Stop Sharing the Stigma

Untitled design-2You see it at least once every day scrolling down your Facebook news feed. If you are in the addiction field it is something that remains constant and unwavering. And it isn’t good. It isn’t helpful. It is the subconscious of our states, cities, towns and communities.

It is the stigma towards those with an addiction. And you are guilty of spreading it. Yes, you.

Every time you share a post with a humiliating mug shot, every time you share that post of the mom who got pulled over drunk with her kids in the backseat, every time you comment on that guy who ran naked high on crack through the streets—you are sharing the stigma. You are perpetuating the idea that these people are just messed up. You are not doing anything to propel the idea that these people are sick and need help. #STOPSHARINGTHESTIGMA

Where is our compassion? Where is the thought of others before we hit “like.” We have one of the most immense resources at our fingertips that can be used for the greater good and instead we sit pointing fingers, laughing, and perpetuating the problem.

Time to Change 

It is time we made a change. That is why Wicked Sober is calling you to Stop Sharing the Stigma. Wicked Sober is asking you to change your perspective and to remember when you read those “weird” news stories, when you see those mug shots that those are PEOPLE. People who are sick, people who have families, people who most likely, if they get the help they need, will be utterly ashamed of what they did and you shared it, read it, liked it. 

If we are going to effect a real change in our communities we have to treat all people with drug problems, even the ones we just see in our media outlets like they are sick. Why? Because they are.

When we read or interact with those kind of stories what are we saying to addicts? What kind of message are we putting out there to those who might want to get help but are scared to admit they have a problem? What happens when someone you know who is struggling sees your “LOL” on that story and wanted to open up to you about their drinking issue? What happens when your kid needs to escape the debt from their drug dealer and you are sharing about how horrible it is that “those” people are on the streets?

What are you inadvertently saying by doing this? Wake up people. Even if you don’t get it you can at least STOP SHARING THE STIGMA. You can at the very minimum stop telling addicts through your reactions to other addicts making the news that it is funny, bad, a joke, sickening, horrid to have a disease.

 What Effect are You Having?

So with that all we have left to say is this. If you aren’t helping at least don’t hurt anyone. Stop Sharing the Stigma. You don’t know who is watching or who is seeing what you are doing and saying when you share that kind of stuff. You don’t know the butterfly effect that could have. And there is really no point for it. If we are serious about stopping the stigma and finally having the world recognize addiction for what it is, a disease, we must look at even the worst drug addicts, the craziest mug shots—as the result of sickened people. People who need are help. Not our judgment.


Think before you share. Stop Sharing The Stigma.

Charles Rosa is Undefeated Inside and Outside the Ring

Photo by: Kelly MacDonald

Photo by: Kelly MacDonald

Charles Rosa is now the number one prospect for the UFC. He is an undefeated MMA fighter, a brother and a son–and his story is one of overcoming.

The conversation I had with him had one basic theme–if you put your mind to something you can do it. And his story proves it. It had been a long time since I had heard a real life Cinderella story and I was more than inspired when I heard it first hand. This is Charles Rosa’s story. And as he said, if it can help someone than let’s do it.


And where it starts? Well, it starts at the bottom. It starts below the bottom. It starts with some of the biggest obstacles, that no person should ever have to go through. 

Let’s go back in time a bit. Before the MMA, before Charles lived in Florida, before he was on his way to signing big UFC contracts. Before Charles could even begin his journey into the MMA (overcoming every opponent he faced,) he had to face a different opponent; he had to go through a battle with something that is killing people every day–addiction.

Charles lost his two brothers to addiction and it was around that time that he started having his own struggles with it. Those struggles, his own drug addiction, took him from his home in Massachusetts into the heart of sunny south Florida to find sobriety. 

And sobriety?

Sobriety doesn’t come easy. It is a fight in and of itself. So many people die from drug addiction. The numbers for 2012 were a person lost to the disease of addiction every 19 minutes.  

He did everything he needed to do and took all the suggestions given when he finally got sober for good. This wasn’t his first round battling with this disease, but this time he would win. And he did.

Eventually sobriety took him into his first MMA gym, which he explained to me was unknowingly, one of the most renowned gyms for training MMA fighters in the country. Every struggle makes us stronger. Every thing happens for a reason. And in Charles’ case, this couldn’t have been more true, figuratively and literally. His struggle had led him straight into the place where he would become stronger than ever–the place it seems like he is meant to be–the fighting ring.

When Charles first set foot in Florida he didn’t expect to have the life he has today. It wasn’t his plan to get into MMA and become one of the most widely recognized and future UFC prospects. 

And how could he? He started with nothing, like most of us. But saying he had nothing isn’t accurate. He had one thing, resolve. And as soon as he found his passion–as soon as he realized that his life would be what he made of it–he got to work.

And so he did. Charles worked his way up. Newly sober, riding his bike, saving for a car, working as a chef, saving for his own place, and pushing himself, every, single, day; he slowly over 5 years rebuilt the life he had and then he began surpassing his own expectations.


