Pubdate: Mon, 26 Jun 2006
Source: Berkshire Eagle, The (Pittsfield, MA)
Copyright: 2006 New England Newspapers, Inc.
Author: Benning W. De La Mater, Berkshire Eagle Staff
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Methadone)
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)


Dope sick. Stealing. Dealing. Snapping. Four addicts tell how heroin 
derailed their lives.

Heroin is like a parasite that seeps into your body and devours your 
spark for life.

When you're addicted to the drug, it consumes your every thought. 
Controls your every move. Tells your brain you want more, and your 
body you need it.

Even when the stakes are high, when you know just one potent dose of 
heroin could end your life, you will stop at nothing to get the drug 
and end the withdrawals, the pain from a past injury, bad memories, 
or just plain boredom.

Locals who have fought heroin and defeated it, and those who are 
consumed by addiction, share one reality -- they face a lifelong 
battle to stay clean.

Some succeed. Most don't.

The addict

Danny Donnelly pulled his car away from the curb in a rough Holyoke 
neighborhood and aimed it for the first do-it-yourself car wash he could find.

In the passenger seat sat his cousin. In back, a friend.

They traveled from Pittsfield to Holyoke, "dope sick the whole way," 
to buy cheap bags of heroin.

Within three minutes of leaving a drug den, Danny spotted a car wash 
and pulled into an open bay.

He was the first to shoot up. The warm rush hit the core of his body 
and slowly spread to his extremities.

"This is some potent stuff," he said to his buddies. "Stronger than usual."

Danny warned them to do just one bag. He exited the vehicle and slid 
quarters into a slot on the wall, washing the car as a cover, just in 
case any cops drove by.

Halfway through the soap cycle, his cousin opened the passenger door, 
took one step, and crumbled to the concrete. His face turned blue.

Danny dropped the hose and ran to his cousin's side. He yelled to his 
friend, "Gimme a hand!"

The friend jumped out from the back seat, took a step and passed out 
beside the cousin.

Danny freaked out. He was high, but a sober clarity slapped him in 
the face -- his buddies were dying; the heroin had stopped their 
breathing. Their hearts were next.

He slapped their faces. No response. The hose writhed and soaked the 
scene in suds as Danny heaved the men's limp bodies into the front 
seat, arms and legs everywhere. He tore out of the car wash. There 
was a hospital about a mile away. He pulled up to the emergency room 
door, threw the car into park, and ran in screaming for help.

He grabbed the first wheelchair he saw. A nurse was right behind him 
with a second. Danny wheeled his cousin in and left. On probation and 
certain of police arrival, he headed home to Pittsfield.

His phone rang the next morning. It was his cousin. "Come get us," he 
said. "They're letting us out."

Danny drove back to Holyoke and picked up the men. From the hospital, 
they headed for the same drug house, the same heroin, the same high 
that nearly claimed two lives just hours before.

"It was as comical as it was frightening," Danny said as he sat 
inside the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction in 
Pittsfield on a recent afternoon.

He's back in jail for breaking the probation agreement stipulating 
that he would stay away from heroin.

It keeps pulling him back. It has for more than half his life.

"I fell in love with the drug when I was 12," said Danny, now 46.

He was working on a Mr. Softee ice cream truck in New York City in 
1972 when an older co-worker offered him heroin.

Curious, Danny stuck out his arm and tried a drug that would rule his 
life from then on. He had grown up in a rough-and-tumble Bronx 
neighborhood and was indoctrinated into the gang scene at an early 
age. The prerequisites for membership were centered on drugs and alcohol.

He moved to Pittsfield with most of his extended family in 1989 and 
seemingly was in and out of jail every other year. He'd stay clean 
for a few months and then fall back into the trap. About three years 
ago, something clicked. Danny started hearing what the counselors at 
the jail had been telling him for years, that the drug eventually 
would end his life.

He was released from jail, went to Narcotics Anonymous meetings, and 
found a painting job. He was clean for three months, the longest of 
any stay on the streets since his days on the ice cream truck.

And then fate kicked him in the gut.

"I had just gotten done with a job, and I was going to the store on 
break. As I'm walking on the sidewalk, I spot a bag of heroin on the 
ground. I'm like, 'You gotta be kidding me.' It just took me right 
back to the height of my using."

