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For some addicts, there’s a clear and often quick trajectory of hitting bottom before recovering. The harsh consequences of addiction seem to supply the clarity needed to make a resolution of sobriety. Others place the emphasis on minimizing harm to addicts while they’re using heroin.

“I believe that you can prevent harm wherever people are,” Louise Vincent said. “It is such a relief for people to be able to tell the truth. In order to get services you have to lie, and say you want to quit.”

Some heroin users seem to fall off the face of the earth as their addiction accelerates. Others manage to function. Vincent, for one, earned a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree while using heroin intermittently.

She teaches classes on prevention of Hepatitis C, a disease common among heroin users because it is transmitted through blood, at the Addiction Recovery Care Association, or ARCA residential treatment program. She distributes naloxone within her network of friends who are active users to reverse overdoses.

“We have an underground needle exchange, so they can get sterile supplies,” Vincent said. “They don’t promote use; they prevent disease and they link people to services. It’s still illegal in North Carolina. We hook them up with people who can help them. We make sure they know how to use naloxone.”

Vincent rejects the notion that recovery is an all-or-nothing proposition.

“The times I’ve had very traumatic experiences like death or a child gets taken away, you can look at my substance use and see a peak; you can see I use chaotically,” she said. “There’s other times when I’ve been in a good place, and I’ve been able to use moderately.”

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Stacy West’s family tried to stage an intervention at church. They wanted her to go into a residential treatment program, but Stacy resisted the idea because she was afraid of losing her children. The disagreement caused a fight, and Stacy got upset and stormed out. As she was driving out of the church parking lot, she almost ran over her mother and one of her mother’s friends.

Meanwhile, her parents placed a call to Child Protective Services. It wasn’t long before West and her husband heard the dreaded knock at the door.

The two girls at first went to stay with West’s mother-in-law, but she got sick with cancer. Eventually, they wound up staying with West’s parents.

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As a traditional supply point, High Point has always been an attractive location for addicts to buy heroin that’s both cheaper and more potent than what’s available in other parts of North Carolina.

“I know that it was cheaper for me to get it in High Point versus going to other places,” Misty Sanders said. “It’s insanely cheap, strong and good.”

She lived for a while in Myrtle Beach, but almost always came back to High Point to score.

“I’ve done heroin from South Carolina,” Sanders said. “None of it compared to what I got in High Point. I would drive up and get the drugs for the weekend, and go back. That’s how much better it was.”

When she lived in Thomasville, Sanders would come to High Point to get heroin, rarely waiting to get back home before shooting up.

“I used everywhere: gas station bathrooms, Walmart bathrooms,” she said. “I’d rent a room at a motel off Brentwood and get high for days. I’ve used in cars in parking lots. Most addicts carry around a bottle of water. Normally, when we get it we’re sick at the time, so we’re gonna use it at the dealer’s house or in the car.

“I’ve had so many run-ins with the police it’s ridiculous,” Sanders continued. “They came in my motel room. The officer asked me if I had heroin. I said I had needles in the room but no heroin, which was the truth.”

Sanders has had too many run-ins with law enforcement to count. But one encounter with the High Point police stands out.

“One of them called out my dealer’s name,” she said. “He said, ‘I hope you’re not buying from him because his dope is killing people.’ I said to myself: ‘Oh my, that is my drug dealer.’”

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People who use heroin inevitably find themselves in jail at some point during the course of their addictions, whether from stealing or committing fraud to support their habit, or simply from possessing an illegal substance.

“The stigma on addiction is insane, and it’s insane the way people treat you because addiction is criminalized,” Louise Vincent said. “I have a lengthy criminal record, but it’s all for drug paraphernalia and drug use. I’ve never stole from anyone. What my criminal record is, is basically a hospital record.”

Stacy West’s experience with jail predated her use of heroin. When she was in her early twenties she stole handguns from her father, and someone in turn stole the guns from her.

“You know, I guess I just took them for my friends,” West said. “My dad took out larceny charges against me. I spent eight months in jail. I did a lot of hurtful things. My husband’s brother had the gun. I never told on his brother. I took the rap.”

The eight months West spent in the Randolph County Jail didn’t pose any deterrent to her later use of heroin.

“The officers loved me,” she recalled. “They’d say, ‘You’re a good girl. What are you doing here?’… I got along with everybody, all the inmates. Even a girl in there for murder. She was sweet as can be.”

If anything, Misty Sanders said, jail gives addicts an opportunity to detox, albeit with limited success.

“I understand why people go back to using,” she said. “There’s no resources. They get clean, but they don’t have any family to help them at that point. You have people who are in jail for three days. They detox when they’re in there, but then they get out and start using again. Most of the girls I’ve seen in jail were addicts of pain pills and heroin. If there were more resources available they wouldn’t go back to using.”

Maj. Chuck Williamson, the commander of the Guilford County Jail’s court services bureau, acknowledged that jail can only do so much to help addicts. The new jail in Greensboro has medical housing available for inmates who are experiencing severe and life-threatening symptoms from heroin withdrawal. The court services bureau looks at inmates’ charges to flag those who are in jail for drug-related offenses, and if the inmate confirms their addiction they receive a referral to a special drug court. Williamson said the purpose of drug court is to divert addicts from jail as long as they comply with a treatment program. The jail also refers inmates who are struggling with addiction to narcotics anonymous and other support groups.