He had become a man on a mission, and a visionary. As he strengthened his insides with sobriety, he began strengthening his body as well. MMA had become his new outlet. And he went into it the same way he did everything else–with an open mind and a willingness to ask for help, to say, “I don’t know how to do this, teach me.”

And while having an open mind is key to getting sober, it gives you an edge as a fighter. He explained to me how it made him better. “It helped me so much with marital arts, I had such an open mind, because I was trustworthy. Instead of being like oh, I know about fighting, I am a street fighter, I was like I know nothing, teach me.”

“I am so open minded to different types of things. Like a lot of fighters are like I oh I am just a wrestler or I am just a boxer or I am just gonna train with this coach or that coach. I am  like I am going to get the most knowledge from all the people around me and use it to my benefit. I think I am the next generation of fighter, because I have such an open mind with learning and trusting people to help me.”

Making him not only the person he is today but also a fighter with an edge–a fighter with humility. 

And the resolve as well as the humility seems to run in the family.


Charles’ dad, has started something that has really taken off, it is called Chucky’s Fight. “When my brother’s passed away we scattered the ashes in the ocean. So my dad started jumping in the ocean every day as his way of coping with it. And people started going to watch him because he would do it even in the winter. That is how he got the idea to start Chucky’s Fight.” People can donate and jump in the water as well for Chucky’s Fight.

And what do they do? “It’s an organization to educate teens and help educate parents on substance abuse, and regular stuff for when parents don’t know what to do. Like for when a parent needs help for their kid but they don’t have the money, they will call my dad, and he will use the money he has raised to send them to treatment.”

If you want to know more about Chucky’s Fight you can CLICK HERE OR check out their Facebook page–CLICK HERE

And as for Charles’, he will never forget where he came from and what it took to get where he is now. 

He told me a few things being where he is now–what he would say to anyone who is struggling or believes they “can’t”

“Anything is possible. Anything you set your mind to you can do. If you truly put 100% of your effort into anything you can be anything you want. If you just put all your time into it. Some people are like oh I could never be a doctor or I could never do that, but if you woke up every morning and you wanted to be a doctor and you studied from the second you woke up to the second you went to bed, you could be halfway through med school in 5 years, ya know what I am saying? If you put the work in you can do anything. You might have to work harder if you’re not as smart as somebody, but you could do it.” 

“I don’t think I am a naturally gifted athlete. I am just a regular kid, but I just worked so much harder. I put 100% into it and I did it every single day and I got to where I am now. And after learning martial arts and through recovery that if you put your mind to something and you do it as hard as you can, you can be whatever you want to be. I feel like if I did anything else I could do that too, because of what I learned through this experience.” 

If you want to follow Charles’ journey to the UFC check out his Facebook Page by clicking here

Happy Birthday Wicked Sober: The One Year Anniversary

what does wicked sober meanOn the one year anniversary of Wicked Sober’s creation, we want to point out all the help we have received, all the support we have gotten from you all, and all the love we have shared with every individual we have met and come in contact with over the past 365 days. This year has been a total success because of every single person who has become a part of Wicked Sober, whether they be families, colleagues, facilities, support groups, addicts, or government officials; everyone has supported us in some way.


Wicked Sober is more than just a company it is the embodiment of an ideal; coming together as one united front to tackle the disease of addiction. Each person we meet gives meaning to the phrase “wicked sober.” 

Everything Wicked Sober has been able to do is because of you. Every single one of you. And we just want to reiterate EXACTLY how much that means to us.

We can’t do this alone.

We do this together. Without support we wouldn’t be where we are today, and without support, we, as one company wouldn’t be able to make a difference. We have received so much love and support from everyone in the Massachusetts area. We are proud, and emblazoned with the support to just keep on doing what we are doing. 

This one year anniversary is an important day for us, it is an important day for all of us. It means that what we are doing is working, that we are making a difference, and that together we can change the statistics, we can change the stigma, we can help families heal, we can help addicts heal; AND we can get every addict the help they want and so desperately need. 

Thank you all for supporting Wicked Sober. We are proud to have you behind us. Every person makes a difference and you have shown us that time and time again. Without you all we wouldn’t be here. 

So Happy Birthday Wicked Sober. Let’s make the next year even bigger than the first! 

-Wicked Sober 


Look at Me Now: Kim

wicked soberKim is only 22 years old and she has been through a lot. Aside from dealing and combating with a drug addiction for years, she just recently lost her daughter while in sobriety.

This is Kim’s Story:

Kim and I started off by talking about her daughter. She had her daughter 2 and a half years ago. She had put her daughter up for adoption. Because she was using drugs and she had just gotten out of jail, she knew that her daughter would have a better life with another family. “Its probably the only think I can think of that was right while I was using,” “I wanted her to be in a good spot, where she would be taken care of,” she told me.

