AUSTIN (KXAN) - Just a few years ago, Donna was a kindergarten teacher and amom-to-be, with a life that included affluence and comfort.
The Austinite’s journey to rehab for a heroin addictionwas a nightmare she says cost her nearly everything: Her job, herfriends, much of her life.
"You're talking to the girl who shot heroin in the parking lotat the country club," Donna said.
Local police say that heroin, rampant decades ago and then againin the late 90s, is "resurfacing" here as more young people areusing, Austin police Sgt. Richard Stresing said. And from studentsto country club members to housewives, as overdoses and rehabcheck-ins rise and the heroin gets cheaper and more dangerous, noone is safe from its grasp, authorities said.
"Our narcotics units are seeing I-35 being used as a majorcorridor," he said. "Drugs are coming into major cities, and Austinis one of them. Then it becomes a pinwheel effect. It goes intoAustin, and then out to other small communities. Black tar heroincan be linked to Texas Syndicate and Mexican Mafia locally; thesupply comes from drug cartels in Mexico."
The last place Donna thought she would ever be was at the doorof AustinRecovery, a local drug rehab and treatment center. But a spineinjury, which happened during the birth of her child, lead to anaddiction to pain killers. From there, it turned into a heroinaddiction.
"It really just spiraled out of control," Donna said. "It tookme to places I never thought I would go. Everything I ever said Iwould never do, I did freely and willingly."
But two months ago, there she was: One of a growing number ofCentral Texans recently seeking help for addictions andoverdoses.
"[We are] definitely seeing professionals, and even housewives,"said Austin Recovery chemical dependency counselor AngelaVickrey.
KXAN Austin News was able to talk to some local recoveringheroin addicts. To respect their anonymity, only their first nameswill be used.
Austin Recovery has seen a 15 percent increase in heroin addictssince February, particularly people who switched from pain killersand already the city has reported some 16 heroin overdoses in 2009.That's a higher number than usual, attributed by authorities to anespecially strong variety coming from international gangs.
When the heroin is stronger, a user may take a hit that's normalfor them and wind up dying of an overdose in an emergency room.
It's a cycle that happens often, and is not unheard of in Texas.In Plano in the mid-90s, teens started dying inexplicably of heroinoverdoses in what health officials were calling a sudden epidemicof drug use and addiction. Dozens of young people died in theDallas-Fort Worth and Plano areas before authorities were able totrace the alarming trend back to a drug ring that had specificallytargeted Plano to peddle its wares - mainly for its high populationof affluent people who could afford the drug and low number ofthings for teens to do with their time.
In Central Texas, the dangerous heroin nearly killed Kelli,another recovering addict who found herself near death not too longago.
"The ambulance driver was screaming at me 'Lady, lady you'redying, we have to know what you've done,' " Kelli said.
With only two weeks clean, Kelli faces a long and dangerousroad. The longer the drug stays out of her body, the moresusceptible she is to death from overdose if she relapses -particularly with a dangerously strong variety on the streets rightnow.
But Kelli is determined and optimistic, and she wants to helpother addicts by sharing her story.
"The people who were dying the week before I came in here, theones who died here in Austin, they didn't die in vain," Kelli said."Because I am a life saved."
Austin Recovery chemical dependency counselors said whatcommonly starts as a Vicodin or Oxycontin habit can quickly morphinto a heroin addiction. Especially with Oxycontin at $80 a pilland heroin just $10 a balloon, which contains several doses.
"Usually they turn to heroin," Vickrey said. "It is very costeffective."
It seems that even drug addicts are affected by a recession.But, one of the worst parts of being addicted is not being able tocompromise on your usage, recovering addicts said.
"It becomes the most important thing in your life," said Donna."It does not matter who you are, what your last name is, how muchmoney you have.”
Still, there is a way out.
"There's hope, there's recovery," Kelli said. "There's a 1,000before us and 1,000 behind us, but there's still hope."
Below is a compilation of facts, signs and treatment options forheroin use:
Here are some heroin facts:
First synthesized from morphine in 1874, heroin was notextensively used in medicine until the early 1900s. Commercialproduction of the new pain remedy was first started in 1898. Itinitially received widespread acceptance from the medicalprofession, and physicians remained unaware of its addictionpotential for years.
The first comprehensive control of heroin occurred with theHarrison Narcotic Act of 1914. Today, heroin is an illicitsubstance having no medical utility in the United States.
Heroin can be injected, smoked or sniffed/snorted. Injection isthe most efficient way to administer low-purity heroin. Theavailability of high-purity heroin, however, and the fear ofinfection by sharing needles has made snorting and smoking the drugmore common. National Institute on Drug Abuse researchers haveconfirmed that all forms of heroin administration are addictive
With 560,000 people using heroin in the last year, according toinformation from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, thereis a chance that you know someone who is using it.
Signs of heroin use
There are many signs that someone may be involved in heroinsubstance abuse. One of the most common signs includes dramaticchanges in one's life.
