Recovering heroin user says 'everyone is doing it'

PEPPER PIKE, Ohio - They just turned 18, but Jess and Amber have already lived a nightmare that many people never will. The two young women celebrated their birthdays this month in treatment for heroin addiction.

"It's the hardest thing I've ever had to kick in my life," Jess said.

The girls didn't know each other until they arrived at New Directions in Pepper Pike for treatment. One is a straight-A student from Youngstown. The other is from Ashtabula County.  But they have a lot in common.

Both were 16 when they started using heroin. Amber said she did it because her then-boyfriend, who was three years older, was a heroin dealer. 

"I don't have any sober friends right now," she said. "I think now it's just the fact that everyone is doing it, and the money. A lot of people start selling heroin, too."

Jess believes some girls have been through a lot of bad things and use heroin to try to forget.

"A lot of my friends have been through sexual assaults," she said. "There's a lot of pressure on girls to look pretty and heroin makes you skinny."

Jason Kuharik, a therapist at New Directions, said the number of teens being treated for heroin addiction has definitely increased in the past four years.

"I think it's out there and it's really cheap," he said. "A bag of marijuana could cost $30. You can get high off heroin for way cheaper than that."

WEB EXTRA: Drug therapist Jason Kuharik discusses the heroin epidemic in northeast Ohio in the video box.

"It starts off very cheap," Jess said. "You can spend $20 and get high twice."

However, the more you use, the higher your tolerance and the heroin becomes more expensive.

"I could spend $70 in a day and still be disappointed," Jess said.

Both young women are celebrating their sobriety one day, one minute at a time. They believe the only way to solve the heroin problem is to get the dealers off the streets and keep them off. 

WEB EXTRA: Counselors advise disposing of unused prescription drugs at your local police station.  Also, do not leave prescription drugs in the home during open houses.

Jess and Amber say there's also a need for more treatment programs. They both tried to stop using on their own, but they weren't able to kick the habit until they went to New Directions, which treats alcohol and drug addiction in teens. For Jess, treatment began just ten days after her best friend was found dead of an overdose.

"His death was the push I needed to realize I'm going to end up just like that," she said.

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