2 years later Kim has been to hell and back and has managed to finally get sober. When I talked to her she had 90 days clean on that day. And she had held onto that sobriety for dear life. She lost her daughter in the midst of her newfound clean time. A month ago she found out her daughter had had leukemia for awhile. She told me, “they hesitated to tell me because they didn’t want me to worry. Since I was newly sober.” Shortly after Kim found out her daughter had leukemia, her daughter passed away while she was in treatment. 

“This is the first time I have been sober and not been smoking weed or drinking here and there,” she explains. “The treatment center Wicked Sober referred me to was my 9th program and I am only 22 years old, I have been in and out of programs since I was 16 or 17 years old.”

“This is the first time I actually wanted to come down and go to a treatment center. My whole pattern was I would go to a treatment center, I was in California most, and I couldn’t wait to come home. I was just messing around the whole time. I went to one in Dallas. I have been all around the United States and I know the geographical thing doesn’t work. But my problem is I went to all these places and I didn’t stay. I would be like oh I need to go back to Boston and it never worked for me.”

Kim was describing how the geographical change, or move doesn’t get you sober, but it can help, A LOT. 

Currently Kim is still in Florida. She hasn’t gone back to Boston this time and this time she is still sober. 

“I learned a lot about myself through treatment.”

So I asked her, “How did you get down here?” I wanted to know how she got to treatment and what the story was. 

“Well,” she tells me, “The whole thing with my mom was that I could come home after my treatment. After I was in California, I got to go home, as long as I was on the Vivitrol shot, which we all know doesn’t do shit.” “I went home and I was sober for three days and then I had an appointment to get the shot, and right after I got the shot I went and got high.”

Vivitrol or the shot Kim is referring to is meant to block the high of opiates, specifically heroin and also to diminish the cravings for it. For anyone who thinks that something such as Vivitrol will work to keep you sober, Kim’s story proves this isn’t true. I was interested in hearing about what getting high on the Vivitrol shot was like and also how ineffective it was in helping her. 

“What was that like?!” 

“It was a mess,” she says slightly laughing. “I guess the first couple hours after you get it, it’s not in your system yet so I went and got high and I felt it and I was like oh my god.” “And that was my whole plan. It didn’t take me less than 20 minutes to get high right after I got it.”

Vivitrol which is supposed to block cravings and the high from opiates obviously wasn’t working. “So the next day I went and got high again, and I didn’t feel it. So then I figured out, that alright, I am going to tell my mom that I was going to that same doctor every day to get drug tested, and I told my mom that I had to pay for my copay and my drug test and she was giving me money everyday and she would give me the money and I would go get high and I would do three bags in one so I could feel it.”

Which is the danger of Vivitrol. Addicts will use more to get high risking overdose because they can’t feel it. 

After all of this….

“Eventually my mom came home from one of her Learn 2 Cope meetings and I saw the Wicked Sober card on the table.” 

Wicked Sober helps addicts just like Kim find the best treatment centers for their needs. Not only that, they stick with you through every step of your recovery.

“So I called one of my friends who was sober down in Florida and told him what was going on. I told him about the Wicked Sober card.” “He told me to call Mike. Said he knew him. So I did.”

“I called Mike and told him I am thinking about doing a lifestyle change,” she laughs big time. Which was an understatement. She had been using heavily, shooting coke, trying to get high on opiates etc.

Needless to say Mike didn’t fall for any of Kim’s stories. She tried her best to find reasons why she couldn’t come to Florida right this second. And while she may have wanted to get her hair done before she came down, from what she told me, the point is she actually did. And from that point forward, her life began to change.

Kim ended up attending a renowned treatment center recommended by Mike and Wicked Sober, and it worked. She flew down from Boston to Florida. Mike picked her up. “I was a mess,” she says laughing again. She finished her treatment successfully, about a month long process, and eventually moved into a halfway house, where she is now.

And as for today?

Today she describes friends that show up for her, a good relationship with her family and happiness. And her life going to only get better from this point forward, isn’t that the truth. She told me she had never had a support group like the one she has found down here. She lost her daughter and she didn’t get high. When she heard about her daughter, she was not alone, people showed up in her life. 

“I was so quick to run to get high, why wouldn’t I be so quick to run and get better and change my life and not be sick every day?”

I asked her if she could say one thing to anyone hesitating to get help what would it be?  

“I would tell them, honestly there is nothing to lose, if you are out there getting high, what is going to be different, if you are going to want to change your life, you might as well as act on it. Coming down here was the best thing I have ever done. I dont have the support up there that I do down here. I am accountable for people. Like when my daughter died, word spread fast down here, and I had 25 girls at my house waiting for me. It is crazy the support I have. I was saying to one of my friends, I have like one true friend at home, but I didn’t know what a true friend was, the spoon and the needle were my friend. 

This is the best decision I have made. Out of all the decisions, other than my daughter, this is the second best decision. I never thought I could be happy….I never thought I could be happy doing the little things in life. I have no reason to go get high. . . . .”



