Pittsburgh, PA

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“Jeremy definitely partied in high school, with just alcohol and marijuana. He went on to play division 1 sports in college. Again, there was a lot of recreational use on the weekends. He stayed eligible for sports, though. Jeremy would say he never really thought he had a problem because he was always able to keep his drug use in check for sports.

In 2011, he hurt his back. He self-medicated with opiates for about a month before he had surgery. He returned to school and played lacrosse and continued to use and abuse opiates. That’s when it crossed from recreational on the weekends to needing to take opiates every day to get through. After about six months we got him into a rehab. He wasn’t really cooperative. At the beginning of the process, the parents and the addict don’t always listen to professionals. It was in the rehab that he met a heroin dealer and soon after, he started using heroin. He graduated from college in December 2012. We knew during that last semester that he had an opiate problem. I did not know he was shooting heroin.

At that point, our family was in agreement that he needed to go rehab for 90 days with sober living that would follow. He did that and he kind of failed sober living after the 90 day program. So I had go down to Florida to get him. We put him into a thirty day program here in Pittsburgh. He came out of that and did a couple of internships and tried to get his life together. During that time—that was probably a year and a half—he was back and forth between using and not using, with us looking the other way, not sure if he was using, not wanting to go into his room to find out. There was a lot of denial.

That brings us to June of 2015 when—after multiple car accidents and his whole physical appearance spiraling—it was obvious that he was using again. So in July 2015, he went to a treatment center in Pittsburgh and shortly thereafter he went to a 90-day program in the Poconos. After that, he came home and got a job and things appeared to be really good. Until January of 2016 when he started to use again. At that point, we had a lot more resources and were in touch with a lot of the counselors from his different rehabs. They suggested that he probably needed to leave the area or he’d end up dead or in jail. So we found a different type of program in Arizona which was residential living followed by outpatient and work. He was there from February to August of 2016. And then things started unravel again.

He came back to Pittsburgh and within a week we discovered he was using again. And so today, he was picked up to go to another rehab.

You might be wondering how we afford these rehabs. When Jeremy turned 26 and was no longer on our insurance, I didn’t really know what we were supposed to do. There was a 60 day wait for him to get Medicaid benefits, so we decided to go on healthcare.gov and buy him an insurance plan. At the time, I had the insight to purchase insurance that had out-of-network benefits and even though it costs me a couple of hundred dollars a month, it’s really been helpful. I just shopped and picked the right insurance. It still costs a lot of money but with insurance, it’s more affordable. Other illnesses are like that, too. Like with cancer patients, when you find out how much they have to pay out of pocket for their chemo, it’s shocking.

When your son started using painkillers, did you understand the connection between pills and heroin?

Here’s the thing: the pills he was prescribed initially was the bare minimum. We weren’t really concerned with the actual prescription. What we didn’t know was that Jeremy was already self-medicating by buying whatever pills he could find on the street. It took a while for us to figure out that he was really dependent on these pills. We definitely knew the connection between opioids and heroin, but it’s so easy to not really want to believe that that could happen to you. We didn’t really fit the profile of what I thought of as a family with a heroin addict. And I thought that it was a huge leap from pills to injecting heroin, but now I know that that’s not the case. It’s more of a natural progression.

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

I see the ease that Jeremy is able to get opiates on the street. I think it’s a real problem. There’s also a lack of understanding about addiction among people in the health professions. They don’t seem to get it. There are bad behaviors associated with addiction. Those behaviors have created the stigma that makes it harder to get help, even from the health professionals that are supposed to be helping us.

Even though my husband and I are angry upset and frustrated, even though we’re dealing with all those emotions, I’m grateful that he’s alive and I can’t lose hope because we don’t know what treatments are going to help each addict and when. And that’s the hardest thing. Nobody can tell you. You just pray each time.

We all feel stuck in it. You feel like you’re a hamster. Jeremy is 27 years old. He has a college degree. He wants to get on with his life. He’s just stuck. I keep on praying that he’ll meet the right person or something will happen to help him change. You’ve got to stay hopeful. He’s had some time in recovery, but so far he’s never been sober longer than six months.”

Charlene, 52
Pittsburgh, PA