Intersections: Addiction exacts a painful family toll

This is the second in a four-part series exploring the impacts of heroin use on the greater Glendale area.

Anne Fisher and her family moved to La Crescenta from Michigan in the early ‘90s. The Los Angeles suburb, with its small-town feel and slow-paced atmosphere, reminded her of home.

“Nothing can go wrong here,” she recalled thinking.

But things did.

Wanting to fit in and unable to deal with the pressures of a relationship ending, her son Raymond tried prescription pills for the first time when he was 17. It was like instant relief, erasing all his problems, he said.

“Everything that you could be stressing over, or thinking about or worrying about, goes away.”

What followed was an addiction to OxyContin that spiraled out of control, a jump from drug addiction to drug dealing, arrests, court dates, stints in rehab that didn't work and a transition to heroin while he was away getting help last year.

Just like OxyContin, heroin became the love of his life, he said.

“I didn't want to be social. All I wanted to do was get high and make sure that I could get high the next day.”

But the honeymoon phase didn't last long.

“I went from 'This is nice, this is fun,’ to ‘I hate this,’ to ‘I need this',” he said. “It takes over your whole mindset.”

Like most people afflicted with drug addiction, recovery has been a long, brutal process, a battle that sees wins and losses on a weekly basis. And that's the thing with this type of addiction, its ability to create long-term neurological changes dispel any misconceptions about those who use the drug and their ability to leave it behind. Because let's face it, who really wants to be addicted to heroin?

But the drug doesn't just affect addicts. Heroin's far reaching claws makes their families and friends victims, too.

Fisher said having a child with a drug problem is one of the hardest things she's dealt with.

From alienation, to the lying and stealing, to the fear of losing her son to addiction, she's been through it all. Her experience with court-ordered rehab — or what she says are just legal drug houses — and law enforcement has been hellish. She feels uncomfortable leaving her son alone, scared of what she might find when she returns.

She used to blame herself. But after speaking with others, she realized heroin addiction knows no class, color or creed. Fisher says talking about heroin addiction to middle-class families like those in La Crescenta hasn't been easy, due to the perpetuated expectations and standards that come with suburban life.

“Nobody wants to talk about it, it's taboo,” she said. “Addiction puts you into shame and secrecy mode. When the shame has subsided, you're able to explore relationships.”

Raymond pinpoints the heroin problems of the area to a few things: expendable incomes that can afford prescription pills, leading to heroin when the money runs out. Then there’s the lack of education about drugs coupled with denial in communities where false expectations and pressures of near-perfect lives are constantly perpetuated.

“They don't want to talk about things. They don't want to admit that their family or friends have a problem,” he said, adding that La Crescenta residents, unlike other Angelenos, get no daily exposure to the impact of what drug addiction can do, making it harder to emphasize what using pills and heroin can eventually lead to.

Fisher has had to move her family away from La Crescenta because of drug addiction. But in the hopes of helping both addicts and their families, she has begun a venture that centers around the one thing every single person I've spoken to impacted by heroin abuse emphasizes: the importance of support.

With Addict2Addict.com, Fisher, with Raymond's help, is creating a convenient, anonymous online support group where addicts and their families can connect virtually. With her determination, openness and honesty, she plans to replace the denial and shame with community, which she says is a major step to solving the problem.

“Drugs keep you out of community,” she said. “They keep you in silence and in secret.”

LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at liana.agh@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
58°