For Kayla*, a 22-year-old mother of two, heroin abuse has been a tough battle to fight.
Kayla, who has been clean now for nearly five months, said she first began abusing opiates soon after the birth of her first child in 2010. After transitioning to higher and higher doses of Percocet and trying numerous times to quit the drug, she then turned to heroin.
Kayla said it was within a month after the birth of her second child, a girl, that she began snorting heroin and eventually injecting it.
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY NICK DUTRO
Injection is one form of taking heroin.
Although a three-month stint in jail for a parole violation kept Kayla clean for a while, after her release, she soon began using Percocet and heroin again.
"I got out and I probably stayed clean for a week," she said.
Kayla's fiance and father of her children also was a user, and even though the couple tried desperately to quit using opiates and even entered a rehabilitation center, they couldn't beat the addiction.
Task force adapts to epidemic
Chuck Boyer, unit coordinator of the Seneca Drug Task Force - METRICH Enforcement Unit, said, so far this year, the unit has handled 103 drug-related cases. The majority of them, he said, have involved heroin.
Most local users are purchasing the drug in Tiffin, Fostoria and in Seneca County, Boyer said, but some travel elsewhere to obtain the opiate. He said powdered heroin, the most prevalent type of heroin, costs about $20 for one-tenth of a gram.
"Any way they can get their hands on it, they're going to get it," he said.
Boyer said METRICH has arrested numerous heroin traffickers so far this year, and also has helped many users. The strategy of being compassionate toward drug users and offering help is something the task force didn't often do before the heroin epidemic, Boyer said.
"Now, we're being compassionate to people who want and need the help." he said. "We're trying to get help for the people who need the help and want the help and we're here to incarcerate people who need to be incarcerated. ... People that traffic the dope, they
cross the line when they sell it. Those are the ones who need to be incarcerated."
"A lot of heroin abusers say it is the worst drug you can imagine," Boyer added. "And the moment you choose to sell the stuff is when you're choosing to bring other people into that addiction."
Boyer said METRICH is working on finding a way to track heroin overdoses, which have been prevalent in the area.
"There's a chance of overdosing every time you use it," said METRICH detective Gabe Wedge.
Boyer said there are two ways to die from a heroin overdose; one is a lethal amount of the drug, and the other is from suffocation.
"The body goes into such a relaxed state," he said. "It's called the heroin nod. The head gets so heavy and it cuts off breathing."
Boyer said, with all the negative effects of the drug, it's amazing how many people try it.
Other side effects of heroin use include pupil dilation, mood swings, change in behavior and flu-like symptoms when a user has withdrawal.
"It's really a devastating drug," he said. "It affects not only the abuser but the abuser's family. "So many become victims because of heroin."
Joanne Kosta, a licensed counselor and substance abuse counselor at New Transitions Counseling in Tiffin, said she has seen many people affected by the drug.
"I've certainly seen my fair share of people affected somehow," she said. "It's either family members or people dealing with it themselves."
Kosta said New Transitions does not offer an intensive outpatient program for heroin addicts, but instead refers them to other programs. She said counselors, however, are seeing more family members of addicts seeking help.
"Families are feeling out of control and want to help," she said. "They're willing to do anything. They're just frantic."
"My suggestion is to get help themselves and support," she said. "I always recommend Al-Anon and 12-step programs."
Human services was contacted several times about Kayla, her fiance and the children while the pair was using, but nothing seemed to stop them, she said.
"When you're hooked on drugs, you don't care," she said.
Kayla said her grandmother often would take her daughter and her fiance's mother would take her son, but Kayla then began keeping her kids away from family members in fear they would not give them back.
During that time, Kayla was using heroin up to seven times a day and also driving to Toledo every day with her fiance, and many times with her children, to buy the drug.
"The last two years of my life, I couldn't really say what I did. I wouldn't just be high to the point of just being high and functioning," she said. "I couldn't function. I would be totally off in la-la land."