Today, Danny says he wants to kick the habit, if not for himself, for 
his two young children and his wife. His brother-in-law, Eric 
Wickenheisser, died in the men's bathroom of the Dunkin' Donuts on 
First Street in Pittsfield last July after injecting a potent dose of heroin.

Danny partially blames himself.

"I was the first one who stuck him," said Danny, referring to giving 
Eric his first hit of heroin.

Danny can reel off two dozen names of Berkshire County residents who 
have died of heroin or opioid overdoses. The names all match death 
certificates in City Hall.

Pam, his wife of 18 years, said she always believed she could change 
his behavior.

"I guess I'm a sucker for love, because I thought I could fix him," 
she said. "I can't. He has to help himself. I don't know if he can. 
In jail, he's a model citizen. When he gets out, he can't cope. He 
goes right back to the drugs.

"Every important event in an addict's life is centered around the 
drug, and when their next hit will come. Their memories just 
disappear. It takes a toll on everybody in the family, from the 
youngest to the oldest."

Danny is scheduled to get out of jail in July. He knows what he has 
to do to break the cycle.

"I have to go to NA meetings, just like I went to Holyoke (to buy 
drugs). This place helps me. But then we're let out and go right back 
to the same thing. We need more places to go after jail. We need more 
beds. Take those dilapidated buildings downtown and build us a place 
for transitioning."

The teenager

Nick has seen "The Beast," and he knows it's real.

That's what he calls an addiction to heroin. He's a 27-year-old 
handyman from Adams who has been clean for nearly five years. He 
asked that his real name not be used.

To this day, he's amazed that something as insignificant as a powder 
0.025 grams in weight -- a pinch of salt -- could push him around for 
four years.

At Hoosac Valley High School, he started drinking alcohol and smoking 
pot as a freshman.

"We used the excuse that there was nothing else to do," he said.

He used LSD and mushrooms, and then occasional hits of cocaine. In 
10th grade, friends started passing around pain relief pills, opioids 
such as Percocet, OxyContin and Vicodin.

"We'd steal them from our friends' parents," Nick said.

The more they popped, the more they needed, as their bodies became 
tolerant of the drug. So he and his friends started crushing and 
snorting them to speed up the effects.

Nick said he went through the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) 
program in school, but was never scared enough to stay away from the 
chemicals. He was part of a four-boy pack that liked to experiment. 
Wherever the party was, there they were, boozing and doing drugs.

At one point, popping eight high-strength opioid pills was the norm 
for a Friday night. But their link to stashes of opioids started to 
run out. Purchasing them on the black market was expensive, as much 
as $80 a pill, and they began dropping large sums of cash on the opioids.

At a New Year's Eve party in North Adams during their junior year of 
high school, the teenagers met a 22-year-old college student from the 
Albany, N.Y., area. They talked about opioids.

"He told us for a lot less money, we could get something that 
produced the same kind of high but only better," Nick said.

It was heroin. Two days later, the four 17-year-old boys from Adams 
drove to an affluent neighborhood north of Albany, walked up a flight 
of carpet-covered stairs to the student's bedroom, handed over $15 
each, and snorted heroin for the first time.

"I puked within minutes. We all did. But then it was great. The 
feeling ... it's a warm, euphoric feeling. Nothing matters. You could 
be sleeping in the pouring rain and not feel a thing."

Within a month, they were "booting" it with needles. They'd make 
trips to Albany three or four times a week to pay $60 for a bundle -- 
10 bags. They did this for four months until they learned about 
Holyoke and Springfield, where the drug was cheaper and easy to find.

"We figured we'd cut out the middle man," Nick said.

More friends started experimenting. The four would drive to Holyoke 
with large sums of money collected from their friends, charging them 
more to make their habit less costly.

Nick estimates that within a four-year period, he and his friends 
drove the 54 miles to Holyoke between 800 and 1,000 times, sometimes 
twice a day.

In all those trips, they had only one bad incident with dealers. One 
of Nick's friends was set up and mugged in an abandoned apartment. 
Nick said a lot of their dealers were nice people. The boys even 
befriended a group of middle-aged Latino women who would sell heroin 
out of their home.

The drug quickly took over their lives. Nick couldn't hold a job. He 
kept calling in sick to work. He dropped out of high school because 
his grades suffered.

Eventually, his parents gave him two options: Get clean or get out of 
the house.

He chose the latter.

He lived with friends. Slept on couches. Scrounged for money for 
heroin. Tired of it all, he checked into the McGee Unit, a detox 
clinic at Berkshire Medical Center, on Oct. 15, 2000.

