'It's Like Playing Russian Roulette With Your Life'—The Struggle With Heroin Addiction


Editor’s Note: West Virginia Public Radio is airing a four part series on heroin addiction in West Virginia. The number of deaths attributed to heroin overdoses in West Virginia is rising steadily. This story is a conversation with some of those seeking help and treatment for their addiction to the drug.

According to statistics from the West Virginia Health Statistics Center, nearly 300 people from West Virginia have died from heroin overdoses since 2001. Almost all of them were males. These deaths occur all over the state, with the five leading counties being Berkeley, Cabell, Monongalia, Kanawha and Jefferson. Law enforcement officials say they are seeing more cases involving heroin across the state, with the drug coming primarily from Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and other nearby cities. While those officials are trying to stop the sale and use of heroin, many addicts seek treatment because they desperately want to stop.

There are three medications that are used for people struggling with heroin addiction. One is Methadone, which has been used widely for years. Another is buprenorphine, which some believe is very useful. The third is called naltrexone.

West Virginia Public Radio spoke recently with several people who are trying to kick the heroin habit. Out of respect to their privacy, we won’t be using their actual names in this story.

One person who is seeking treatment is a mother from Hampshire County, who comes to Morgantown to get help. She is being treated at Chestnut Ridge Center in Morgantown. Like many heroin users, her addiction began with pills.

“When I shot it up for the first time, it was like it made all my problems go away. Everything was better for that couple of minutes where I had that rush. Nothing could beat that rush. Once you do heroin, you will never like another drug in my opinion,” she said.

She says she’s 40 days clean now. But nothing comes easily for her. She recalls having a difficult time simply going to a grocery store, because dealers were there selling drugs.

“Now at 40 days clean I can honestly say I haven’t had any urges, and I think in my mind I’m ready to get clean. If you’re not ready, you’re not going to. You have to accept that you have a problem and get help for it,” she said.

Another person seeking treatment is a young man from Harrison County. He says using heroin almost killed him.

“I was a needle user since I was 15, 16, and actually two years ago I had a stroke and I almost died from using needle. A blood clot. It’s hard. Every day it’s a struggle. It’s hard to rebuild what you had. I had nothing really, just being ill all day, it’s really hard,” he said.

It’s like playing Russian Roulette with your life. It’s either you choose your life, or you’re working on death. It’s a downhill slope.”

And then there’s a 32-year-old woman from Parkersburg, who is in treatment for the second time. She says the lowest point was when she found herself stealing money for her addiction from loved ones.

“How low have I sunk to get to this point? I’m stealing from people I care about,” she said.

“I just wanted someone to recognize that I needed help. Once all those things are gone, you really start to figure out that you need help.”

But she’s got hope. And she says she has a message for people who are struggling.

“You are not alone,” she said.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It makes a lot of things harder in your life, but being in recovery, my life has grown exponentially. Being a drug addict does not mean that your life is over.”