Kayla said, a few times, she even overdosed on the drug.
"A few times, I was breathing, but I injected it and fell right to the ground," she said.
Her fiance had to shake her to wake her, she said, and although she told him she was fine, looking back now, she knows she could have been close to death.
Kayla said after one of the episodes, she even got up from the floor and injected more heroin.
"It didn't even faze me one bit," she said.
Chasing a high that only lasts a few seconds is why so many users can't seem to quit the drug, Kayla said, and why she and her fiance were among those fighting to stop.
"The rush after you shoot dope, I could honestly still say I love that feeling," she said. "That's why I feel so bad for the people still doing it. They're still doing it for that one rush."
Kayla compared the feeling of being high on heroin to floating on a cloud, but said the initial rush of injecting heroin is short-lived.
"It takes you off your feet," she said. "But it's literally the devil. Once people start shooting up heroin, that's when everything goes."
Kayla said heroin is such a problem in the area that even middle school students are now battling to overcome an addiction. A former high school athlete herself, heroin can affect anyone, she said.
"There are so many people doing it here in Tiffin, and even young kids," she said. "I don't think people realize how bad it is."
Kayla said although she and her fiance discussed numerous times that they wanted to quit, it wasn't until January they were successful.
That month, her fiance was arrested and taken to jail. It was then that Kayla decided she would finally quit. After being told by human services her children would be better off in a different home, Kayla knew she had no choice but to quit.
"I told myself it was time," she said. "Seeing my kids, that they had what they needed, but not what they wanted, hurt my feelings because I knew I could give that to them if I stopped my drug habit."
"My kids had seen things they shouldn't have seen and we lost all of our family," she added. "Our families tried to help us so many times and they told us they weren't going to watch us kill ourselves."
While her fiance was detoxing in jail, Kayla turned to her probation officer for help.
"Not a lot of people get second chances like that and have help that I had there the whole time but never accepted," she said.
Kayla stopped hanging out with friends who were users and also tried to surround herself with family. The hardest part of detoxifying, she said, was getting back an appetite and regaining energy.
Keeping her mind off heroin also was difficult, she said.
"Once you start thinking about using, it only lasts for a couple minutes. You just have to beat that couple of minutes," she said.
"If you tell yourself it's bad, it's going to be bad," she said of the detoxification process. "I tried to keep myself around family members and instead of lying around and moping about it, I would shower in the morning, get around and enjoy the day."
Although it took a while, Kayla finally was clean. February was the first time she had a clean drug test.
"For people addicted to drugs, I wish someone could just make their life better in the minute they want it to be better, but that's why people don't change. It's hard to take step by step to get back to being happy."
Kayla said for those addicted to heroin, willpower is a must in successfully quitting the drug.
"No matter how hard your family wants you to stop, that's not going to get you to stop," she said. "Family and rehab can't make you do it; you have to do it on your own. If you truly put your all in it, you can."
For Kayla, stopping cold turkey was key, she said. She said, for her, using Suboxone or Methadone would have created the potential for another addiction.
"You're just putting that stuff back in your body. You're better off totally stopping and doing it cold turkey by yourself," she said. "A lot of people are scared of the withdrawal, but three to five days compared to the rest of your life. It's totally worth it."
Kayla said she and her fiance are clean of all drugs now, and they have really enjoyed spending time with their children.
Another child is on the way, too.
"We lost everything but our kids," she said of their addiction.
"My kids, before, would strive to go with other people. It's been two times now that family members wanted to keep them and they don't want to go," she said. "We feel like we're actually doing the jobs of being parents now."
Kayla said she and her fiance are glad they were able to overcome the addiction before their kids could fully realize what was going on, and said in the future, she hopes they will look at their parents' struggle in a different light.
"I hope my kids can look at it as me being a strong person and overcoming it, and that me and their dad did it for them."
* Kayla's name has been changed to protect her identity.