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Opioid overdose death rates in Massachusetts counties, as compiled by the Massachusetts Department of Health.

Addiction in the Berkshires: Sara’s story, chapter 2

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By Tuesday, Oct 9, 2018 Life In the Berkshires 2

Editor’s Note: The following is a first person account of heroin addiction, edited from five hours of interviews recorded by Sheela Clary. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the storyteller and the people she speaks about. To read the first chapter, click HERE.

Chapter Two: Addiction

You get to the point that, once that initial rush is over, you just feel normal. Then you look like more of a normal person when you’re high than when you’re in withdrawal. That [withdrawal] is when people are going to say, “What the hell is wrong with you?” From the outside, you look terrible, like a zombie. You’re not taking care of yourself, but you’re not feeling it.

It’s obsessive thoughts — I want to do it, I want to do it — that lead to the physical addiction. It’s impossible to fight those thoughts, because you’re sick. Your body is agreeing with your mind that you need it.

That was around the time I was going to college, and I would do them [lines] before school. It would help make the mundane more exciting, more interesting. I could study longer hours, I did probably like C- or B- average in school, think I got an A in one class. Then I was offered a full-time job [in the building trades] starting at $13 an hour with the potential for raises. I didn’t have any other career in mind, so I dropped out, started working full time … 11 years ago now.

Sometimes I would do some in the morning before work, and would leave it all at home so that, by the time I got home, I’d be in withdrawal and I’d feel it. That was also a money-saving technique, and to make sure I had some to get up for work in the morning.

At the time, they [bags of heroin] were going for $20 in Great Barrington. I would usually drive out to Springfield or Hartford [Connecticut] and get it cheaper. I was making good money, $1,000 a week, and I would spend it all, put off my bills.

There were many times I would fall asleep at the wheel, catch myself drifting off. I crashed myself into a bridge, almost died. Let’s just say my insurance rates aren’t great.


The girl I was with when it [Sara’s first overdose] happened died of an overdose herself a couple years back. I thought I’d just fallen asleep. I woke up and she said, “I was about to push you out of the car!” It was too much of a hassle for her. The only reason I believed I’d overdosed is because she punched me in the face, and I had a huge gash on my chin and didn’t know how it got there. (This was before Narcan was a thing.)

There was another time I got in a car with a group of people. We all got high and I must have fallen asleep because, next thing I knew, we’d crashed into a telephone pole. I was in the back passenger side seat. The front passenger was gone. He’d gotten out and started running, collapsed two blocks away. The driver was slumped over.

The ambulance came and they were like, “Who was sitting in the back passenger seat? You need to go to the hospital. You bent the seat on impact.”

Everyone else went to the hospital. I just started walking the streets, and I had my mom come pick me up. I think it’s a good thing that we crashed because that’s what jolted me out of it. I think everyone in the car overdosed … I can’t say for certain.

The Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction in Pittsfield. Photo courtesy Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office

The other time I know I did overdose was right out of jail at BCAC [Berkshire County House of Correction]. That was in 2014, in the wintertime, during the time I was roaming the streets. I had gone into a supermarket and stolen food and got caught. I decided to do the 14 days [in jail] instead of a year of probation. With probation comes drug testing, and I just wanted to keep using.

They gave me Tylenol. If I’d been given suboxone, methadone, something, I would not have overdosed. I was being careful. I had been doing four bags three times a day. I got out, and where I was doing 4-4-4, I did 1-1-1, and overdosed. I was staying at a friend’s house. He said I turned purple, carried me outside in the snow for fresh air. He didn’t know what to do. I guess I just woke up. He kept asking if I was all right. After that I slept for three days since I hadn’t slept at all in jail.

I’ve been with several people while they overdosed, and rescue breathing worked. I can think of five: three times in a car, two times in a house. Three are dead now. When someone overdoses, their lips will turn purple and they’ll be slumped over. If they’re breathing, their breath will be in sporadic gasps.

I’ve sat with people who were like that cup (points to dark blue cup). I don’t panic. People want to slap them, pour cold water on them, kick them in the balls … I just tilt their head back, clear their airway, keep blowing into their mouth. Usually they’ll give a giant gasp and come back.

John [not his real name] used to call me to get him something, would want to come over to my house and get high. I’d have to babysit him because he would drop the cigarette and start burning the floor. He was really sloppy.

I’d been clean, told him I didn’t know where to get it. But he kept calling. And after I relapsed, I finally went driving with him. (I was going to have him drop me off first.) He turned the most purple I’ve ever seen anybody. I held his head back and kept breathing into his mouth. I just sat there like that for like a half hour, until finally he woke up. I was freaking out because there’s a building right there, and there’s people walking by, and someone’s gonna call the cops. When he woke up, all he wanted to know was where the rest of his stuff was.

That was the last time I saw him. He ended up overdosing alone in his car. Probably five or six [all together, of “we,” are now dead.]

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2 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Grier Horner says:

    Fine work on your vivid Addiction series, Sheela Clary. I’m so glad you lived through it. So many don’t. I hope your pieces stop some people from starting.

  2. Opioid Treatment Specialists Waismann Method ® (@opiates) says:

    Heroin addiction has hit every corner of our society. We have patients flying in form all over the country for medical opioid detoxification. Is simply absurd, that in the mist of such opioid crisis, we do not have more in-hospital medical detoxification.
    If we as a small medical organization can provide a 98% plus success rate in opioid detox, I am sure other hospitals could do the same. There is no reason to have this continues revolving door of archaic drug rehabs or replacement drugs. We can do better, and we can provide more.

    We have the science and resources, let’s start saving lives!

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