“There’s a lot of social issues that go along with criminal activity,” said Williamson, who has 26 years of experience in the profession. “Let’s say I’m an addict. Whatever offense I’ve committed, it’s probably because I’m using and I’m trying to survive. I’ve cut off all ties to family and friends. I have a brother in this jail right now. They’ve cut off all ties to their family. They’ve stolen from them. A lot of them may not have housing, may not have income to meet their basic needs. You can refer them to a meeting. If there’s not resources to connect them to the basic needs of food, housing and security, they’re going to go back to what they know.”

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Stacy West used methadone, an opioid medication that reduces symptoms from heroin withdrawal, to remain functional. She worked as a stripper to finance her habit. Her husband did sporadic tree work to earn money for drugs.

“After I got back from the club I’d get crack to cancel out the methadone, so I could feel the high from heroin,” West recalled. “I was dancing and working eight months after our kids were taken. I was mad at myself. I was mad at my family. I was mad at the world. I attempted suicide. I got to a point where I didn’t want to live…. The needle became my best friend.”

She had lost her entire support network, except for her husband.

“Scott was the only person I had besides the drug,” she said. “I hated him for everything we went through. I singled him out and focused on the drug.”

Misty Sanders’ addiction also reached a suicidal level.

“You don’t want to be sick,” she said. “Whatever you’re running from, you don’t want to feel that. I was trying to die. I’ve overdosed several times. When I was using heavily I was hoping that that last shot would be my last shot so I wouldn’t have to do that no more.”

12 COMMENTS

  1. The war on drugs has been a failure since the 80’s and sine the early 90’s when I became a cop I have seen drugs grow. I don’t know who is to blame, the Courts, the Federal Government or local Police but we are way past the point of losing the war on drugs. We need to work on education on the street and schools and get serious about punishing dealers, the court system is a joke and that I know. I feel for people have seen them go from good people to drug burnouts that look half dead. The state governments cut mental health funding and drug abuse programs and what do we get, more drug abuse. The system rather fund someone to stay in jail then to help them on the street, strange world I guess.

    • The legalization of opiate pain killers in the 1990. These pills are the same as herion and Dr. We’re prescribing them like candy after the pharmaceutical companies told them they were safe.

  2. I believe this fight will continue to be ongoing. And we are losing too many lives at an alarming rate. We have to see major changes in our Health Care and Mental Health Systems. It is disturbing to know that “experts” know that addiction is a disease, yet resources are so lacking. Education and Information to the American public is paramount to helping to stamp out the stigma.In 2012 when my daughter died, she was the first of at least 8 other young adults in the High Point and Winston-Salem area to die. The heroin was pure, therefore lethal. The only thing and DEALER is interested in, is the money. Where is the interest in saving lives?

  3. in my opinion heroin is the devil itself and those who use said that they were addicted the first time they used it i i had a daughter who was addicted for four years and got clean for six then chose to go back using and overdosed on feb 16 2014 and died i dont understand ???? people i know are dying every day from this epidemic and it need to stop

    • Just as a side note and to give some insight on major policy issues which are being ignored at the Federal and all State levels; In the President’s SOTU speech, was there even one mention of what is or has been done regarding the major drug deaths (Epidemic( throughout this country or the statistics? in every city and State? Was there even one mention regarding policies proposed or being dicussed regarding the Rights of Grandparents, Children, Extended families? There are numerous commited Americans working tirelessly to bring awarenes and change in these areas. Thousands, if not millions of people are needed to support them and be a voice for change that could impact the American Family and our Nation. If you’re a voice for even one child, you can be a voice in support of stopping death and injustice in our own Country!

  4. As much as we spend in High Point for our fine law enforcement org, we also blindly support a few orgs that make it so much easier for many folks to be supported in the non self supporting ways to which they have become accustomed.
    Charity offered becomes an other side demand when too much is offered for too little effort in return.
    Our federal government has even made it more possible to be assisted for the mere addictive and non productive multi generational lifestyle that seems to be growing in the face of our weakly effective “war on drugs”: enablers and punishers both as they are.

  5. It goes without saying that ours is an overly medicated society. We have not been taught (well) that with proper diet, exercise, etc., we can function at a much higher level than we believe. I dealt with opiate addiction for a time after chronic pain and I also experienced the onslaught of drugs in the ’70s and lost several friends…very good people with wonderful hearts who were so very funny and had so much to offer in this journey we all experience. I miss them terribly because there was something truly outstanding about each and every one of them. In other words, they made this world a much better place because of their presence. I hope those who experience this burden concerning drugs, myself included, can do our part to help remove the stigma and ignorance concerning this very serious problem. (Seriously, every one of these persons I knew who died prematurely because of drugs was a very exceptional person…with a beautiful heart and mind…makes you wonder.)

    • Rhonda Williams; It does make one wonder. I know personally and through an online Support site for parents who have lost their children to addiction, that most, if not all have a similar depth of spirit. Those who have, or so it seems to a casual observer, become addicted appear to have characteristics in common. These characteristics, life events and brain chemistry, along with possible other factors should be examined. The Mental Health and Medical Health Professions are a failure in the are of addiction.

  6. Ive lost 2 friends to heroin overdoses, I thought they both had it licked, I dont understand but I have never tried it or never will, but Iam sure its just so addicting that it takes over, so sad

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