Pittsburgh, PA

pittburgh_insetWhat is your story?

I grew up in a middle class family. My father was an alcoholic, but he was what you would call a functional alcoholic. I had super loving parents. I got everything that I needed/wanted.

I first started using alcohol at the age of 11 just because it was in the house. As I progressed through high school, I drank. It was definitely binge drinking. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started experimenting with drugs. In 2005, I was prescribed Vicodin for the first time after a surgery and I immediately fell in love with opiates. I knew that they were going to be my drug of choice. From that point, I experimented with other things, but always sought out opiates. My addiction later went to OxyContin 30, which I was injecting. One day, my boyfriend at the time decided that he wanted to do heroin, which he had done before.  When I came home from work, there it was. And that’s when I started using heroin. From there on out, I ran with it.

I went through several detoxes and treatment and tried to get myself into recovery but for some reason I couldn’t keep more than two or three months clean. At the beginning of 2014, that same boyfriend died from an overdose. And that was kind of my wake-up call because I didn’t think that I was as bad off as anyone else that I knew. From that point forward, I realized it was a life or death situation and that I needed to get help. Once again, I went through a few more treatments and finally, in March of 2015, I entered rehab and have been clean since then.

Why didn’t you think you were as bad off as other people that you knew?

For a long time, I was able to hold a 9-5 job while I was using (until I ended up stealing from where I worked). I wasn’t nodding out at work. Opiates actually gave me a burst of energy so I was able to function, able to get a bunch of stuff done. I guess having a job was the main thing that made me think I was a productive member of society.

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

No. Not at all. I remember hearing about in health class that pills were in the same category as heroin, but I always thought of heroin as this thing that’s up on a pedestal. I thought, “If I’m taking these pills that are prescribed to me by a doctor, they’re not going to give me the same effect as this hard drug.” Obviously my intentions were never to touch heroin.

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

I think it’s huge. Unfortunately, there are people who can’t have a minute of the day clean, people that are overdosing, people doing things that they wouldn’t normally be doing in in order to support their habits. So it’s not just the actual using of the drugs. There are so many other behaviors that go hand-in-hand with drug use that can really have an impact on the community.

Was this whole experience hard on your family?

Yeah. But luckily my mom has gotten involved with Nar-Anon, which has helped her to understand the disease.

Jess, 29
Pittsburgh, PA