Here are some symptoms or clues that are key indicators ofpossible heroin use:
- Unkempt appearance/hygiene issues
- Missing cash/valuables, stealing/borrowing money
- Change in performance, academic or otherwise
- Drug paraphernalia
- Apathy and/or lethargy
- Possession of unexplained valuables
- Runny nose
- Change in friends
- Little or no motivation
- Incurring unusually large miles on the odometer of car
- Ignores consequences of chosen behaviors
- Withdrawal from usual friends, activities, or interests
- Eyes appear "lost" or have faraway look
- Excess or sudden sleep
- Slurred speech
- Loss of interest in usual, healthy activities
- No interest in future plans
- Broken commitments
- Hostility towards others
- Unexplained absences at work, school or family events
- Poor self-image
- Running away
- Difficulty in maintaining employment
Questions to ask yourself when you suspect a person is usingdrugs:
- Are the person's grades suddenly dropping?
- Is the quality of work assignments becoming progressively worse?
- Does the person's performance in sports or music suffer?
- When someone suddenly becomes worse at something he or she is good at, this can be a sign of heroin substance abuse. Additionally, someone using heroin may stop showing up on time or at all.
Heroin Treatment Options
A variety of effective treatments are available for heroinaddiction.
Treatment tends to be more effective when heroin abuse isidentified early. The treatments that follow vary depending on theindividual, but methadone, a synthetic opiate that blocks theeffects of heroin and eliminates withdrawal symptoms, has a provenrecord of success for people addicted to heroin.
Other pharmaceutical approaches, like levo-alpha-acetyl-methadoland buprenorphine, and many behavioral therapies also are used fortreating heroin addiction.
The primary objective of detoxification is to relieve withdrawalsymptoms while patients adjust to a drug-free state.
Not in itself a treatment for addiction, detoxification is auseful step only when it leads into long-term treatment that iseither drug-free (residential or outpatient) or uses medications aspart of the treatment.
The best documented drug-free treatments are the therapeuticcommunity residential programs lasting at least three to sixmonths.
Methadone treatment has been used effectively and safely totreat opioid addiction for more than 30 years.
Properly prescribed methadone is not intoxicating or sedating,and its effects do not interfere with ordinary activities such asdriving a car. The medication is taken orally and it suppressesnarcotic withdrawal for 24 to 36 hours. Patients are able toperceive pain and have emotional reactions.
Most important, methadone relieves the craving associated withheroin addiction; craving is a major reason for relapse. Amongmethadone patients, it has been found that normal street doses ofheroin are ineffective at producing euphoria, thus making the useof heroin more easily extinguishable.
Methadone's effects last for about 24 hours, four to six timesas long as those of heroin - so people in treatment need to take itonly once a day. Also, methadone is medically safe even when usedcontinuously for 10 years or more.
Combined with behavioral therapies or counseling and othersupportive services, methadone enables patients to stop usingheroin (and other opiates) and return to more stable and productivelives.
Methadone dosages must be carefully monitored in patients whoare receiving antiviral therapy for HIV infection, to avoidpotential medication interactions.
LAAM and Other Medications
LAAM, like methadone, is a synthetic opiate that can be used totreat heroin addiction.
LAAM can block the effects of heroin for up to 72 hours withminimal side effects when taken orally.
In 1993 the Food and Drug Administration approved the use ofLAAM for treating patients addicted to heroin. Its long duration ofaction permits dosing just three times per week, therebyeliminating the need for daily dosing and take-home doses forweekends. LAAM will be increasingly available in clinics thatalready dispense methadone.
Naloxone and naltrexone are medications that also block theeffects of morphine, heroin, and other opiates. As antagonists,they are especially useful as antidotes. Naltrexone haslong-lasting effects, ranging from 1 to 3 days, depending on thedose.
Naltrexone blocks the pleasurable effects of heroin and isuseful in treating some highly motivated individuals. Naltrexonehas also been found to be successful in preventing relapse byformer opiate addicts released from prison on probation.
Another medication to treat heroin addiction is buprenorphine.Buprenorphine is a particularly attractive treatment because,compared to other medications, such as methadone, it causes weakeropiate effects and is less likely to cause overdose problems.
Although behavioral and pharmacologic treatments can beextremely useful when employed alone, science has taught us thatintegrating both types of treatments will ultimately be the mosteffective approach.
There are many effective behavioral treatments available forheroin addiction. These can include residential and outpatientapproaches.
An important task is to match the best treatment approach tomeet the particular needs of the patient. Moreover, several newbehavioral therapies, such as contingency management therapy andcognitive-behavioral interventions, show particular promise astreatments for heroin addiction. Contingency management therapyuses a voucher-based system, where patients earn 'points' based onnegative drug tests, which they can exchange for items thatencourage healthy living.
Cognitive-behavioral interventions are designed to help modifythe patient's thinking, expectancies, and behaviors and to increaseskills in coping with various life stressors.
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