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Heroin then and now: stories of two recovering addicts
« on: September 15, 2015, 10:02:40 AM »
source: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-heroin-epidemic-beth-kassab-20150914-column.html

Heroin then and now: stories of two recovering addicts

"At the time, this was the 70s so a lot of the heroin addicts that we saw in the community still dressed nice. They still drove nice cars. They were the hustlers."

Dennis Murrill is a 51-year-old black man who grew up in a Baltimore public housing project.

Austin Willis is just 20 years old, white and was raised in the suburban hamlet of Windermere.

On the surface, the two couldn't seem more different.

But they consider each other family.

"He calls me son and I call him dad all the time," Austin said.

Unfortunately, this entire story isn't so heartwarming.

The bond between Dennis and Austin is one of shared pain and struggle.

Both are recovering heroin addicts.

And their stories show how the drug is reaching into nearly every corner of Central Florida.

Blossom Park, the old converted motel that is so dilapidated the county stationed a firetruck there in case a staircase collapsed, got much of the attention last month when police reported 11 overdoses in a single day, three of them fatal.

Heroin, though, doesn't limit its damage based on geography or demographics.

"Today it is so much different than it was 30 or 40 years ago," Dennis said. "It's totally different. We're talking about kids from not impoverished communities, from better backgrounds than we had back then."

Dennis has helped some of those kids through recovery.

Austin is one of them.

They met four years ago when Austin was just 16. He was home for a visit from the out-of-state treatment center his parents sent him for help.

"I went over to this meeting [for recovering addicts] on South Rio Grande and I was the only white kid there," Austin recalled. "Dennis said a lot of profound things ... I asked him to be my sponsor."

Dennis remembers it well, "Here's this little white kid and he said, 'Excuse me, sir, can you sponsor me?'"

It makes sense the two hit it off.

Both say they started using drugs at age 9.

Dennis said he and a friend found some pot his friend's sister left behind.

"July 3, 1974," he said of the first day he smoked marijuana. "I know it like it's the back of my hand ... We went under the steps and we made an attempt to roll it and smoke it. At the time, we didn't have any idea what we were doing."

Austin said he was in fourth grade when a friend dealt him methamphetamine, telling him it was like the Adderall he had been prescribed for attention deficit disorder.


"My parents had great jobs," he said. "My brother and sister did great in school. I wasn't raised in any kind of wrong way ... it just happened."

His drug use progressed. By the time he was 12 or 13 he tried heroin.

Dennis says he can relate.

From pot, he started experimenting with alcohol and other drugs.

In the 1970s in Baltimore, heroin began to take the inner city by force.

Some guys he knew were dealers and he began working for them.

It wasn't just about the drugs, but about fitting in.

"Curiosity made me try it," he said. "At the time, this was the 70s so a lot of the heroin addicts that we saw in the community still dressed nice. They still drove nice cars. They were the hustlers."

Austin and Dennis, who I interviewed separately, both said they snorted the drug for a couple years before shooting it intravenously.

"I turned 14 in September and by November I stuck my arm out for the very first time," Dennis recalled.

His forearm is still scarred with long needle tracks.

Austin says he was about the same age when he first shot up.

Not long after that he got in trouble at school and ended up in treatment at the urging of his parents.

At 5-foot-9, he weighed just 85 pounds when he began treatment in 2010.

Austin got sober, began weightlifting and finished high school.

Today he's been clean for five years, is an apprentice tattoo artist and weights 190 pounds — all of it muscle.

His remarkable turnaround is a testimony to his resolve and discipline.

"Treatment can work. It was not a fun process," Austin said. "I struggled for a while being clean and it paid off. Dennis spent a lot of late nights with me. He let me stay at his house when I had nowhere else to go. It's not like my life got easy when drugs got out of it."

Dennis doesn't try to hide his own mistakes and struggles.

He says that after he got clean at age 23, he couldn't resist the trappings and money of drugs and kept dealing on and off for about a dozen more years.

He had run-ins with the law. His relationships with family and his kids suffered.

Today he's been sober for 28 years and works with a ministry group called the Polis Institute that does work in impoverished communities, such as the Orlando neighborhood near the Citrus Bowl.

Last year he earned a degree as a licensed clinician with a focus on mental health.

"I managed to show up at all my kids' graduations," he said. "That's what recovery did."

He's also helped other people. Like Austin.

Dennis wants people to know that 12-step recovery programs can work.

He thinks today's heroin epidemic is a direct result of the pill-mill crackdown, which happened without much thought given to the treatment programs pill addicts would need.

Austin attributes his recovery to the fact that he was never charged with a crime as an adult.

Instead of jail, he received help.

"I've heard of plenty of kids who went to jail and the best heroin they ever got was in a cell," he said.

In a way, Austin and Dennis were fortunate. They found treatment and it worked for them.

They didn't end up like the 90 people who died as a result of heroin in Orange and Osceola counties last year.

Local officials are finally turning their attention to this epidemic with a task force.

I hope they'll heed the stories of people like Austin and Dennis and focus on ways more people can become survivors instead of statistics.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2015, 02:20:10 PM by Chipper »
I do not condone or support any illegal activities. All information is for theoretical discussion and wonder.
All activities discussed are considered fictional and hypothetical. Information of all discussion has been derived from online research and in the spirit of personal Freedom.

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Re: Heroin then and now: stories of two recovering addicts
« Reply #1 on: September 15, 2015, 02:20:37 PM »
It's an okay article.  Not very insightful.  Basically two separate stories intertwined and with a happy ending.  Not very realistic of how things really are IMO.  Seems more like the exception, not the rule.

One thing I did not like was the focus on 12-step recovery.  Sure, it worked for those two guys.  That's great.  But that doesn't mean it will work for everyone.  It also doesn't mean it's the only way to achieve some semblance of a normal life.  Opiate addiction has a horrible recovery rate with 12-step methods. 

Unfortunately I think that's what most non-users will think though.  That 12-step is the ONLY way to go, as proven by those two guys. 

It just seemed like a happy 12-step advocacy article. 
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