Of the 20-25 clients I see a week I would estimate that about 75% of them are 18-26 year old opiate addicts. Opiates are most commonly prescription pain pills that release opiate endorphins (our natural morphine) such as Vicodin, Norco, Percocet, Oxycontin, and Opana. Of that 75% I would guess more than half of them were using Heroin regularly. If you would have asked me even 2 or 3 years ago I would have said 10-20% were using Heroin. If you are not familiar with the current drug trends the word Heroin may make you gasp, or if we are talking about your child, utter disbelief might be more fitting. Traditionally there have always been socio-economic trends when it comes to drug use and the types of drugs that are used in certain cultures and classes; but right now we are in the midst of a heroin epidemic that has no boundaries. Families from Granite Bay and Folsom to West Sacramento and everywhere in between are battling this difficult addiction. I am not talking about seasoned adult addicts either, ask any high school kid if they know of someone at their school using Heroin and most likely they will.
How did we get here? Most people are familiar with the Oxycontin boom that swept this country in the last 10 years. Lawsuits brought on swift regulation which led to the big pharm companies making Oxy very hard to abuse and the street value shot up to $60-$80 for one pill. People were already smoking, snorting, and injecting this high powered pain killer and the closest thing in strength that was readily available was heroin, and it was significantly cheaper. The jump for an active addict was a no brainer. Jon Daily, my mentor at Recovery Happens Counseling Services who has over 15 years experience in the field, was predicting this epidemic more than 5 years ago. And here we are.
The good news is there is excellent treatment available today. In the 80’s and 90’s, that was not the case. Back then if you were a Heroin addict you were most likely going to die of an overdose, contract a disease and die, or get off Heroin only to find yourself addicted to Methadone. I always say “addiction is a specialty, and opiate addiction is a specialty within that.” I could write pages upon pages about the treatment of opiate addicts, and I have great success doing so, but today I want my message to be about understanding another piece of them, their shame.
I have never met an addict who told me as a kid they wanted to become addicted, never. They always wanted to be fire fighters, doctors, ballerinas, or basketball players, etc… Ending up in a place one never anticipated, that goes against their morals, values, inherent identity, comes with great shame. Every addict on the inside has shame about losing control, the boundaries they’ve crossed, and how they’ve hurt those close to them. Heroin addicts have this shame and more. Like I said, addiction has its own shame and heroin addiction has more shame on top of that. Because of the stigma heroin addicts not only hide their addiction from family and friends but I often see them hiding it from their other substance abusing friends who might be using alcohol and marijuana. This shame eats away at them and drives them further to isolation, depression, and self hatred. There is a saying in the rooms of NA and AA that “your secrets keep you sick.” The untold message is your secrets create shame, and shame keeps us sick. Shame is the desire to be unseen; if I show you this part of me that I don’t like, I am afraid you won’t like all of me. I compare it to mold. Mold likes to grow in dark damp places where it can spread and destroy. However, direct sunlight for a continued time will kill most traces of mold. And just like mold, shame is decreased by facing the fear and being open and vulnerable. Exposure.
A common reaction when discovering a loved one is using heroin is shock and anger. Try to have patience and compassion. Imagine the pain one must be going through to have to seek that intoxication to numb and avoid emotions and then the pain they are feeling for the person they long not to be anymore. Addicts are some the loveliest, most talented, warm hearted, sensitive people, with a horrible, ugly, tragic disease.