The heroin addict next door

shutterstock_96799804Heroin does not discriminate — it spans all socioeconomic classes and infiltrates all communities. Heroin users of today are people you see every day – your neighbor, your in-law, your co-worker in the cubicle next to you – all seemingly normal, functional individuals, secretly dealing with a debilitating addiction.

From accident to addict

Jeff’s* journey to heroin addiction began with an accident and a subsequent prescription for Vicodin, an opioid narcotic painkiller used to treat moderate to severe pain.

Though the back pain eventually subsided, his need for the pills did not, and he found himself requiring higher doses just to get the same effect. The painkillers did for him what years of taking various antidepressants and anxiety medications did not – they made him feel really good.

He was addicted. It’s all he thought about…it’s all he cared about. The most important relationship in his life was the one he had with the drugs.

Jeff started illegally buying any type of painkiller he could get his hands on, but his addiction soon became far too expensive.

Enter heroin.

For the next ten-plus years, Jeff lied, cheated and stole. He spent every penny of his paycheck just to get a fix. He cut himself off from everyone except his fellow users. He found himself in an endless cycle of using, bottoming out, and then trying to get clean.

Both he and his family were at their wits’ end.

And then they found HOPE Center North.

A holistic approach

As the Lindner Center of HOPE is a valuable resource for meeting the mental health needs of the region, HOPE Center North, located on State Route 42 in Mason, is dedicated to addressing the community’s growing heroin problem.

Dr. Jolomi Ikomi, MD, staff psychiatrist for the Lindner Center of HOPE and medical director for HOPE Center North, says that the best outcome for addiction treatment comes from a combination of counseling and medication together.

The center offers medication-assisted treatment using drugs like methadone, Suboxone or naltrexone to reduce withdrawal symptoms enough so the patient can begin the hard work of recovery.

In addition, there are an addiction psychiatrist and therapists on staff who are able to treat patients who also have a form of mental illness – which can be as many as fifty percent of the patients.

“I’d always had the medication piece, but not the counseling with it,” said Jeff. “That made all the difference.”

Indicators of addiction

One of the early signs of addiction is a breakdown in relationships. There’s isolation from friends and family as addicts become preoccupied with obtaining the drug.

Other signs:

  • Decline in school/work performance and missing multiple days due to withdrawal symptoms
  • Use of other drugs, such as cannabis or alcohol, as there is a high prevalence of coexisting drug use.
  • Physical signs: needle track marks on arms, wearing long sleeves even in hot weather (to cover track marks), recurring vague medical symptoms (i.e. “I feel sick”)
  • Social signs include persistent financial and legal issues

How to get help

Motivating a loved one to get help for their addiction can be an uphill battle.

“Don’t just say ‘go get help.’ Identify a program, give them the phone numbers and addresses, and offer to go with them,” said Dr. Ikomi.

It’s also important for the family to quickly engage in support groups and get information on how to help their loved one.

HOPE Center North staff are always available to assist families in strategizing how to help get their loved one engaged,” said John Mallery, LISW, supervisor for HOPE Center North.

As for Jeff, for the first time in a long time, he is encouraged about his future. “With the HOPE Center behind me, I feel hopeful that I can get through any bumps in the road.”

There is HOPE for treating your or your loved one’s heroin addiction. For help, call (513) 536-0050 or click here.

* Name changed to protect client identity