• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Drug addiction can take over a person's life

Other than having a family history of addiction, no one really knows they will become an addict after using a drug that first time, the director of substance abuse services for Bluegrass.org said. "And once an addiction takes over . the drugs and the behaviors that go along with (the addiction) take over their life, take over their thinking for them," said Michele McCarthy. Because of the shame and the guilt that goes along with a person's drug addiction, addicts don't know how to get their lives back on track, McCarthy said. "They're in survival mode," she explained. "The whole clock, the whole day starts to cycle around the drug use - whether they're looking for the drugs or finding the drugs or using the drugs." This cycle of behavior can repeat itself five, 10, 15 or 20 times a day for a person at the height of a heroin addiction, she added. "The reaction you get from heroin is very quick," said McCarthy. "So the feelings you get from it are almost immediate, but it's very short-acting. And so the feeling does not stay with you very long." Because heroin's intense, initial high may only last 20 minutes or up to an hour, McCarthy said a user is constantly "trying to re-achieve that feeling." And soon, she said an addict no longer injects heroin for a high or that good feeling - they're using the opioid so they can function and avoid the severe withdrawals of not using the drug. McCarthy described heroin as being very different than long-acting prescription opioids like Oxycontin. "Initially," said McCarthy, "it seems like heroin is a lot cheaper and that they get the same, if not a better high from it." A user quickly realizes that they must use heroin more frequently to maintain the drug's intense high. So they end up spending more money for frequent hits while also putting themselves at a much greater risk of overdose. While prescription drugs can also be highly addictive and dangerous if abused, those legal opioids are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration so "we know what's in them," McCarthy said "When it comes to illegal drugs (like heroin) we have no idea what they've been cut with. We have no idea what the purity is," said McCarthy. ".(So) you have no guarantee what you're getting this time around is the exact same purity level or that it might not have something like fentanyl laced into it - that you have no tolerance for. And that's why you often hear about people dying of an overdose with a single use." Cutting heroin with other less-expensive substances allows a dealer to sell the illicit drug for a higher profit. Synthetic fentanyl - a street-version of the medical-grade fentanyl - is one of the substances laced into heroin, McCarthy said. "Because you're talking about something made on the street, .people have no idea what they may be taking or how strong (this drug) is," she said. "And fentanyl - even a street-made version - is way, way more potent than just regular heroin. "And again that's why we see a lot of overdoses happening." A user's willingness to shoot up a drug that might result in an overdose speaks volumes about how heroin can take over someone's life, according to McCarthy. Having worked in addiction treatment for almost 18 years, the licensed counselor has never met a client who talked about having a dream as a kid of becoming addicted to a drug and losing everything that's important to them because of this addiction. McCarthy said getting and staying sober can only happen if a person's behaviors and circle of friends change. A support system also helps. "In essence, they're having to change everything about their entire life, and that's why getting and staying sober can be so difficult," said McCarthy. She said no single approach or drug treatment program helps everyone because every person's different. And overcoming an addiction to drugs has other challenges too. A person, for example, may have a criminal record related to their drug use. So getting a job can be more problematic for them. "Just because somebody has an addiction it doesn't mean they're not human. They still have bad days like the rest of us. They still have bills to deal with, families that they're still trying to work things out with, jobs they're trying to find . (and they must do all this) without getting high," said McCarthy.

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