Pubdate: Mon, 28 Apr 2014
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2014 Rutland Herald
Author: Brent Curtis
Bookmark: (Heroin)


Editor's note: This is the first in an occasional series of stories 
of one person's battle against heroin addiction.

At 27 years old, Colin MacNeil is starting his life over - again.

Addicted to cocaine by the age of 20 and hooked on heroin and 
opiate-based painkillers by the age of 23, MacNeil was a graduate of 
six inpatient drug treatment programs by the time he arrived at the 
Serenity House in Wallingford earlier this month.

He knows what he's up against and he'll be the first to say that 
there are no guarantees in a fight that's as personal as it is 
pharmaceutical in nature.

But he said he's more invested this time and he wants to put his 
struggle and his story in the public eye as a way of putting a face 
on a problem gripping many in the state and as a way to further his 
resolve to not only get clean but stay that way.

"These people are your kids, your coworkers and neighbors. They're 
not faceless people in alleys," MacNeil told a roomful of people 
during an opiate panel held at the Rutland Free Library recently.

His own story is largely representative of life in Vermont.

A Burlington native, MacNeil got good grades in school, collected 
hockey cards obsessively and later took classes at St. Michael's 
College. He learned to play the bass guitar and was a member of the 
jam band The Electric Reason which rocked crowds at Burlington venues 
such as Nectar's.

But drug use also became a part of his life at an early age.

He was 10 years old when his parents divorced and it was five years 
later that he began smoking marijuana with his mother over the 
objections of his father who warned him that his mother's drug habits 
went beyond smoking "weed".

Looking back, he said he knew his mother was addicted to painkillers 
and heroin but at the time he didn't want to believe it. Even after 
her death from a overdose MacNeil said he didn't want to admit that 
it was drug use that killed her.

"I didn't want to believe it," he said. "I was in denial."

Part of that denial stemmed from an unwillingness to look in the mirror.

When his mother died, MacNeil was 18 years old and a living on campus 
at St. Michael's.

He was also using and selling drugs -- although not opiate drugs yet 
- -- and when he was told about his mother's death he said his first 
instinct wasn't to mourn.

"I drank and smoked pot that night and tried not to think about it," 
he said. "It took awhile to deal with what happened because I used 
drugs to suppress everything."

The loss of his mother enhanced what he said was a latent dislike of 
opiate drugs and vowed to stay away from them.

"I even hated people who used them or sold them," he said. "I'd been 
robbed by junkies when I was selling marijuana and a drummer who left 
my band went back to New Jersey and died from it. I didn't want any of that."

But five years later he was not only using opiates but was addicted to them.

How such a reversal came to pass would be a familiar story to many 
opiate addicts who never thought they would use heroin either.

By the age of 23, MacNeil was using cocaine and had been through one 
treatment program already in an unsuccessful attempt to get clean of that drug.

He was also drinking alcohol too much and developed ulcers as a result.

When a doctor prescribed him Dilaudid for the pain, MacNeil said it 
never crossed his mind to use the drug to get high until a friend 
offered to buy some of the pills from him.

"He said you could crush it and snort it so I did," he said. "It was 
the best thing I ever felt."

After tasting the worm it was only a matter of a few days and the 
exhaustion of his painkiller supply before he felt the hook.

He described his first bout of withdrawal as one of the scariest 
moments of his life up to that point.

"I kind of knew I was going to get addicted but I lied to myself that 
I was feeling fine," he said. "After five days I had my first dope 
sick and its hard to describe how scary that feeling is."

The sickness also began a cycle that would continue, off and on, up 
until he checked himself into detox at the Brattleboro Retreat three weeks ago.

"It was always so easy to say I was going to quit tomorrow but 
tomorrow never comes," he said. "Drug addiction is like nothing else. 
There's literally nothing else on your mind from the moment you wake 
up except figuring out how your going to get high."

"You don't even think about going without it," he added. "I tell 
people it's like holding your breath and someone telling you that you 
don't need air."

Quickly his addiction began costing him things starting with his job 
working in a restaurant kitchen followed by his spot in the band.

As his opiate use continued and expanded into heroin which, in the 
calculus of his mind at the time was just a cheaper and more easily 
attainable version of the pills he was taking, his drug use began 
affecting others.

Girlfriends -- some of whom had their own opiate addictions -- came 
and went in ways that MacNeil said his sober mind regrets.

His relationship with his father was also strained by MacNeil's not 
infrequent requests for money which he said he needed to pay expenses 
but was actually used to buy drugs.

"I never robbed or stole from my friends before I used heroin. Now I 
have a bad reputation," he said. "A month ago, I was homeless and 
lying to my dad. If you had met me then you would have met a scumbag. 
A complete junkie."

A month isn't a long time and MacNeil knows his hold on sobriety is a 
new and fragile thing. He is still two months away from reaching his 
personal record of staying clean during an earlier attempt at rehab.

Every day, he said, is a test and every frustration a temptation to use.

Told by state officials last week that he didn't qualify for a 
temporary housing voucher, MacNeil said he dealt with the setback and 
the prospect of being homeless on the streets of Rutland by looking 
up the number of a guy he knows who sells marijuana.

That drug may seem a far cry from heroin but MacNeil said he knows 
from personal experience that lesser drugs such as marijuana and 
alcohol only whet his appetite for more.

"Honestly if I could go back to smoking weed I would but for me it 
will only quench my thirst for so long. Once you know a heroin high 
nothing else comes close," he said last week.

MacNeil didn't call his dealer. Instead he put the phone in his 
pocket and less than five minutes got a call from a man three years 
recovered from his own addiction to drugs who said he could put him 
up in his Rutland home for the next two weeks.

"I couldn't believe it. I'm so grateful. I knew that being on the 
streets wouldn't be good for me," he said.

"I'm not a religious person but I've been praying," he added. "I'm 
praying that I can just accept the things going on around me and see 
a way to get through them."

Three weeks clean and counting.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom