Rehab, jail and hard truths: What addicts say we don’t understand
Vince, Erik and Brian are on their way to being addiction success stories. They're each working hard to put their lives back together after years of drub abuse and poor choices — and they're getting a lot of help.
Jay Lassiter, the host of "Heroin Uncut — The Truth About the Crisis," met all three along with former Gov. Jim McGreevey for a frank discussion on what it means to be an addict and what it means to be a person.
The short answer: When you're the former, you don't know much about being the latter. And the threat or reality of jail, the quick-hit solution of a 28-day detox and rehab (or an "oil change," as Vince calls it), a system that takes away the drugs but not the drug culture behavior — none of that starts an addict on the road back to a real life.
Not with prescription opiates. Not with heroin. Not with fentanyl.
The long version takes more time. This episode of Heroin Uncut — presented above as a video, but also available in podcast form from Apple Podcasts, Google Play and most other podcast directories — clocks in at about 55 minutes, about twice as long as most of our installments. But the insights Vince, Erik and Brian shared in our time with them deserve to be heard.
"It's hard for me to talk about what I've done and where I've been — the things I've sacrificed for the drugs," Erik told us.
The discussion around the table had been lively — enthusiastic agreements over the challenges non-addicts just don't understand, around the misperceptions in and out of the recovery community. But it fell silent when Erik spoke.
He told us about how grateful he is for the woman who's stood by his side even during the worst periods of his addiction. He told us about his 10 felony charges — all for drug activity. About how his 17-year-old daughter is turning to a life of drug culture because of the example he set. About the pain he caused her when, at age 10, she watched him be sentenced to several years in jail.
And he told us how it took months clean in jail and a rehab program before he began to feel again — before the human who could feel remorse, regret and a drive to get better re-emerged.
"Having people that care about drug addicts who aren't pieces of s--- gets me emotional," he said. "It's nice to know that somebody cares. And it makes me want to survive. It makes me not want to die. It makes me have hope."
That includes his longtime girlfriend. That includes the ex-governor. That includes Jay. That includes other addicts trying to get better.
That includes you, for watching and listening to his story.
You can't possibly get a sense of the pain, desperation and hope in Erik's voice from words on a page — you need to hear them to understand his drive for a better life. The same can be said of Vince's determination to live — and to never touch one of the substances that could have killed him again. Or of how trapped Brian felt in compulsion that cost him the chance to care for his children, to be the father he wanted to be for them.
And among the three, as well as McGreevey, is a tremendous passion for sharing the lessons they learned about the ways the justice system and recovery community fall short — because there's hope for something better.
(Caution — There's some very occasional uncensored profanity.)
If you're using the app or New Jersey 101.5 site right now, you can listen with the widget below. You can always get the latest episodes from the app's menu or at HeroinUncut.com.
Revisit past episodes of Heroin Uncut below:
• Marijuana vs. opioids — One is illegal, the other is killing us — has always believed that maybe, just maybe, if we regulated prescription opiates half as zealously as we regulate medical cannabis, we’d avoid a world of hurt.
• Taking note on addiction — hard lessons learned by NJ journalists. Everyone's talking about the opioid crisis — because it's everywhere. But too few of those making the important decisions and trying to bring light to the problem really understand it.
• Carter Stone was a Jersey boy. And when he died of a heroin overdose at the age of 32, his grieving family was predictably distraught — like any other family in their position would be. But what’s different about this family is the message it left behind.
• The heroes and villains of New Jersey’s opioid crisis — New Jersey’s heroin crisis did not create itself. Big Pharma, greedy lobbyists, and dimwitted policy makers created the perfect conditions for addiction to take hold and to thrive.
• How Narcan, a great cop and a convicted killer saved my life — No conversation so far has stood out more than then one Jay had with Anthony — a recovering addict who recounted his experience being revived with Narcan.
• The Opioid Industrial Complex — This is who gets rich off your addiction
— Acknowledging that addiction is big business helps clear up what’s really driving New Jersey’s opioid crisis:
• Narcan is saving lives — and that’s bad news — Narcan is an important tool in our war against opiates. But our reliance on it means things have already gone too far:
• Needle exchanges — Why NJ must give drug users syringes right now — An uncomfortable solution? You bet. It’s also why host HIV-positive and drug-recovering host Jay Lassiter doesn’t have hepatitis today:
• Heroin Uncut: Defining New Jersey’s drug problem — Our language about drugs is a jumbled mess. If we don’t understand the problem, we can’t fix it:
New episodes are released every Saturday.
Heroin Uncut is sponsored by Carrier Clinic, providing behavioral healthcare services in New Jersey since 1910.