The Real Truth About Why Purdue Pharmaceuticals is Applauding Banning Zohydro: Motivated by Greed

big pharmaOne of the biggest pharmaceutical companies we know of, Purdue, (also one of the most powerful) are not only the makers of Oxycontin, but also the first to applaud Massachusetts’ decision to ban Zohydro for the time being. Probably because Purdue would stand to lose profit if one of the competing pharmaceutical companies managed to make, produce and sell a different type of opiate other than their beloved Oxy. In fact, Purdue has not only applauded Mass’ move to ban the drug but is also working to make sure it doesn’t hit your pharmacy shelves while they try to figure out how to make their own version of it.

And in light of all of that mumbo and jumbo, we found out that Purdue also tries to play the “good guy” by funding recovery sites. One of the recovery sites, which you have probably heard of, A Partnership for is the biggest one. 

Just so everyone is clear Purdue is a big pharma company, and what we know about big pharma companies is not that they actually care about anything but profits. Why they are helping to fund a recovery site as well as applauding the recent hold in the state for Zohydro, makes us tilt our heads a bit and wonder. What is really the motive here? We assume it can’t be good. But it probably is good for Purdue, even if it isn’t good for us. Should Purdue be taken to court anytime in the near future for all the deaths their drug oxycontin causes, they would have plenty of ammo stating they actually do give a shit. And part of their biggest ammo is the fact that they literally help to pay for drug awareness on Oh and just a little background, Purdue has been taken to court before. And yet, the death tally attributed to OXYCONTIN continues to grow each day and in my opinion PURDUE PHARMA’s contribution to the “PARTNERSHIP” is nothing short of a legal maneuver to protect themselves in the future should wrongful death suits be filed as I said before.

Big pharma is sneaky. They are a profit motivated industry and if you don’t believe us just look into it a bit. So the next time you want to hop onto remember, that big pharma is everywhere. Anywhere that it is beneficial for them to be including a site that tries to prevent drug abuse, they will be. They will give money to a site that tries to raise awareness about the exact drugs they make. Oxycontin has been one of the sole contributors to the painkiller abuse epidemic. So don’t fall for it. This is what would be best described as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” So don’t get naive. Pay attention.

The prescription drug abuse epidemic is still in full swing and Purdue hasn’t done anything to help prevent it other than donate money to a site. They haven’t pulled their medication off the market, although they applaud when another pharma company has that happen to them. Doesn’t make any sense. As for now, this is just one more way big pharma is not only, disgustingly money hungry, but also a monster of a business that doesn’t actually try to help anyone but merely tries to profit off of them. 


Massachusetts declares public health emergency over heroin overdoses

(AFP Photo / Getty Images / Alex Wong)

(AFP Photo / Getty Images / Alex Wong)

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a public health emergency in the state concerning the rising numbers of heroin overdoses and opioid addiction – even moving to ban a controversial new painkiller.

In an announcement Thursday, Gov. Patrick directed the Department of Public Health to take several steps to lower the number of deadly incidents. According to the governor’s statement, the number of unintentional opioid overdoses increased 90 percent between 2000 and 2012, and at least 140 people have died from suspected heroin overdoses in the last few months.

“We have an epidemic of opiate abuse in Massachusetts, so we will treat it like the public health crisis it is,” Patrick said in the statement.

Noting that painkillers often act as a route to heroin addiction, Patrick said he has temporarily banned the sale of the new drug Zohydro until it’s proven that the necessary safeguards are in place to prevent abuse.

As RT reported previously, the hydrocodone-only Zohydro was approved by the Food and Drug Administration against the recommendation of its own health advisory panel, and has been singled out by doctors for its potential ability to cause a spike in overdoses.

According to the Boston Globe, Patrick called Zohydro “a potentially lethal narcotic painkiller,” while the Associated Press noted the governor’s concern that since the pill can be easily crushed it’s likely to be abused.

The makers of the drug at Zogenix defended their product to the AP, saying Patrick’s decision will be to the detriment of patients who are hurting.

‘‘The simple fact is that any medication, including opioid pain relievers, presents a danger to the person misusing or abusing it,’’ the company said, though it also stated steps to protect against abuse have been taken.

Additionally, Patrick directed the health department to ensure that all first responders had access to naloxone, a quick-acting drug that reverses the effects of overdose and restores breathing. Naloxone will also be made available at pharmacies for people whose friends or relatives may be at risk of an overdose.

Edward Kelly, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, told the Globe that expanding access to naxolone “should be a no-brainer; this should be something that should be on every firetruck.”

Finally, the governor set aside $20 million for treatment and recovery services intended to help the general public and those in jails across the state.


Read the full story here and see the site where we got it from

E-liquids could be lethal to small children, harmful to others

electronic cigaretteA new consumer alert is being issued related to the popular electronic cigarettes. The liquids used in e-cigarettes may be harmful to an adult’s health and deadly to a child. E-cigarettes have been touted as tools to help people stop smoking, but a recent New York Times report is warning adults about e-liquids. 