"I was there for 15 days," Nick said. "It was hell. The withdrawals 
were so painful. It took me five days just to come out of my room. 
But I got clean. I started going to group therapy and got back with 
my parents."

But within a few months, he was back at it and got kicked out again.

"I remember sitting on my friend's couch on Sept. 11, 2001, watching 
the whole thing unfold. We had taken some methadone pills and then 
went golfing. The whole day was surreal. I remember around that time, 
thinking clearly that if I didn't stop, I was going to kill myself."

On Oct. 2, his friend said he was checking himself into McGee.

"I said, 'So am I.' He went in in the morning. I went in the afternoon."

Both have stayed clean since. Of the four friends, three are clean; 
they've lost touch with the fourth, who moved out West.

"I wasn't ready to get clean before," Nick acknowledges. "There comes 
a point when it's clear to you. No matter how many people tell you 
you have to quit, it takes yourself wanting it."

Nick, who kicked his heroin habit cold turkey, credits attending 
Narcotics Anonymous meetings A police officer opens a package of 
confiscated heroin. 'Every important event in an addict's life is 
centered around the drug,' Danny Donnelly's wife says.

for his success. In his first year, he went to more than 500 
meetings. He still goes twice a week. He has his own apartment now, 
and works full time with a local contractor. He's able to enjoy the 
little things, the natural highs in life, like baby-sitting his 
siblings on a Friday night, and wrestling and eating pizza with them.

"One of the things we talk about at the NA meetings is coming to 
grips with reality and surrendering to the truth," Nick said. "I'm an 
addict, and I realize that. That's the first step."

The dealer

Stacey loves getting high. She says she can't help herself.

"I have an addictive personality."

She's a 41-year-old recovering heroin addict from Pittsfield who 
asked that her real name not be used. She wants people to know that 
heroin is the deadliest forbidden fruit in the jungle, and she warns 
the curious to stay clear of the stuff.

She started drinking at an early age and progressed to marijuana and 
cocaine. Fourteen years ago, she fractured a disc in her back, and 
the injury forced her to suffer through long days of constant pain.

She went in for surgery and was put on opioid pain medication.

"I was an alcoholic before, so when I got a taste of the 300 
milligrams of Fentanyl, I was hooked. I loved it."

When she got out of the hospital, doctors placed her on 20 milligrams 
of OxyContin. The dosage later was increased to 40, then 80.

"If I had known OxyContin would've led to heroin, I would've been 
scared enough to refuse it," she said.

After surgery, she started eating all of her pills at once, sometimes 
10 at a time. She burned through her prescription in days and was 
forced to pay big bucks on the black market for high-strength opioids.

"I was so dope sick at the time," she said. "I was fiending for pills 
and fed up with the expense. A good friend of mine said, 'Try a 
little of this,' and one sniff of heroin and I was better within 10 
minutes. No pain.

"A couple of hours later, I called him up and said I wanted to buy two bags."

Within a month, Stacey was doing six bags a day. A few months later, 
20 bags a day. She always snorted it. The thought of injecting it was 
too extreme.

"I tried it once and I got sick, so I stuck to snorting it," she said.

She'd drive with her boyfriend to New York City, where they had a 
good connection for dope. But that got risky. She knew people who 
were stopped by New York state troopers and arrested. So she started 
making the shorter trip to Holyoke and Springfield.

Within a short time, she started selling the drug to friends to 
finance her out-of-control habit, pushing about 50 bags a day out of 
her apartment. She made a little extra money, but the important part 
was that she didn't have to pay for her heroin.

Then, on Oct. 19, 2002, the cops came knocking.

"At that point, I wanted to get away from the stuff. I just wanted to 
get rid of the people. I was happy the cops came," she said. "If I 
hadn't been arrested, I probably wouldn't be alive right now."

With her arrest, she was forced to quit cold turkey.

"I was dope sick for two weeks," she said.

She served a year in prison, and in the 31/2 years she's been out, 
she's slipped once. She's on the methadone treatment program and 
receives daily doses of the drug. She says it allows her to enjoy a 
normal life and helps her fight the urges to fall back in with heroin 
and its crowd.

"I guess this is my routine for the rest of my life," she says.

And if you placed a bag of heroin in front of her today?

"I don't know if ..." Then she paused. "No. I can't be around it. I 
don't want to be. I have to remove myself from all of those people. I 
just can't be around the scene."

