SAN ANTONIO - Heroin is the illicit opioid, compared to medically prescribed painkillers. It’s often the next step when people addicted to prescription pain pills are unable to get them.
In San Antonio, heroin use is as prevalent, if not more so, than the use of other opioid pills.
It’s a growing problem, and whose epidemic extends far beyond prescription pills.
Heroin abuse has reached into the depths of the wealthiest, poorest and most diverse communities across the country. It’s also widespread in San Antonio.
The Texas Department of State Health Services reports that the popularity of heroin has increased because it has two hard-to-resist factors: It’s both less expensive and easier to acquire than other drugs like cocaine.
The study said more than 80 percent of people who used heroin also engaged in non-medical use of prescription drugs.
“They’re lost in the moment,” Angel, a former user of opioid pain pills, said. “I snorted a bar (crushed-up Xanax) and I lost six hours of my day. I have no idea what the hell I did. I remember getting on the bus at 5, waking up at my ex-girlfriend’s house at 10.”
Now he said he smokes pot. He remembers enough about what it was like to be on opioids to know he did not want that kind of life anymore.
Roseann Herrera said she spent 18 years of her life addicted to crystal meth, and out of curiosity one day, she discovered heroin.
It’s an addiction like no other.
“The heroin started just because I wanted to know how it felt,” Herrera said. “I’d never seen heroin in my life and I moved into a neighborhood that is just infested with it and so I tried it just because I was curious, and (like) the old saying, ‘Curiosity killed the cat,’ it most definitely did. It took me, Oh my gosh, it was horrible. I lied, cheated, stole. I really lived my life surrounded by heroin and how to get it. It was a miserable time in my life.”
She lived the life of a heroin addict in her deep south San Antonio neighborhood for six years. She said she lost everything, including the trust of her two children. The drug left her an empty shell of her old self.
The sickness was so bad, she said, that the only way to keep from getting sick was to do more heroin.
“And you know that if you just go down the street and buy a little $10 piece, you’ll be over it. You’re never sick no more,” she said.
The cost of addiction is huge in terms of what people in its grip will do to get it. In the Community Epidemiology Work Group's publication, Substance Abuse Trends in Texas, Dr. Jane Maxwell said heroin is a growing problem, especially for teens and young adults.
For Herrera, not hanging out with her old friends who use drugs helps her stay off of it. Drug Court also helps.
“I don’t have to go down that same street that I used to go and buy my drugs. I go the opposite way because there’s many streets in my neighborhood,” she said. “I don’t have to go the same way. The geographical change isn’t always the issue, because no matter where you go, there’s drugs. And a lot of times, I went looking for the drugs, they didn’t come looking for me.”
For the many addicts like Herrera who found recovery, life is a daily struggle because the drugs are all around. It’s also a daily decision to stay clean.
“My probation officer asked me, he said, ‘How are you not using?’" Herrera said. "I gave him this little analogy: I said, ‘I hate spinach. I hate it. So I don’t eat it. No matter what, I don’t eat it.' So I hate using, so I don’t use. It’s just as easy as that, you know?”
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