A dangerous new form of a powerful stimulant is hitting markets nationwide, for sale by the vial, the gallon and even the barrel. The drug is nicotine, in its potent, liquid form — extracted from tobacco and tinctured with a cocktail of flavorings, colorings and assorted chemicals to feed the fast-growing electronic cigarette industry. These “e-liquids,” the key ingredients in e-cigarettes, are powerful neurotoxins. Tiny amounts, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting and seizures and even be lethal. A teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid can kill a small child. But, like e-cigarettes, e-liquids are not regulated by federal authorities. They are mixed on factory floors and in the back rooms of shops, and sold legally in stores and online in small bottles that are kept casually around the house for regular refilling of e-cigarettes.

Evidence of the potential dangers is already emerging. Toxicologists warn that e-liquids pose a significant risk to public health, particularly to children, who may be drawn to their bright colors and fragrant flavorings like cherry, chocolate and bubble gum.

“It’s not a matter of if a child will be seriously poisoned or killed,” said Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System and a professor of pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s a matter of when.”

Reports of accidental poisonings, notably among children, are soaring. Since 2011, there appears to have been one death in the United States, a suicide by an adult who injected nicotine. But less serious cases have led to a surge in calls to poison control centers. Nationwide, the number of cases linked to e-liquids jumped to 1,351 in 2013, a 300 percent increase from 2012, and the number is on pace to double this year, according to information from the National Poison Data System. Of the cases in 2013, 365 were referred to hospitals, triple the previous year’s number.

Examples come from across the country. Last month, a 2-year-old girl in Oklahoma City drank a small bottle of a parent’s nicotine liquid, started vomiting and was rushed to an emergency room.

That case and age group is considered typical. Of the 74 e-cigarette and nicotine poisoning cases called into Minnesota poison control in 2013, 29 involved children age 2 and under. In Oklahoma, all but two of the 25 cases in the first two months of this year involved children age 4 and under

In terms of the immediate poison risk, e-liquids are far more dangerous than tobacco, because the liquid is absorbed more quickly, even in diluted concentrations.

“This is one of the most potent naturally occurring toxins we have,” Mr. Cantrell said of nicotine. But e-liquids are now available almost everywhere. “It is sold all over the place. It is ubiquitous in society.”

The surge in poisonings reflects not only the growth of e-cigarettes but also a shift in technology. Initially, many e-cigarettes were disposable devices that looked like conventional cigarettes. Increasingly, however, they are larger, reusable gadgets that can be refilled with liquid, generally a combination of nicotine, flavorings and solvents. In Kentucky, where about 40 percent of cases involved adults, one woman was admitted to the hospital with cardiac problems after her e-cigarette broke in her bed, spilling the e-liquid, which was then absorbed through her skin.

The increased use of liquid nicotine has, in effect, created a new kind of recreational drug category, and a controversial one. For advocates of e-cigarettes, liquid nicotine represents the fuel of a technology that might prompt people to quit smoking, and there is anecdotal evidence that is happening. But there are no long-term studies about whether e-cigarettes will be better than nicotine gum or patches at helping people quit. Nor are there studies about the long-term effects of inhaling vaporized nicotine.

Unlike nicotine gums and patches, e-cigarettes and their ingredients are not regulated. The Food and Drug Administration has said it plans to regulate e-cigarettes but has not disclosed how it will approach the issue. Many e-cigarette companies hope there will be limited regulation.

The nicotine levels in e-liquids varies. Most range between 1.8 percent and 2.4 percent, concentrations that can cause sickness, but rarely death, in children. But higher concentrations, like 10 percent or even 7.2 percent, are widely available on the Internet. A lethal dose at such levels would take “less than a tablespoon,” according to Dr. Cantrell, from the poison control system in California. “Not just a kid. One tablespoon could kill an adult,” he said.



Massachusetts crime lab tech who faked drug tests

Annie Dookhan, a former chemist at the Hinton State Laboratory Institute, listens to the judge during her arraignment at Brockton Superior Court in Brockton, Massachusetts

Annie Dookhan, a former chemist at the Hinton State Laboratory Institute, listens to the judge during her arraignment at Brockton Superior Court in Brockton, Massachusetts January 30, 2013.

A former Massachusetts state crime-lab chemist who admitted to faking drug test results was the sole “bad actor” at the facility, but lax management allowed her to carry on for nine years, an official review released on Tuesday concluded.

In a case that shook the foundations of the state’s criminal justice system, chemist Annie Dookhan last year acknowledged faking tests on evidence in drug cases involving some 40,000 people from 2002 to 2011.

More than 300 people convicted of drug violations have been released from prison as a result.

A review by the state’s Inspector General found that there had been warning signs throughout Dookhan’s tenure at the Boston lab, which is now closed. In her first two years on the job, she tested more than 8,000 samples a year, more than double her next-most productive colleague.

Her high output was the result of “dry-labbing,” using only visual inspections rather than chemical tests to confirm that cocaine or other illegal narcotics seized by police were what investigators said they were.

Four of Dookhan’s colleagues at the lab raised concerns about her methods and one went so far as to keep track of her use of reagents and microscope slides because of his suspicions, the report found.

