Heroin in the High Country
Number of those 12 and over using heroin rose from 373,000 in 2007 to 669,000 in 2012
Number of those 15 to 24 dying of heroin overdose rose from 198 in 1999 to 510 in 2009.
Drug overdose was the leading cause of injury death in 2010. Among people 25 to 64 years old, drug overdose caused more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes.
ER visits for opiate misuse doubled from 2004 to 2008 (CDCP 2010)
Prescription drugs (mostly opiates) are the 2nd most commonly abused drugs—behind only marijuana (ONDCP 2007)
Source: National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, www.nrepp.samhsa.gov
Editor’s Note: This is the third of a four-part series about the increasing prevalence of heroin in Colorado’s Central Rockies ski resort communities. Tomorrow: Systems to save you.
If any heroin addict’s story is average, Chuck’s is. (Names have been changed.)
He thought he could control it. He was wrong.
Chuck is 18 and recently left the Vail Valley when the ski season ended to return to his native Pacific Northwest. He lives in a sober house in a rural area, close to his infant son. He found the facility himself and made all the arrangements, a long step for one so young, said his counselors and sponsors.
“To be a good dad, that’s the main thing,” Chuck said.
He came to Colorado to live with relatives and friends, and get away from those who helped drag him into the hell of heroin addiction. He quickly adds that he’s responsible for his own actions. Not that it’s been easy for a recovering addict to keep on the straight and narrow in the Vail Valley. He had plenty of opportunities to relapse, he said.
He worked several jobs in the valley last winter to occupy his mind and his hands. It’s better if you’re busy, he said.
“Vail was hard at first because so many kids get high here. It took a while for me to say, ‘It’s OK. No thanks. I’m good,’” Chuck said.
When heroin’s scales fell from his eyes, the world looked different, and different is good.
“I look at life so much differently now. I can find positives in almost anything,” he said.
He’s been clean for a year. If he has any regrets, and he does, it’s that drugs stole so much of his childhood.
In the seventh grade, he started experimenting with liquor. By the eighth grade, he discovered weed and was soon getting high during school. In the ninth grade, he tried ecstasy.
“I was an awkward kid, and it helped me socially. I wasn’t used to getting much attention,” Chuck said.
In 10th grade, he tried Adderall for ADHD and that turned him into an emotionless zombie. His friends had some so he tried it. He didn’t want to keep buying it from his friends, so he told his mom he thought he had ADHD. He was lying, but they went to a doctor who wrote him a prescription. By the end of his 10th grade year, he had totaled his mom’s car.
He was sent to stay with his dad in a remote part of the Pacific Northwest. When it came time to go back to his mom’s, his mom told him she didn’t want him back in her house. Still, he’d return to visit his mom, and that’s when he found his friends were trying heroin, so he tried it, too.
His mom knew someone who ran a land surveying company, and she got him a job. He was making his own money, but he spent it on heroin. Eventually he got caught and was sent to treatment.
“I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t think I had a problem. I thought I could kick it on my own,” he said. “I feel like a lot of kids think like that. It’s easy to be in denial about it. You can always say ‘If I do this or don’t do that’ it will be different than it was before.”
Try, try again
His first attempt at treatment came after his mom found drugs in his room. It broke her heart, but she told him he needed to go get help.
“While I was in (treatment), I convinced myself it was fine, I could do it once in a while,” Chuck said. “I got high the night I got out.”
He graduated from high school last May and took that job with the surveying company. He was still drinking once in a while.
“I thought I had it under control. Before long I was doing it (heroin) daily again,” he said.
His rock bottom came when he learned he had a child on the way, the same day his mom found out he was using again. He was sitting outside his house thinking about his young life. It took a long time, but he started crying. Everything came pouring out, all the hurt he’d caused to his family and himself. He determined right then that the chain of addiction would end with him.
But he was still of two minds, he said.
“I wanted to get high, and I wanted to get clean,” he said.
Everything is a matter of the proper motivation. For Chuck, it was the impending birth of his son. He went back to treatment and made it work this time.
His son is back in the Pacific Northwest and now so is he. Chuck has been clean for a year. So far, so good.
“I want to be able to be there as a dad. He looks just like me,” he said proudly.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vail daily.com.
The graduates of Vail Mountain School’s class of 2019 will be off to far-flung destinations next fall, set to enter college in one of 16 different states or explore the world on a gap year. One grad is even attending college in Canada.