The worker

Harry realizes what it takes to get clean, "the first step" -- 
acknowledging that you have a problem. It's the second step he's not sure of.

Harry, 48, who asked that his real name not be used, is originally 
from Framingham. He was married, worked as an auto mechanic, and 
dabbled in alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.

In 1997, he got an offer to become the service manager at a large 
auto dealership in the state of Florida. The job paid $80,000 a year. 
He moved to Florida by himself to start work and find a place for him 
and his wife to live.

On a spring night in Framingham, his wife was staying at a friend's 
apartment, and there was a carbon monoxide leak. She died in her sleep.

"I was mad at the world," he said. "Home wasn't home anymore. For a 
long time, I wanted to die. She was my best friend, and I didn't 
really know how to function without her."

Harry, living in a new place by himself and dealing with the 
gut-wrenching blow of his wife's death, felt lost.

He started having unpredictable mood swings, snapping at co-workers 
over the smallest dispute. His boss noticed and threatened to fire him.

"Men aren't supposed to cry. We don't like whiners in our society. 
But still, months after she died, I was feeling like (expletive)."

One of his co-workers, a man he had become somewhat friendly with, 
suggested he take some pills while they were out drinking one night.

It was OxyContin, and Harry said the high helped him "squash his feelings."

"I loved it," he said. "It made me a better mechanic. I was more 
focused on my work. My boss actually made a comment that he was 
impressed with my turnaround."

But the pills were expensive. He learned that heroin produced the 
same kind of high. He went out driving one night to find a 
prostitute, employing the thinking that "prostitutes can get you 
anything you want."

For a fee, she put him in touch with a dealer who sold $10 bags.

He'd snort one before work and one when he got home. For five years, 
this was his routine. He was the typical functioning addict.

He moved to the Berkshires to help his sister -- who was going 
through a divorce -- fix up her old house in Sheffield.

"I was clean for a while because I was away from it, away from the 
scene and the people," he said.

He was working in a local body shop. But loneliness and boredom set 
in, so he started making the drive to Pittsfield to sample the bar scene.

He met a woman, and the two started dating. The only problem was that 
she had a steady supply of morphine on hand.

"I found Pittsfield and I thought, 'Man, these people up here are 
pharmacists,' " he said.

He started using again. Then an old injury, a double hernia, 
resurfaced and the problem snowballed. Now he was doing a half-dozen 
bags of heroin a day, partly to numb the pain, partly because of a 
physical dependency.

He and his girl split up, but he found another one. She, too, was an 
addict, a smart one, and she introduced Harry to Holyoke and Springfield.

They'd hit places like Saratoga and Oswego streets in Springfield and 
"The Flats" in Holyoke, a project area where drugs are in homes like 
candy in a corner shop. They'd buy bundles for $50.

To this point, Harry had never injected heroin. But as his injury 
grew worse, the prospects of quick pain relief broke down the barrier 
of shooting the drug into his veins.

"You shoot it and 'Boom,' you're not in pain anymore," he said. "It's 
a warm feeling, very relaxing. It eases your mind. I've done every 
drug known to man and I've been able to kick 'em all. Not this one. 
It's a physical addiction as well as a mental one. You gotta have it."

But after years of drug use, six bags became eight, then 10 and 12. 
Then came the pain of withdrawals the next morning -- stomach cramps, 
sweats, shakes, diarrhea. The only cure: another fix of heroin.

"Your first bag in the morning doesn't get you high -- it gets you 
normal. You need the drug just to be you."

On his way back to Sheffield last year from Holyoke, Harry was 
stopped in Great Barrington for not having an inspection sticker. 
Police found two bundles of heroin in his car, and he was sent to jail.

Today, he sits there, clean for nine months -- he quit cold turkey, 
just as everyone in prison is forced to do. He's due to get out 
shortly. When he talks about the drug and his addiction, he speaks in 
a tone of guilt, like he let himself down. He knows it's not going to 
be easy to stay clean. There will be traps in the outside world.

"If you put 1,000 people in a room, the two junkies will always find 
each other," he said. "I'm going to try like hell to quit (for good) 
when I get out.

"I'm tired of it, tired of the circle. I've lost too much in my life 
to keep adding to it. But I'd be lying if I said I think it's going 
to be simple. I've got to fix my own lifestyles, stop the stupidity."
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