“One significant red flag that Dookhan’s supervisors ignored was her spectacular productivity, particularly after … (a 2009) U.S. Supreme Court case that required forensic drug chemists to testify in court about their test results, when the productivity of all other Drug Lab chemists precipitously declined,” the report found.

The report concluded that a lax management environment at the lab allowed Dookhan to make her own rules, but also noted that inadequate funding made it a struggle for the facility to keep up with the number of samples it was asked to test.

It found that Dookhan was no more likely than her colleagues who used scientific tests to label samples as containing illegal narcotics, striking down the idea that she had been trying to help prosecutors.

There Were Signs That Heroin Would Become A Problem Again

heroinFrom the beginning, the U.S. government’s decade-long crackdown on abuse of prescription drugs has run an unsettling risk: that arresting doctors and shuttering “pill mills” would inadvertently fuel a new epidemic of heroin use. Officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Major Crimes Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force question suspects during a raid on fake health clinics illegally dispensing medical prescriptions for OxyContin and other drugs in 2012.

State and federal officials have pressed their campaign against prescription-drug abuse with urgency, trying to contain a scourge that kills more than 16,000 people each year. The crackdown has helped reduce the illegal use of some medications and raised awareness of their dangers.

But at the same time that some pain medications have become less available on the street and pricier, many users have switched to cheaper heroin, since prescription pills and heroin are in the same class of drugs and provide a comparable euphoric high.

As we all know the heroin problem has been gaining speed. After Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from heroin and other drugs, the experts are saying that the government’s actions have contributed to the growing heroin problem. The war on drugs, the experts say, is a conflict where targeting one illicit substance an be an unintentional boom into another. And if the war on drugs understood addiction they would of probably seen this coming. When you take a substance away from an addict, they don’t stop using, they just switch substances. They will always find a way to get high. 

“Absolutely, much of the heroin use you’re seeing now is due in large part to making prescription opioids a lot less accessible,” said Theodore Cicero, a psychiatry professor at Washington University in St. Louis. He co-authored a 2012 study, cited in the New England Journal of Medicine, that found that a reformulation of OxyContin to make it harder to abuse caused heroin use to nearly double.

Although policymakers “did the best they could at the time” in fighting prescription drugs, Cicero said, “there were signs years ago that this was going to happen, and there was just a lot of inaction.” He said the government could have acted sooner to mitigate heroin’s toll, such as by promoting the use of medicines to fight overdoses and ease withdrawal symptoms.

This doesn’t mean that targeting prescription drugs was necessarily a bad thing but the unawareness and shock of what is going on now, is unwarranted. Everyone should of seen it coming. 

In fact, the government kind of did. The government itself predicted that targeting prescription drugs could give heroin use an unintended lift.The Justice Department’s drug intelligence arm in 2002 highlighted the potential consequences: “As initiatives taken to curb the abuse of OxyContin are successfully implemented, abusers of OxyContin . . . also may begin to use heroin, especially if it is readily available, pure, and relatively inexpensive.”

But yet, those projections didn’t take factor in the discussions by top drug policy officials even after numerous government reports and congressional testimony indicated that the shift in heroin was happening, according to current and formal officials. 

So heroin use began its rise at around the end of the Bush administration has surged in the Obama years. 

Between 2007 and 2012, heroin use rose 79 percent nationwide, according to federal data. Within the same period, the data show, 81 percent of first-time heroin users had previously abused prescription drugs.

A Hard Truth to GRASP: A Mother’s Story

zachZachary died on July 19th, 2013, due to a drug overdose. Not because he was a junkie or because he was an addict. Because he wasn’t just an addict. He was a son, a brother, a human being with love in his heart, and goals for the future. He died of a drug overdose because he had a disease, leaving a family behind to pick up the pieces and to figure out, what next?

Zachary isn’t around to tell his story, but the one person who probably knew him better than anyone else is, his mom. And this is her story. This is a mother’s, Louise’s, experience, strength and hope. 

“He’s probably screaming at me for doing this,” Louise says while laughing. 

“Do you really think he is screaming at you?” I asked her. “Yes,” she says kind of laughing again.

Louise, Zach’s mom, lives about 30 miles north of Boston. While she never had a problem with drugs or alcohol herself she said it does run in the family.

The genes didn’t doom Zachary to having the disease of alcoholism and addiction from the day he was born, but they definitely played a role. “People don’t believe there is a genetic basis to this disease.” she tells me. Which is surprising because the numbers back Louise up. Studies show 50-60% of the disease of addiction is due to genetic factors.

Zachary was born August 18th, 1991. “And when he was born, he didn’t look at me and say mom when I grow up I want to be a drug addict.” And none of us do. None of us plan on having this disease. We are just like every other kid out there.

And as for Zachary, he was just a kid as well. An especially bright, smart, determined one. “Of course he was my kid so I am going to tell you he was cute. He was funny, goofy funny, he always told jokes, he always made everybody laugh, he had a very sensitive side to him, and he was a great athlete.”

“He learned things so quickly. He loved hockey. He was passionate about hockey. He loved life.”

