May 21, 2014 Tami Scott Uncategorized
After a decade of dealing with drugs, drug addiction and seeking help via numerous rehab clinics, Baldwinsville native Micah Wood finally decided to get clean.
“This is the first time I’ve been sober completely from everything for six months since I was like 10 years old,” the 20-year-old said in a recent phone interview with the Messenger. “It’s been a struggle for a while now.”
Wood is currently accepting inpatient treatment at the Watertown-based Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addictions, Inc. His resolve to kick heroin came after his first arrest on Nov. 23, 2013, during which he spent time in a cell at the Onondaga County Justice Center. His wake up call, however, came years before.
“There’s a difference between realizing you need help and actually wanting to change,” Wood said. “I realized I needed help when I was probably 16.”
But Wood was content. He liked his life the way he was living it — partying, selling and doing drugs — with no other responsibilities to deal with.
“I just wanted to do whatever I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be uncomfortable,” he said. “The drugs made me comfortable.”
Wood began smoking pot at age 10. In sixth grade, a bong was found in his school locker at Ray Middle School. Administrators called his mother, LouAnn McCandless-Brown, who admitted she didn’t handle it properly.
“I thought it was just a phase,” she said, then paused. “I didn’t want to look at it.”
Her husband, whom her son adored, had recently committed suicide. It affected Micah, though he denied it, and it gave McCandless-Brown a pretext for her dysfunctional behavior going forward.
“I was sober for 23 years,” she said. “After Chuck died, I thought this is a good excuse to drink again … and Micah had to live through that.”
“I personally turned to drugs because I wasn’t happy with what was going on at home,” Wood said. “ … I realized that it made me feel good, and normally, I didn’t ever feel good. I was either angry or depressed or not happy with what was going on at home; things that had happened to me in the past. I didn’t realize [that] what I was doing at the moment was basically exchanging all those feelings and memories and what was going on with my home life. For a while, I just thought, I’m just experimenting, I’m having fun. I like the way it makes me feel, and it took me a few years to realize I was using drugs to cope with life.”
About two years after Wood began smoking marijuana, he discovered “roxys” or roxicodone, during a Florida visit to see his biological father, McCandless-Brown’s ex-husband. Roxicodones are prescription painkillers, and his father had bottles stashed in an unlocked medicine cabinet. Wood’s drug use just got an upgrade.
It would be another five years of opiates, ecstasy, methamphetamines and other synthetic drugs — even overdosing — before he hit on heroin.
“I tried heroin because they had made oxy and opanas (a narcotic pain reliever) gel form so that you couldn’t snort them or inject them. Basically, the only thing you could do with them was eat them. It was harder to get the high that you would normally get from them. Eventually my friends and I were transitioning to heroin because one, it’s cheaper; it’s easier to get and you can’t get Oxycontin or opanas anymore really so it’s what I could do; that or nothing,” he said. “At that point, I didn’t really care too much on whether I’d get hooked or not. I was just trying to get high.”
Micah has sought treatment, both inpatient and outpatient, five times – this current center being his fifth attempt. So far, it’s working.
“It’s much different than any other rehab I’ve been to, for sure. I’ve been doing really good to be honest with you. I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of coping skills as far as how to deal with my emotions or anger or relationships between people in general. I’ve learned better work ethics because we take care of pigs and sheep here daily. We grow vegetables and flowers and it’s a peer-run program so we cook all of our meals, prepare our food and stuff.”
The program’s immediate goals for each resident is abstinence, relapse education, the development of an individualized and effective relapse prevention plan, discovery and acceptance of self, increased self control, responsible adult behavior and improved self esteem. The average length of stay is six to 12 months.
“I still get urges to use, but I don’t think that will ever go away 100 percent,” said Wood, who is learning how to recognize signs that can occur prior to relapsing. “I’m learning a lot of tools here to help me conquer those urges and make better decisions.”
Upon graduation from Credo, Wood will then go to a halfway house for up to six months. He has no plans to come back home.
“I’m either gonna go to school or assisted living because I can’t go home. There’s nothing in Syracuse or Baldwinsville for me,” he said.
Wood, who dropped out of school in sixth grade, is now working on getting his General Education Diploma (GED). He said he hopes to one day become a counselor for others addicted to drugs and alcohol.
A Liverpool man’s struggle
The Baldwinsville Messenger also spoke to a 38-year-old Liverpool man who wishes to remain anonymous.
John (pseudonym) did not begin using heroin until his late 20s. In his teens, he had abused alcohol and in his early 20s turned to prescription painkillers; then he met morphine.
“I was hooked on morphine because my [then] girlfriend was a nurse and she was pinching [a lot of] it from work. We both [were taking] it and she got caught so we got arrested and ended up in jail. My ticket out of jail was to go to rehab,” he said.
It was in rehab where he met other users more knowledgeable in where to obtain hard drugs, and once he was out, he happened to run into one of them.
“He was getting heroin and I just asked him to get me some and that was it,” John said.
Because he had already been injecting morphine, he had no issue with injecting heroin. Consequently, he tested positive for Hepatitis C. And it’s still the only way he will use it.
When asked if he wanted to give it up, John, who has been to both outpatient and inpatient rehabs for alcohol, opiates and heroin multiple times, said that’s tricky.
“I wish I could use [heroin] every day,” said John, who manages his habit most days by taking suboxone, a prescription medicine used to treat opioid addiction. “Anybody who has tried heroin and has gotten a habit and says they don’t want it anymore … I don’t believe that. [Heroin] works. The consequences that come with it, I don’t want the consequences. The only way to stop [the consequences] is to stop [taking heroin]. In that respect, I would want to stop. Let’s just say, I don’t think I’ve injected my last bag of heroin into my arm, no.”
Married, with two teens and two children under the age of 2, John explained how a person can be an addict and still participate in daily life. He theorizes that this is part of what makes heroin addiction so prevalent. The key, he said, is that you feel euphoria while remaining highly functional.
“You can get that feeling from alcohol, but you’re drunk. With heroin, you don’t feel like you’re taking heroin and getting high. Generally, Oxycontin does the same thing. It made me feel like this is the way God meant me to be. It [fixes] that something inside that’s not working.
“Generally, I haven’t been comfortable in my own skin. Heroin makes me feel like I’m supposed to feel. I’m high functioning. The problem isn’t heroin; it’s running out of heroin. You have to have more. You’ll get more at the cost of everything else in your life. Once you get it, you can take care of all that stuff. You’re whole again.”
Though he has experienced a couple close calls taking heroin, John said he’s not afraid of overdosing and respects the dealer from whom he buys.
“The reason that all these people are overdosing … there happens to be some dope out there that is really strong and they take what they normally take and it’s too much,” John said.
Ironically, his dealer died later on the same day of the interview.
Millions of users in the United States today find themselves in the same precarious limbo that John finds himself in daily.
“Knowing what I know now, I would have never taken the oxy to begin with. I would have never taken an opiate. But you remember it. It’s an all or nothing thing. Those people are very few and far between that can get off it and stay off it,” John said. “I just wish I never went down that road. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
“Hooked, but hopeful” is part two in a series of articles about the heroin epidemic in Central New York.