About this series
This is the fourth installment in an occasional series on the rise of heroin overdoses in the past few years and what is being done in Forsyth County to combat the causes at their root.
* Nationwide rise in overdoses hits close to home in Forsyth County.
* Law ensures amnesty for 911 calls, provides overdose reversal drug.
* Local programs aim to educate teens, prevent overdoses.
* As addiction increases, so must the conversation
* Series on addiction concludes with look back
FORSYTH COUNTY — Chris Stevens preferred the high he got off painkillers over heroin even after he tried both, but he stuck with heroin because it was half the price and twice as potent.
Still, the then 20-year-old was spending at least $100 a day.
He would lie, cheat, steal, scam. Anything to feed his addiction.
“I was basically a con artist,” Stevens said. “I would steal from my family. My little brother. One time I even stole the flat screen from my parents’ living room. I had a really strict stepdad, and my mom wouldn’t want him to find out about a lot of the stuff I did. I would go pawn something and she’d get it out.
“It’s crazy stuff. It’s baffling. It’s almost like an out-of-body experience because I knew what I was doing, but I couldn’t stop myself from stealing anything I could get my hands on from friends, from family.”
This was a daily struggle for Stevens. Though the struggle was isolating, every time he stole, every needle he injected put him a step closer to becoming a statistic. Part of a national upward trend of people dying from heroin overdoses.
Stevens would have fit the mold.
Heroin deaths doubled from 2010 to ’12, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2013, the highest rate of overdoses was in white 18- through 44-year-olds.
“It’s not a regulated drug, so the same dosages can have different potencies,” said Forsyth County Sheriff’s Maj. Rick Doyle.
Stevens said he knows people who went to a detox center for a week or got arrested, came back for the same amount and overdosed because they couldn’t handle the potency.
Heroin was about 5 percent pure in the 1970s, according to StopHeroin.org. The rest was filler material, like sugar or starch.
Now dealers often sell doses that are 80 percent pure, and filler material is being laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opiate analgesic similar to — but more potent than — morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
The bridge to this unpredictable drug from prescription opium-based narcotics like Percocet and OxyContin is a slope well-traveled.
“That’s the main problem especially as of lately. They’ve really cracked down on painkillers and prescriptions, and the rings where they would find doctors who would prescribe painkillers,” Stevens said. “Then people started turning to heroin.”
“I didn’t want to live”
According to StopHeroin, 65 percent of addicts transition to heroin after getting hooked on prescription opioids.
Some, like Stevens, opened the door with marijuana and alcohol. He was an eighth-grader in Forsyth County.
Others are prescribed painkillers after an injury or surgery.
OxyContin used to cost about $25 a pill, which can be cut into up to four “hits,” according to an undercover narcotics agent with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.
Now they’re about $80 each.
Heroin sells for about $20 for a one-gram hit, he said, and is much easier to find.
There’s a stigma to drug addiction, Stevens said, but people need to realize heroin does not profile or stick to a certain age group or race or socioeconomic class.
“People have the image that it’s not in the wealthy areas,” he said. “They think of crack heads or people living under a bridge. It’s also 14-, 15-, 16-year-old kids doing it in the basement of their parents’ million-dollar house.”
By the time Stevens found heroin, he was in the hold of addiction.
“The first thing I did when I woke up was try to figure out how I was going to get money [for pills]. So heroin was pretty much the same thing,” Stevens said.
“It got to the point where I would steal Visa gift cards because I had a dealer who would take them, and I wouldn’t even put money on them. So I had all these dealers looking for me.”
He would try to do enough heroin so he wouldn’t wake up.
“It was just hopelessness,” he said. “I didn’t want to live, but I didn’t have the courage to end my own life. No, that’s not courage.
“I had nobody. I had nothing. I had one pair of clothes. I was just a waste.”
The hold of addiction
Addiction — alcohol, gambling, illicit drugs — is a spiral intangible to anyone who has not experienced it, though family members and friends may get close.
“It’s like being trapped. Every day you know it’s wrong. You know you’re going to end up dead, especially with this drug, and you do it anyway,” Stevens said.
“There were countless times I would be driving, telling myself I wouldn’t do this anymore. And I would pull up to a drug dealer’s house bawling because I couldn’t control it.”
The last straw came to Stevens after he and his stepfather got into a fight. He got locked out of the house, but his stepfather and mom offered to take him to a friend’s.
“I was in the town I grew up in my whole life, and not a single person answered,” he said. “No one wanted anything to do with me. That really hit home hard. Enough was enough.”
A new door opened
Stevens now works as a mentor at Recovery Outfitters in south Forsyth, the same treatment center for men addicted to drugs and alcohol he attended as a patient.
“It’s one thing for someone who has an education with all these degrees [to be at the center], but a whole other thing to see someone who’s been through it themselves,” he said.
He is 25, married and has a 1-year-old boy with a girl on the way.
He has been clean for two years.
As hard as it is for addicts to explain the weight of their chains, coming out of an addiction is just as foreign from a second-hand experience.
“It’s refreshing, but it’s different for everybody,” Stevens said. “But I had just been so badly mangled. To be able to wake up and not have that feeling of needing something. It’s … freeing.”
The daily struggle still exists. Just in a different form.
“It takes doing certain things daily to have the right attitude. It’s not just about the drugs. Your attitude and your actions are the main part,” he said.
“The more you do the right stuff, it does get easier. It’s about living the right way. Learning to live again.”