“When he put his mind to something he could do anything.”

So what went wrong? Nothing. This disease doesn’t discriminate.

Louise did more than most parents do to be aware, and also to talk to their kids about drug and alcohol use.  She even talked to Zachary and his two older siblings about their genetics and about drugs and alcohol. “As soon as they hit double digits, like 10, I did talk to them often about drugs and alcohol. Ya know, they knew their history. And I said you guys really have to be careful. If you’re going to experiment you might not be able to step away,” “You really need to ask yourself is this really what I want to do,” she told her three children. 

“I really thought I was one of those parents that was on top of it all, I wasn’t by the way, but I thought I was.” And unfortunately it really isn’t until it’s too late that most parents realize that there is nothing they can do. 

Zachary’s disease progressed in a way that even the most careful parent probably wouldn’t have noticed. There were no signs of abnormal behavior. “He would challenge my authority at times and I would ground him,” she told me. But that was the most of it. 

“I did catch him with pot, he must have been 14 or 15, and I was concerned.”

“But I just thought it was experimenting, a right of passage.” “He wasn’t coming home high every day as far as I know. I didn’t smell it on him. If he was, I would of done something.”

And for most kids Zachary’s age, experimentation, especially with pot is normal. Over 83 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once. 

And from that point on the story becomes a little more worrisome and the tone changes. “What was Zachary’s drug of choice?” I asked. Louise responds with one word, “Percocet.” 

Percocet is an opiate. It is normally prescribed for pain and can produce euphoric effects. It is highly addictive unnamed (2)and even the most careful users can end up finding themselves suffering what is known as withdrawal after taking it for a week or two. 

At age 16 was when Zachary tried Percocet for the first time. And it isn’t an uncommon story. Zachary had sprained his ankle during hockey and one of his friends on the hockey team, described as being on a “slippery slope,” had given it to him. And this is how most kids try opiates for the first time. From a friend. 

“My son, he told me, once he took the first Percocet he couldn’t stop.” she explains. And I knew exactly what Zachary was telling his mom being a recovered addict myself. I had felt what he felt that first time as well and I told Louise this.

She kind of laughed and went, “You want to know what I told him?” “I told him to knock it off.”

“I truly didn’t understand. I’ll tell you how naive I was! I thought well, its a prescription pill, how bad can it be?” “Because its prescribed by doctors. I never understood or maybe I had never heard of the addictive nature of those pills.”

And unless your child starts taking them, most parents haven’t and by the time you notice it could be too late. Today there is more information about it but prescription opiates still fly under the radar. Every day in the United States, an average of 2,000 teenagers use prescription drugs without a doctor’s guidance for the first time. AND the majority of both teens and young adults obtain prescription drugs they abuse from friends and relatives, sometimes without their knowledge.

And this is how it starts. Unfortunately Percocet being a prescription drug it has the illusion of being “safe” or at least more “safe” then it’s distant cousin, the street drug heroin. And Louise gets it. “There’s this false sense of it’s ok.”

Things went downhill from there. Louise began getting calls Zachary’s senior year from the headmaster at his high school, he had started acting up, and his grades began “tanking.” 

“He barely made it through high school.” “I did get him into a treatment program while he was still in high school. In Boston, once again I didn’t know what I was doing, me and my ignorance was bliss at the time.” she sighs. 

The program Zachary went to was only one night a week and he didn’t really want to go but he did. He completed the program and also managed to make it through high school. 

That summer things got much worse. “That summer I noticed a complete escalation in his drug activity. And he started stealing, the whole 9 yards. And by that time he had graduated to Oxys.” she tells me.

Oxys, the short term for the prescription drug Oxycontin or Oxycodone, are a highly potent opiate similar to Percocet. For addicts it is the next step up from Percocet. It gives you a more intense high.

At this point Zachary was in college but he never went to class due to his drug use. So Louise told her son, “Zach it’s not working, you need to do something else.” 

From that point forward Zach and his family started a long road in and out of detox and treatment centers. “I call it the roller coaster,” she explained. And here is why, “He’d go through detox, he’d go through treatment, he’d come out for awhile, he’d be ok for 30 days sometimes 60 days and then he’d relapse.” Then the cycle would start all over again.

And this is the disease of addiction. Characterized by being chronic, progressive and fatal. And always, the potential for relapse is there. And Louise didn’t quite understand why the cycle wasn’t working yet. “I thought you just need to detox. Now you’re off them, now go get a job, go back to school.”

And that kind of thinking or that kind of action does work, for short periods of time, but not for lasting sobriety.

“Then the monster would be unleashed again.” And Louise describes each treatment and detox center as Zach and herself going through cycles together. 

“6 months sober was about the longest time he had. Then that started not working out for him”

In 2013, things had hit an all time low. After Christmas 2012, Zach started using again and he was now using heroin, the disease had progressed some more. He was progressively more and more inebriated and there was an instance where Louise thought he should have overdosed but he didn’t.

