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November 26, 2014
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The face of addiction in Sullivan County

Isabel Braverman

A few years ago my friend told me that we had friends who were addicted to heroin. I scoffed and said, “Well, I don’t know any.” Little did I know that a few years later I would know all too well.

The scourge of heroin and other opioid and addictive substances has hit Sullivan County full force. I see it or hear about it often. And yes, I do have friends who are addicts or recovering addicts (although I’ve never touched the stuff myself, and don’t plan to.)

Very recently, we lost a friend to addiction. He was one of the nicest guys you’d meet—funny and always seemed to be happy. I’m not sure many people knew about his struggle with addiction until his very unfortunate and sad death. He was 22 years old.

The face of addiction isn’t what you think it might be. Many addicts lead productive and functioning lives. They have many friends, they have a job, they have relationships. They may be clean-cut. They may not steal (although many crimes in Sullivan County are drug-related). They can be good people. What I am saying is, the stereotypical addict is no longer a stereotype. Sure, there are still those who can’t hold a job, look disheveled and unhealthy, and stay home and do drugs all day. But really, someone you know who seems “normal” could be struggling with addiction.

Those who struggle with addiction often find themselves in and out of rehab (or jail) as they try to stay sober. This is very difficult. It’s easy to judge an addict and say “Why did you start in the first place?” or “Why can’t you just stop doing drugs?” If they could “just stop” then they wouldn’t be an addict. In fact, addiction was recently classified as an illness. I’ve heard many times that just as you wouldn’t judge someone for having cancer, you shouldn’t judge an addict (take this statement at your own discretion.) For those who are trying to quit, they are trying very hard—going to rehab, to NA meetings, to counselors, and trying to find a better life for themselves. Unfortunately, many lose the battle.

Addiction has been all over the news lately with the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. And it’s been in our news locally. Take these startling statistics into consideration: Overdose deaths from painkillers in New York City increased 233% between 2000 and 2012, and heroin-related deaths increased 84% between 2010 and 2012. Overall, overdose deaths now exceed motor vehicle deaths in this country. Addiction stories in the media are starting a conversation, which I think is a good thing. We need to talk about it so that people can understand, as it’s a very hard thing to understand unless you’ve been there. It will hopefully also encourage addicts to come clean, both in talking to someone about their addiction, and by seeking help in getting sober. You can’t do it alone. You must have a support system.

Sullivan County needs to wake up and realize that heroin is here and it kills. You can’t just “do it once;” it is a highly addictive substance. If you see someone who wants to try it, or is on the path to trying it, stop them before they start. Because once you start, it is a long road. There is help in Sullivan County; there are support systems, NA meetings, rehab and counseling. If you are afraid or embarrassed to ask for help, realize that although people may be shocked at first, they will do anything to help you.

If you know someone who is addicted to heroin, or does any kind of addictive and deadly drug, you need to talk to them about it, before it is too late. You need to talk to them, or tell their parents, their friends, or someone who can help them. Do not worry that they might get mad at you. Even if they get mad and don’t want to be your friend anymore, that is far better than losing them forever to a fatal overdose. Chances are they may one day realize that you were right, and they will thank you for saving their life. After all, it only takes one time for a dose to be deadly.

I’ll end with the words of the father of my friend who passed away from overdose. This is what he wrote on Facebook: “Please hear this, and try to understand. I know Zachary liked to party and have a good time, but please don’t make who he was about drugs and alcohol. He was so much more than that. I know that many of you are struggling with addiction and I implore you to get help, before it’s too late. Zach was recovering and fought like a warrior. Unfortunately, he lost the battle. Pay attention, it only takes one time and you can’t come back. What a shame, do you understand? I will never see my baby boy again. Don’t let this happen to you or your friends. Don’t devastate your families and friends. Remember my Zach for the beautiful human being he really was. A most unbelievable, caring, charismatic, charming, heartwarming, funny and loving child. Please, don’t let my son die in vain. He would want you all to be healthy, happy and alive.”

[For an article on where to get help for addiction in Sullivan and neighboring counties, see here.]