"The people using this stuff are mentally wounded and need help."

I’m a mother of three boys currently living in the area I grew up in. I’ve experimented with and sold drugs in the past but have turned my life around. Four years ago, my nephew passed away from a heroin overdose and his father passed away six months later. One day I got a call from Mike, my younger nephew who survived these men. He told me that he had just gotten out of rehab but was in an abusive relationship and needed a place to stay. He eventually made it to my house, and we spoke in my living room. I told him he could stay as long as it took to get back on his feet, but first I needed to know what drugs he was in rehab for. He told me that he was addicted to Percocet. I told him, I didn’t want him doing any drugs around my boys if he was going to stay with us, and he agreed.

Every day I came home he would be lying on the couch where I had left him. I felt that this was a bad example for my kids and became frustrated with him. One morning I pushed him out of the house and told him he couldn’t come back until he started making some money. This motivated him to search more aggressively for work, and he began to find odd jobs. The fact that he had gone to rehab, gotten off drugs cold turkey, and was now finding employment made me proud of him.

One day my son ran upstairs and told me that Mike had fallen over off the couch and wasn’t waking up. I went downstairs and kept asking him what happened. He said that he had taken a Klonopin because he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t sleep. I told him that he had better be telling the truth or he was out of the house. A few weeks later a similar incident happened again where I found him passed out with cigarette in the basement; the room he had moved into. I told him that something was fishy, and that he wasn’t allowed to take Klonopin again while staying with us.

That weekend, Mike’s daughter’s mother was visiting and staying the night. Late into the night we began hearing someone calling for help from the basement. When I opened the door, I found Mike’s daughter’s mother high on crack trying to get out. I told her I didn’t want drugs around my kids and asked how she locked herself in the basement. She said Mike had left and locked the basement door. Mike was gone and the front door was left wide open. I shut the door and waited in the living room for him to come back. He tried to sneak back in but I was there and asked him where he had been. He said he had gone to get cigarettes from the 7-11, but couldn’t provide any when I asked for one. I told him that I’m not kicking him out, but that I wanted his daughter’s mother out by tomorrow morning. I had suspicion that he was actively using again.

I didn’t like keeping him around because I felt he was a bad example for my kids, but I also didn’t want to kick him out because I knew he was in a tough place and was depressed. The situation was taking a toll on me because I was already having a hard time working every day to support my kids with no outside help. Mike would keep telling he’d pay rent, but he never did. The situation got harder, as his son moved in as well, and I had to then take care of five other people.

One night he came home, and I could tell that he was high on something. I kept asking him what he was up to, but he walked past me, got into his van, and left. I kept texting him to come back, and he finally replied that he wasn’t coming home. Despite the fact that he left his son and all his belongings here, I believed him. I told his son to go upstairs and stay with my three boys. I went into the basement and looked through Mike’s things. I was trying to find something that would shed light on his strange behavior and sudden departure. I found one of my spoons, numerous needles, and hundreds of empty heroin bags. Not only had Mike been doing heroin in my home, he’d been doing it often. I texted him to confront him about this, and he texted back that the paraphernalia wasn’t his. I called his son’s mother to pick his son up and texted Mike to never come back.

Two months later, I saw him at a 7-11 at one in the morning after I had gotten off work. He was incredibly dirty and unkempt with a full beard and stretched out clothes. I shook my head and walked over to him. I asked him how he let this happen, and he said he didn’t know. I asked him where he was living and he said he had nowhere to go. I told him that I couldn’t have him doing drugs in the house my kids lived in. He replied that he’d find his own way. It killed me to see my family in that condition, and so I walked away. A few months later he called and sent a picture of his face completely black and blue with shards of glass dug in. He said that he had been beaten and robbed and couldn’t afford rent.

Today he is in jail for fraudulently racking up charges on a family member’s store account. It’s tough to see my nephew deteriorate so much, he’s had a tough life, but I can’t make excuses for him. Since that situation, I’ve taken in and helped others in the neighborhood who were dealing with heroin addiction. I never realized just how prolific heroin had become in my community. It’s a growing problem and I see more and more people dying from this stuff; last year four people I personally know died.

This is why I am sharing my story. It is hard to see a family member with addiction, and it is hard to know what to do to help them. Ultimately, I chose to protect my children from my nephews using habits. The people using this stuff are mentally wounded and need help. Communities need to stop ignoring what’s happening and need to act, because this problem is deep rooted and isn’t going away on its own. We need resources for families as well as users in our communities to address opioid addiction.

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