just one of those things where everything is so available you just try it because everyone says how fun it is to do. Heroin kind of sells itself you hear it's cheaper, it's stronger and you don't really know what you are getting in to.”
A former student athlete, Charles Stewart agreed saying the drugs in many cases were prescribed.
“It started from a snowboarding accident actually. I played sports and any time I had an injury I would use pain pills for certain things. I broke my collarbone right here so I was prescribed Percocet and stuff like that and it just kind of grew from there,” Stewart said.
Heroin was an intense high that quickly became addictive. It also filed a void, Taylor Stevenson said.
“Especially with the emotional issues I was going through, it was liked I had smoked heroin for the first time and it was a sense of relief. It was like taking a deep breath and it's like ok, everything is ok now. I can be the charismatic person I wasn't able to be when I wasn't doing heroin or wasn't doing drugs in general. I was able to be out-going,” Stevenson said.
They said they had heard about the warnings.
“We sat down with Miranda and my husband and Holly and I and we had a long, honest talk about drugs and let them ask us anything they wanted to, anything. Both of them seemed so very against drugs growing up but they leave home, become adults and make their own choices and someone talked her in to trying to smoke a joint and she liked it more than I would have hoped from there it progressed. With Holly she used heroin in total for less than four months before it killed her,” her mother, Tonda DaRe said.
“Holly was in the very beginning of this very large epidemic that we are now dealing smack in the middle of.”
“You asked Charlie how do you know when you are addicted? Honestly you don't know until it's too late. You don't realize you are addicted to this horrible drug until it's too late. And once it is to that point a lot of people, like myself, are ashamed. I was ashamed of the addiction so I didn't ask for help. I tried to hide it and I hid it for a good year or two from my parents. I kept up my appearances I did everything I was supposed to until I was going from actually smoking it to actually injecting it. And that's when it took over my life and it just started to spiral downhill,” Brooks said.
“And then doing things I never thought I would be doing, stealing from my parents. At the end I was on the streets. I was stealing from stores. I was robbing people,” Fijolek said. “As much money as I could get that day, I would do it…It was pretty bad for me. I went from like growing up in a good family, in a nice home and I ended up on the streets.”
They said there was little they wouldn’t do to get the drug.
“The depths of my addiction took me to stealing, prostitution, I was convicted of an armed robbery,” Stevenson said. “For me, I really think that my bottom was realizing that I was pregnant with my son and knowing that I could not harm another innocent being like that.”
And all four said they tried to get clean many times before they were successful. Relapses are common.
“I would say it's a part of the journey but it is a very dangerous part of the journey because when you got to get clean you lose your tolerance for the drug so when you relapse you might think you were able to handle the same amount you were doing and that's how a lot of the people are dying today,” Fijolek said.
And deaths have sky-rocketed. Overdoses have increased 419 percent in the past 10 years with 1,539 deaths in 2014, state records show.
“In about a year, I have been at least to 10 funerals from heroin overdoses alone. Like I said it's everywhere and it doesn't discriminate between anything. It's in the suburbs, it's in the cities, “Brooks said. “And its kids you would never think would ever get into it. It's just that random. Because there is not enough awareness about it and for people to understand that treatment isn't the cure. You have to follow through with the meetings and the support after you go through rehab.”
They said they shared their stories in hopes of reaching others who are struggling with addiction now.
“For anyone who is struggling with this addiction, reach out for help. I mean, you are not guaranteed the chance for tomorrow. You are taking a risk on the streets by doing those drugs every day and take a risk with Comp Drug, Vivitrol with a treatment center. Actually give yourself a chance, because you are never guaranteed to see the next day. give yourself a chance to see your kids, your mom or your sister or any of your loved ones, so please just reach out and get help before it's too late,” Brooks said.
And none thought it could happen to them.
“I tell parents all the time. How many times have you sent your kid out on a Friday night with a $20 bill to go the movies and never thought a thing of it and it can start that easily,” Tonda DaRe said. “The heroin she got that day was three times more pure than anything they had ever seen before and it killed her.”
There are a number of inpatient and outpatient treatment centers in Central Ohio. To search for centers available by county go to: https://prod.ada.ohio.gov/directory/
The state also has a toll-free information and referral line: 1-877-275-6364 8 a.m. -5 p.m. M-F
To learn how to start a discussion about the dangers of drugs with children or in your community, Gov. John Kasich started Start Talking Ohio http://starttalking.ohio.gov
Netcare - 24-hour mental health and substance abuse crisis and assessment services for Franklin County, Ohio: 614-276-CARE or www.netcareaccess.org
See a break down by county of drug overdoses in Ohio.http://www.healthy.ohio.gov/~/media/HealthyOhio/ASSETS/Files/injury%20prevention/CountyDrugData2013.pdf
Toolkit for dealing with opiate abuse: http://mha.ohio.gov/Portals/0/assets/Initiatives/GCOAT/20150715-opiate-toolkit-4web.pdf
Learn more about Ohio’s initiatives to fight opiate abuse: http://mha.ohio.gov/Default.aspx?tabid=779
Some pharmacies in Ohio provide naloxone without a prescription. This drug can reverse the effects of a heroin or prescription drug overdose. You can see a list of those pharmacies here: http://www.pharmacy.ohio.gov/NaloxonePharmacy
Drug Disposal Resources: http://www.pharmacy.ohio.gov/FAQ/Public.aspx
Shepherd Hill (Addiction Services)
200 Messimer Drive
Newark, OH 43055
Maryhaven (Addiction Services)
1791 Alum Creek Drive
Columbus, OH 43207
Hocking County Municipal Court
1 East Main Street
P.O. Box 950
Logan, OH 43138
Franklin County Court of Common Pleas
Domestic Relations & Juvenile Branch
399 S. Front Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215
Ohio Addiction Recovery Center
727 East Main Street
Columbus Oh, 42305
Tyler’s Light http://tylerslight.com/
Holly’s Light Page http://www.hollyssongofhope.org/our-story.html
The Stand Project http://www.thestandprojectua.org/give/