For the more than eight-million heroin addicts worldwide, becoming drug free is not easy. Recent advances in medicine have helped ease the painful symptoms of withdrawal. But according to experts, 80-percent of addicts will relapse after becoming clean the first time. In this, the second part of our series on heroin in the U.S., Jeff Swicord profiles one young woman who beat the odds.
The life of one heroin addict:
Twenty-seven year old Casey Melville is experiencing the joy of motherhood for the first time. "If there where eight more hours in a day I would get a lot more done," she said.
Casey is a recovering heroin addict. She tried heroin for the first time at age 14. After hitting bottom (the low-point) at the age of 19, she managed to get clean and has stayed drug free for eight years.
"I could get high today," she explains. "Do I think I am going to get high today? No. If I do what I did yesterday, do I have a good chance of staying clean today? Yes. But you never know when that obsession and compulsion is going to creep back up."
Casey grew up in a rural farming community north of Baltimore (in the east coast state of Maryland). Her relationship with her mother, an alcoholic, has always been strained. Her father was never there for her. She was raised by her grandparents.
"I don't want to say that my family situation wasn't good because I had a very good upbringing with my grandparents," she said. "They instilled morals and values in me. They provided for me. I never went without."
Years of heroin use caused her problems in school and later at work. Casey found herself making the 45 minute drive to Baltimore to buy heroin almost daily. When her heroin use grew beyond her financial means, she traded sex for heroin.
"I got to the point where that was what I had to do because I couldn't find enough money, I couldn't steal enough money, I couldn't make enough money," Casey recalled.
Today, Casey has a nursing degree and works in the addiction services field.
She remembers one New Year's Eve that changed her life. Her mother had asked Casey to drive her to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Attending an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting:
Public Service Announcement: "The pressure at work got so intense that I turned to alcohol just to cope."
AA is a 12-step program where alcoholics gather to tell their stories anonymously.
The first of the steps is to admit you lack control over your addiction and to recognize a higher power that gives strength. Addicts work with a sponsor who gets them through the hard times.
The program is now used by narcotic addicts and people suffering from other kinds of addictions.
Public Service Announcement: "Attending AA meetings, I found a solution and hope."
Casey says, "You know something just cliqued inside at that meeting. And I sat and thought about it for the rest of the time that I was there. And when the meeting was over I just knew, I knew that I needed help," she said.
Casey told her mother she was using heroin. Her mother told family friend and addiction counselor Cathy Baker, and Cathy confronted Casey.
Recalling that day, Baker says, "We went into a bathroom. I confronted her. I told her, you know, hand over what she had (heroin). And she gave me a couple of things and we dumped them down the toilet. And I knew that wasn't it, so I got a little heavier with the confrontation and she finally gave me everything she had. At that point, it was: You need to go to treatment, this is it," she said.
Two days later, Casey was in a 30 day residential program. She has been drug and alcohol free ever since.
Baker many addicts don't stay clean. "Statistically speaking, most people with first time in-patient treatment don't stay clean and sober," she said. "What it was about her that she was allowed by the god's grace to get this early, I don't know."
Casey says she has had rough spots along the way, including a recent divorce. Through it all, she has stuck to the program, "Recovery has given me everything I have today, everything I have in my life," she said. "Not just material things because material things aren't as important to me as everything else. Just the inner peace and spirituality, and sense of calmness."