Recovering Heroin Addict Explains Why You Should Care That Overdose Deaths Have Tripled

The CDC says heroin overdose deaths have skyrocketed since 2010.

ByABC News
March 5, 2015, 10:43 AM

— -- A high school soccer and softball player with passing grades, 17-year-old Kiyla would be the last person you’d expect to become addicted to heroin. Even Kiyla didn't want to believe it, and when she did, she wasn't sure she wanted to stop using the drug until she found herself in lockup for three months.

"I realized when I was waiting in shackles and handcuffs and saw my parents' faces," she said. "I said, 'I'm going to get clean.' I was clean for six months."

She relapsed in December, but relapsing is part of recovering, Kiyla's father, Phil, explained to ABC News, which is only identifying them by their first names to protect their privacy. But not everyone she's met on her journey to recovery has survived. A young girl Kiyla met during her last stint in detox died not long after leaving the center, she said.

Heroin overdose deaths have tripled since 2010, according to new findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Abuse centers, hospitals and support group are seeing the losses firsthand, they tell ABC News. Dr. Joseph Shrand, who runs the CASTLE substance abuse treatment program in Massachusetts, said seven of his former patients have died in the past month, when he normally sees four or five deaths a year among his 1,900 former patients over the past seven years.

A hospital in Ohio had 38 heroin overdoses in three days last month. And therapy group Learn to Cope has had an especially bad year as well.

"This past year has been the worst I've ever seen," said Learn to Cope founder and CEO Joanne Peterson, adding her organization has 16 chapters in Massachusetts. "We've seen more loss this past year than we've ever seen."

Adults between the ages of 25 to 44 had the highest rate of fatalities from heroin-related overdoses, according to the CDC report.

"It looks like there are more heroin addicts in their 20s, 30s, 40s," Shrand said. "They think people outgrow it. No. People die. That's why you don't have as many 50-year-old heroin users. Because they die."

Kiyla started experimenting with marijuana when she was 13 or 14, she said, adding that she was also battling depression and looking to "come out of [her] body." Her addiction started with prescription pills, but heroin was cheap and free and could get her high for a whole day, so she found herself using.

Her friends told her to stop, but she was convinced she wasn't addicted until she started experiencing withdrawal symptoms when she wasn't using heroin.

"It feels like you're hit by a truck," Kiyla said. "Your body just hurts everywhere. It's the worst pain you could ever describe. You're throwing up while you have diarrhea. Sometimes, you're dry-heaving. You can't sleep or eat."

Now at an inpatient rehabilitation center, Kiyla is ready to recover. She said she, too, has heard about addict friends overdosing and dying.

"It drives me to get clean because I don't want to die," she said. "It scares me for my friends that are still active in addiction."

Although Kiyla and her father are glad that heroin addiction is being studied, they say families need more resources to help their loved ones recover, and they need more education to prevent children from experimenting with drugs in the first place.

"This disease won’t happen to you if you don't pick up that first one," she said. "If I knew I was going to get sick, my life was going be s***, all this stuff about addiction that I know now, I think it would have stopped me."