The following article is part of a continuing series of articles examining the effects of illegal drugs in Fayette County.
The cost of drug addiction can bankrupt a person both emotionally and financially.
“It starts as a habit of $20 to $50 a day but as tolerance increases the cost increases along with it,” said Ashley Potts, addiction specialist, Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission Inc. (WDAC). “Eventually demise always comes.”
Heroin and prescription drug abuse has skyrocketed in the U.S. and leads the pack in associated costs according to government statistics. The 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 620,000 admitted to using heroin and 77 percent surveyed indicated their heroin addiction followed prescription drug abuse.
Financially, the great expense of addiction and staying high often bankrupts addicts which leads to criminal behavior. According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, 26 percent of drug offenders are more likely to commit crimes to support their drug habit.
The mental and physical toll can bring a person to their knees — changing behavior, ripping apart families, ending careers, and sometimes taking lives.
Potts is a recovering addict who has been clean for more than seven years. She understands addictive behavior and the increasing need which drives up the cost of substance abuse and the choices addicts must make as a result.
“It all depends on the drug of choice. From the social drinker to the alcoholic and the addictiveness of the drug and the impact it can have. I have never known a heroin addict who shoots heroin every day and then pays their rent,” she said.
Heroin, by today’s standards, is a cheaper drug when compared to prescription drugs, crack and cocaine, she said. Prescription pain medication use may serve as a catalyst for heroin use and addiction, according to Potts.
“Often people start out on prescription pain pills for $1 milligram for 80 milligrams that’s $80. So once they realize how expensive that is and they can basically get the same thing for $10 a bag.”
A person addicted to crack or cocaine could spend upwards of $1,000 a day on their habit. Addicts who abuse prescription drugs, normally painkillers, such as Oxycontin or Vicodin, or anti-depressants such as Valium or Lorazepam, may pay as much a street value of $60-$100.
Statistics from WDAC show nearly twice as many people are being treated for heroin addiction than alcohol addiction.
“We see people who easily do 50 bags of heroin a day,” said Potts.
Potts said that, stereotypically, a heroin addict is viewed as a person “who lives on the streets or under bridges, shoots heroin and doesn’t shower but more and more, as the ages continue, it’s people that have had a sports injury, car accident, child birth and they get prescribed prescription opiates not knowing how deadly it can be to be on these.”
She continues, “Once addicted it goes back to the cost value and they resort to heroin because once broken down it’s close to the same thing. It comes from the same plant. Then the tolerance gets greater and greater and the addiction gets deeper and deeper and they get stuck on this never ending hamster wheel — not necessarily knowing the way out. Once you’re addicted to an opiate based drug the sickness of getting off is like the flu times a thousand.”
In her professional experience, Potts said by the time an addict reaches a high level of drug use, they usually have lost their jobs and money is non-existent, but the addiction rages on.
Erich Curnow, also a certified recovery specialist with WDAC and a recovering addict, said the next phase in the cycle is pretty typical.
“At some point desperation sets in and that’s where we see criminal behavior begin,” he said.
Retail theft, writing bad checks, vice fraud, burglary and robbery are among the most common crimes committed by drug users desperate to fund their next fix.
“All the detrimental external unmanageability manifests once that desperation sets in,” said Curnow. “It’s like a stray dog that you feed, at some point you’re going to have to feed that dog because it’s hungry and bearing its teeth.”
Curnow said, though it’s difficult to watch the addicted life of a loved one unravel, it’s often the only way to create the possibility for a positive outcome.
“The most loving thing someone can do for an addict is increase their desperation. Without desperation very few addicts will get clean,” said Curnow.
According to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, abuse of illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco cost the U.S. over $600 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work and healthcare.
Of the 1,713 clients many have a criminal record related to their drug use. Potts and Curnow carry a caseload of 30 clients each; of those clients all 60 have a record for drug related offenses and other criminal activity.
WDAC clients addicted to heroin (586) and other prescription opiates (169) combined, far outweighs those who abuse alcohol (339) or marijuana (296).
The outlook for those addicted to heroin remains bleak according to Potts.
“Once you’re addicted to heroin and using intravenously the recovery is minimal, it is possible, however the sad end is you don’t see a whole lot of heroin addicts over the age of 40 because they usually die before they get there,” Potts said.
The result of the looped pattern of drug use and crime is common.
“Ultimately it’s all the same addiction and the result is the same—jails, institutions and death,” said Potts.