He had been to treatment in Florida once before during one of the cycles, “I call them tours of duty,” she said. And Louise was ready to send him back down to Florida again for another “tour of duty” due to the extent of his using. She told him, “You got to get outta here cause you are going to die in Lowell.”

When she sent Zachary to Florida she didn’t know it was going to be the last time she saw her son. And why would she? No one sees it coming. 

“He had 60 days sober, and on day 61 he relapsed and died.” she explains. It hurt me to hear this.

Zach called his mom on day 60 telling her “Mom! I am 60 days clean!” And she gave a response of love like any mother would. She told him how proud she was of him and to keep up the good work. She was planning on coming down for his birthday next month. But she didn’t get to. “I came home Friday night from work, and the police were outside my door.” Zach had died.

“I don’t know what happened.” Louise told me. Even Zach’s sponsor, kind of a guide in a twelve step program, didn’t see it coming. And relapse, overdose, and death can happen like that with the disease of addiction. Out of the blue, all of a sudden. No one plans on dying when they relapse. No one expects it. 

I asked Louise about her feelings after his death, “Anger, guilt, shame?”

“I was everything. I was more sad than angry.” “My anger was directed at God more than anybody else. I put some anger there. I put some anger on the sober house.”

“How do you get through something like this?” I asked Louise, “What were the steps you started taking?”

Louise was honest, “I didn’t do anything for a month. I can become an isolator. I actually went into numbness, I didn’t feel.”

“I’m only coming out of it now.” Grieving is a different process for everyone. And for some this kind of numbness is necessary. And she has ups and downs. “I cried last week. Someone posted a photo of him on Facebook and I broke down.”

“I will miss him until the day I die. I will grieve him until the day I die.”

When Louise did come out of numbness though she started taking action. “I tend to be an action oriented person.” So it would only make sense that she started a chapter of the support group GRASP. GRASP is grief recovery for those who have lost someone from alcohol, and other drugs. GRASP is nationwide and we will provide a link for it. It is for anyone who has lost someone to substance abuse not only parents. GRASP provides compassionate support for anyone who needs it. Louise runs the Merrimack Valley GRASP Chapter in Massachusetts.

“I hope Zachary is proud of what I am doing.” 

“I didn’t want his death to be in vain. One way is GRASP. My other way now is if the media calls, I tell my story.”  She also is working with a group in Lowell, Mass that is trying to fight heroin addiction, to give them the parents perspective.

I asked about her goals and she said, “That maybe some of us can find peace.”

Another one of her goals has to do with the anonymity part of this disease. “If I remain anonymous people are never going to put a face on addiction. They’re not going to see the people that are hurt. They aren’t going to see the people that die.  I am sick of being anonymous. I am sick of being ashamed. I am sick of being embarrassed.”

She even used Zach’s funeral as a way to educate people by putting inserts into his funeral program about addiction.I knew they were going to talk about him and if they were going to talk about him I thought, I am going to educate them.” “The stigma has got to go away.” “It doesn’t matter how rich you are, how poor you are, whether you’re black, white, blue or purple.” And she is so beyond right. The disease of addiction knows no bounds

And then she coined this term, given to her by CBS—“I am making my mess my message.” 

“If I can help a parent, not experience what I have experienced, and if it is only one, that is fine.”

And of course as any parent would she still questions herself.

“Every day I get up, I judge myself.”

“I do wonder should I have done more?” 

But as every one of us with this disease knows, when we want to use, there is nothing that can stop us. Louise did everything she could do as a mother. She tried everything she knew how to do. And unfortunately it isn’t up to our parents. It is up to us. And in some instances it is up to our disease if we are using. 

Louise works to help other parents with exactly the same things she is going through, through GRASP, and even Learn 2 Cope (another organization similar to GRASP.) As she puts it, “We have to live with this.”

And in return of offering help, she receives help too. “You are not alone. There are people you can actually talk to that don’t judge you.” GRASP and Learn 2 Cope are just two of the organizations that Louise is involved with that offer that kind of understanding and support. 

unnamed (1)My last question for Louise was merely about her favorite memory of Zach. And she described a young Zachary (see picture to the right) that liked to dress up in different gear. And he came out of his room in a camo vest one day, with a little helmet. “It was the cutest thing you have ever seen in your life!!!” she tells me laughing. I can hear her smile. “He came out and said Mom! I’m an army man!” He was so proud.”

Louise also shared that she used to send Zach a special quote when he was having rough days. It happens to actually be the same one my mom sends to me. It is from the Winnie the Pooh and goes like this:

“Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

And then she shared with me the last thing Zachary said to her before he had died. Her last memory, and also her fondest. “He told me he knew what unconditional love was because I showed it to him. That’s my fondest,” the tears started. “So I know he knew that I loved him, because I used to wonder sometimes did he? And he told me he knew what uncondtional love was because I gave it to him. Which I guess is a good thing.”

It is an amazing thing. She is an amazing woman.

“And really that is all that matters in the end. Unconditonal love sticks around.” I tell her. And she finishes it for me, “Forever and ever and ever.”