An Addict’s Story: Living With The Stigma

It was never supposed to be this way.

For Jason-whose real name will remain anonymous-the world was once an oyster.

“I came from a good place,” Jason said. “I had good parents I was raised right I was a normal person I was popular.”

Now only 28 years old, Jason is seemingly crippled.

He’s a heroin addict. And his life is upside down.

“As we speak, my brain is just circling on how I’m going to get some money today to not be sick,” Jason said. “I don’t care about working, I don’t care about school, I don’t care about nothing other than how to get that money.”

An alarming contrast-no doubt-from the once straight-A student at Frewsburg Central School, but hardly atypical, as evidenced by Rick Huber, executive director of Jamestown’s Mental Health Association.

“(Jason) is not out of the norm,” Huber said. “This is what we see constantly, and that’s why we have so many people dying.”

Huber, a former addict himself, devotes much of his time counseling and advocating for people like Jason, stressing-more than anything-that addiction is a disease, not a choice.

“Heroin works in the back part of the brain and affects the pleasure receptors,” Huber said. “Some people are more prone to it than others … and once (these receptors are activated), it’s almost impossible to stop.”

Jason, of course, is no stranger to this.

Restless and somewhat fidgety, he agreed to share his story with The Post-Journal at the Mental Health Association, recounting in detail the genesis of his addiction nine years earlier, when a friend convinced him to try some Vicodin pills that belonged to his grandfather.

“I was experimenting with all sorts of different things but nothing really stuck,” Jason said. “I started eating these (Vicodin pills) and the next day I was already looking for more.”

Things got worse during a short move to Florida, where Jason’s penchant for Vicodin spread to Oxycontin- allegedly being prescribed by doctors on a whim, more for money than a patient’s needs.

By the time Jason moved back to Chautauqua County, Oxycontin had spread locally too. And worse, it was the only thing keeping him from becoming violently ill.

“That’s when it hit me … and I was like, ‘Now what?'” Jason said. “Nobody wants to be sick (with withdrawal). It’s not like a (typical) cold or a flu … it’s like a flu times 10, plus mentally sick and depressed. Nobody wants to go through that.”

Moreover, with the government cutback on prescription drugs creating a dearth of alternatives, Jason-along with every other addict-saw only one remaining option-the deadly and more abundant heroin.

“I’m using just to stay even now,” said Jason, who indicated that he doesn’t even get a “high” from the drug. “It’s maintenance, and maintenance is expensive.”

Unfortunately, despite numerous attempts at treatment, Jason is still using heroin. He’s overdosed three times.

“Everybody shuts the door in your face like you’re a leper,” Jason said. “My best friends don’t talk to me anymore … and I’m totally sick of being like this … sick of everyone running from me … owing everybody money … you lose one person out of your life at a time … and you feel worse and worse about yourself … so you use more and more to cover up feeling worse. It’s a terrible, terrible disease.”

In a remarkably poignant moment, Jason said he would even trade his addiction for cancer in a second.

Jason’s father-who also requested to remain anonymous-described his son’s turmoil as something felt by many, and more importantly, curable.

“You have all these young kids … thousands of them … from all walks of life … going to heroin,” Jason’s father said. “(Jason) never chose heroin. He got into heroin because he couldn’t get pills anymore. (Jason) is a good person. He’s always been kind to everybody. He just got caught up in this vicious nightmare of drugs and it’s completely shipwrecked him … but he’s still a good person. I still see good in him, and I’m convinced we’re going to get past this.”