Syracuse-area man looks to move past heroin addiction

A Central New York man recounts his struggle with heroin addiction and staying sober.

On a crisp January night, *Brent trudged through the snow, carrying his flat-screen TV to trade for cash. Hours later, he stood in his bare apartment, alone, with his newly purchased heroin needles.  

After a marathon of doping through the night, Brent decided that he could not continue down this path and called the Syracuse Behavioral Healthcare for detoxification services. Since the morning of Jan. 25, 2015, Brent has been clean. 

"I just decided that I can't do this anymore. It's not even that I don't want to. It's that I literally can't."

“What made me get clean is that in a matter of nine months, [I’d had] six overdoses [and] two resuscitations with those overdoses. I’d pushed everyone away from me," Brent said. "I felt like I was by myself. I was a walking zombie."

After numerous relapses, getting and staying clean was a matter of life or death for Brent. It also meant stripping away his past.

“I just decided that I can’t do this anymore. It’s not even that I don’t want to. It’s that I literally can’t," Brent said. "I’m going to be dead. If I’d kept going the way I was, I’d be lucky to see 26.”  

Brent, who started using heroin in his teens, has witnessed heroin use increase exponentially in Syracuse.

The Upstate New York Poison Center said that in Onondaga County, heroin overdoses have risen 500 percent from 2009 to 2013, according to a May 2014 article. 

From January to June 2015, Onondaga County has made 45 out of 140 heroin human exposure calls, according to the Upstate New York Poison Center’s data.

Heroin human exposure is when someone has ingested or shot heroin and have it in their body, and are feeling the effects of it, said Lee Livermore, the public health education coordinator for the Upstate New York Poison Center.

One reason Onondaga County’s numbers are higher than other counties is simply because the state’s poison center is in close proximity to the Upstate Medical University hospital. “The Upstate New York poison center is hosted by Upstate Medical University and the predominance of those calls would come in to Upstate Medical University,” Livermore said.   

Emergency rooms in New York aren’t required to report their heroin exposures to the poison center, another reason exposure numbers in Onondaga County are significantly higher than other counties.

“When I went to rehab for heroin in 2006, there was me and one other person in there for heroin. Now when I went to rehab in 2014, there were only one or two people who weren’t there for heroin,” Brent said.   

His exposure to drugs began through his friends. “I was always hanging out with older kids, even when I was younger, [through] skateboarding. Someone who is 8, 9, 10 shouldn’t be doing that in the first place. They should be hanging out with someone their own age,” Brent said.

His father, *Timothy, noticed changes in his son's ppearance and attitude during his teens. His son went in and out of Syracuse-area high schools due to verbal altercations with faculty, but ultimately received his high school diploma.

“We realized through his outbreaks of anger that something wasn’t right,” his father said.

After returning home late in the evening from a family vacation, Brent wanted to visit a friend’s house. His parents said no, because it was a school night. An argument began, Timothy had to restrain his son during the argument, in which Brent shattered a window.

Brent finally broke down and confessed to using heroin.

In high school, Clark landed in University Hospital with a benzodiazepine and opiate addiction. “It was strong. It was controlling him. His life was in turmoil,” Timothy said.

Heroin use during puberty can potentially freeze psychological development, because the substance harms the hormones and neurotransmitters essential to development, said Dr. Dessa Bergen-Cico, associate professor in the department of public health at SU.

Brent comes from a tight-knit, suburban family. His parents always visited him in rehab, whether he was 20 minutes or two hours away. They never wanted him to be the patient who didn’t have anyone there on visitors’ day, his father said.

Timothy described how rehab has been a form of support, but also a huge financial drain. Timothy has spent tens of thousands of dollars thus far for his son’s treatment. 

Today, Timothy attends Al-Anon meetings. The program is the sister group for Alcoholics Anonymous and serves as a resource for families of addicts.

“You can’t take care of them if you can’t take care of yourself,” Timothy said, which is one component that families are taught during the meetings.

“Sometimes we did so much of the calling [and visiting] that we didn’t let him know how hard it was. And I think to some degree that aided to some of the relapsing,” Timothy said.

They even sold Brent’s car so their son could pay his rent.

Timothy said he is now proud of the progress his son has made, noting that recovery isn’t easy, but he will always stand by his side. “For the good, the bad and the ugly, he’s mine,” Timothy said. 

Today, Brent is currently rebuilding friendships and establishing new ones. Five months ago, he met former addict *Jack through mutual friends. They encourage each other not to relapse by discussing the consequences. 

Brent even helped Jack find employment.

On Aug. 10, 2015, Brent graduated from the Counseling, Addiction, and Psychological Services Intensive Outpatient and Aftercare Group program at the Syracuse Community Health Center that he entered in January. It was his first time completing an outpatient program that wasn’t court ordered.

“Getting clean [means] you have to change everything. They tell you in rehab there’s three main things, PPT: people, places, things. You have to change all of that," he said. "You need to be around other people that are clean in work programs and recovery. Because that’s what you need to remind you of where you’ve been, to stay where you are."

Moving forward, Brent hopes to get his jewelers certification and move to New York City. “I want to be happy. I want to comfortable. I don’t even need to be the richest person in the world. I don’t want to be famous, even,” Brent said. “I want to be respected by the people around me.”

*Names have been changed.

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