Krysten’s Story – Bensalem, PA

What is your story?

I was born into the chaos of addiction. Back in the 80s when I was born, my biological father was in prison and struggled with addiction. When I was six months old, I was taken from my parents and put into the foster system.

When I was three, I was adopted into a good family: middle class, church going, that kind of thing. My adopted dad (who I call my dad) was diagnosed with HIV when I was 9 years old. He was a nurse and got stabbed by a patient, which is how he contracted HIV. He died when I was 12.

My first drug was marijuana when I was 12, and my drug use progressed pretty quickly over the years. I remember I would lie and say I had a headache to get Vicodin and Darvocet, which were both opioids. I never got that down feeling from opioids. I always felt speedy. I felt high and happy when I would take them, like an “I had arrived” moment.

I was put in my first treatment center when I was 15 for using benzos. A little after that, I overdosed for the first time. When I was 16, I had my daughter Amanda. She probably saved my life because during the pregnancy and for a while when she was a baby, I kept it together. But things started to change when I was in my 20s.

Once I could go to the bar legally is when things got out of control. I got married when I was 20 and was divorced by the time I was 23. I went through all different phases with my drug use, but when I hurt my neck in 2012 is when opioids were introduced. For me, pain medication was prescribed in pretty much unlimited quantities. I had a legitimate medical condition—I had rods in my neck and a fusion done—so they would pretty much prescribe whatever I wanted and it continued from there. I never went over to heroin because I always had a prescription.

I ended up losing my job, my home, and custody of my kid. I totaled my car. I started using methamphetamines to stay awake and that was a terrible combination with the painkillers. I went to treatment seven different times over the years, and I never had more than 60 days clean. But in November 2014, I went to treatment and have been clean and sober ever since.

When I went into treatment the last time, I didn’t want to be clean. I went because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. I just kind of stayed. And something changed in me. One reason might be that my friends started to die from their addictions.

And now where am I? I’m married, my husband and I own a business, we have a 7-year-old daughter, I am in school full time for Social Work, and I work full time in drug and alcohol.

Before you became addicted, was there anything you wish you knew about the risk of painkillers, or the connection between painkillers and heroin?

We all started with pills. I don’t know anyone who started using heroin directly. When I was younger, all of my friends were doing pills. Now, of that friend group, four of us are in recovery and there’s another six or seven people who are dead.

And that includes my cousin. He died in 2015 from heroin and I was heading that way. My doctors were onto me. I had lost my insurance. 2015 is right when fentanyl hit the market, and that could have been me.

The first time I got prescribed Darvocet and Vicodin, I wasn’t even told that they were addictive. Much less where it might lead me to. I wish there was more education available when I was younger. I wish there were more education available today, now that we know about the risks. My daughter is in high school and I wish at her school they were saying, “If you go the route of opioids, there is a pretty good chance you could die,” especially with all the fentanyl these days.

How big of a problem do you think opiate abuse is in your community?

Where I live, it’s so, so bad. It’s a huge, huge problem in Bucks County. We are a middle and upper-middle class area, and it seems like more than half of the families are affected in some way.

How has this experience affected your family?

When my cousin died, he was 27 and had two kids. I was new in recovery at his funeral, seven or eight months, and my mom kept telling me “Please don’t go back out, you’re going to die.” We had another family member die 10 years ago from heroin, but it wasn’t spoken about then. Nobody really said anything.

I think more than anything, my experience with addiction has affected my oldest daughter’s life. She was 14 when I went to treatment. At the time, she didn’t want anything to do with me. And it wasn’t until maybe two years ago that she really started coming around. She still doesn’t live with me. She’ll still say things like, “You weren’t there, you don’t understand.”

She doesn’t seem to have the addictive traits, but she has major issues with self-esteem and abandonment and trust.

Has PA Stop (the downloadable materials, the website) been helpful to you or anyone you know?

Yes! It has been very helpful to myself and my family.

Krysten, 35
Bensalem, PA