Meeting Elizabeth for the first time, she speaks of how she heroin effects her life and how it makes her feel to be an addict. “When people look at me, they don’t see me. They see an inconvenient truth that they could be me. They look away as if I am not even here. Friends I knew, family members, or strangers, they look but there is no eye contact. I am living but I’m not actually. It would be easier to be dead.” Elizabeth, 34, can be described as homeless, a heroin addict, a mother, a daughter and a sister.
Thursday, the headlines across Delaware County, have detailed a drug sweep called Operation Spring Cleaning, which with the help of several local police forces, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, and the ended with the arrests of over 100 suspects. There were about 180 officers and investigators who assembled before dawn who then set off to stop the flow of drugs such as heroin, crack, cocaine and methamphetamine to the communities where residents have been asking for help to turn the is of against these purveyors of death.
With these arrests a cog in the chain of supply and demand for these illegal drugs has been stopped. How does that affect the addict? For Elizabeth it is a sobering event. There are unanswered phone calls, fear of arrest and now the fear of withdrawal. As she tries to figure out what she will do for next fix she becomes agitated, anxious and paranoid. Elizabeth is finally thinking of getting help.
Studies tell us that addiction is an ever growing problem in America and it has reached epidemic proportions. There are specialists in addiction who inform the public, on a daily basis, of the deadly consequences of the fast growing illegal drug being used today heroin, but this won’t be about that. The cause of addiction is debated but we all know how it ends if the person doesn’t have treatment, death.
Elizabeth tells how heroin has become a part of her life. She asks, “do you think I have a choice now? That is a laugh. There aren’t any choices anymore. If I fall asleep it’s wishing for some more, if I have no more, I am working on how to get it. I tried to stop. Do you know what happens if I skip I day? I want to die. It hurts so bad. I wish I could die at that point. then something inside tells me just get a little, go head so it.” Elizabeth describes what her life is like as an addict.
Police departments around the country are in the fight to end this wretched battle. Upper Darby Police Department is one of those who are fighting by arming themselves with the antidote Narcan to revive those who have overdosed. Upper Darby has been leading the way and has many saves while using Narcan but Michael Chitwood, the Superintendent of the Police Department has remarked, Now What?
In Upper Darby, there is help. A new program has been developed with the help of Chitwood, Mayor Tom Micozzie and Gaudenzia Inc., which is a non-profit group that operates 147 drug and alcohol treatment programs for men and women in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware whose motto is, “A new beginning.” The program, the first of its kind, has made the Upper Darby Police Station a safe haven for any addict who wants to get help. It can be from a drug or alcohol dependency and if the person wants help, they can get it at the police station.
After telling Elizabeth about the program she was apprehensive and surprised. “I didn’t think the police could help,” she said. When I ask her if she will try treatment she tells me that,” I wish people understood how it feels. I swear my brain is messed up. I don’t want to do the heroin, but it is like, it calls to me.” Elizabeth isn’t wrong. The use of heroin leads to a change in the brain. When the body is introduced to heroin, the body gets flooded with these opioids, leading to enormously high levels of dopamine. The heroin causes euphoria within the person. From then on the body, the addict, will try to achieve that level of euphoria.
After the addiction takes hold, the addict has a decreased capacity for making decision and the inability to imagine future events. Elizabeth is at this stage. She can’t see a future without heroin being in the picture. Right now Elizabeth knows the heroin is killing her, but it is all she lives for. So the big question for Elizabeth I ask, “Will you get help?” As we end our conversation, she gets up to leave and said, “Not today.”