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A 21 Year-Old Heroin Addict's Struggle To Get Clean

4:21 PM, Jul 9, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (WUSA9) -- Only on 9, a rare, firsthand look at the magnetic pull of heroin through the eyes of a young addict. His desperate mother reached out to our reporter Andrea McCarren through Facebook, in a frantic effort to save her son's life and prevent others from getting hooked.

Andrea says on the day she and photographer Joe Martin met Ryan, he'd promised his mother and himself that he'd detox. But hours after taking a prescription that was supposed to ease the gut-wrenching symptoms of withdrawal, he was in a motel room, -determined- to get high.

Andrea asked Ryan, "Is there anything I could have said or done to stop you?" 

"No," he replied. "Once I had the dope and everything, there was no stopping me."

"Addiction is the devil," said Ryan. "It's a disease from hell."

In a random motel room, far from the million-dollar home where Ryan grew up, the devil is winning.

After Ryan purchased the heroin, Andrea asked,  "You're sure you want to do that?"

"Yeah, I'm going to," Ryan replied. "I already have my mind set to it. Gonna do it one more time."

He's had a year of "one more times." Each fix is -never- his last.

"I just want to get high," Ryan told Andrea, who said, "I thought this was gonna be the detox..."

"Yeah," he replied, "but I got money, so I'm gonna get high one more time."

Ryan makes a promise he just can't keep.

"Once I'm done, I'll break all my needles, throw em away, throw all my paraphernalia away," Ryan told us.

Moments later, he's neatly storing his needles, and remaining drugs, in a desk drawer.

"This is my stuff for later," he says.

Just one year ago, Ryan was hooked on painkillers. But oxycontin became too hard to find. He still remembers the first time heroin soared through his veins.

"It was the best feeling in the world. Like I felt like I had arrived," he said.

Now, he's at a dead end.

"Once I'm high and well, the hours just go by so quick. But when I'm not high, and I'm sick and trying to get something, every minute feels like an hour," said Ryan.

He is a master manipulator, convincing his mother to pay for this two-night motel stay. But most evenings, his lanky body wanders into a local hospital, for a few safe hours of rest.

"I stay in the maternity ward. You walk in and there's a whole bunch of chairs and couches and a TV. People stay there all the time because they're waiting for babies to be born," he said.

21 and unemployed, Ryan needs at least 60 dollars a day for his half-gram fix.

"I don't want to get high anymore. I just can't stop," he told us.

He stole from his family so his parents threw him out. Now, he shoplifts from home improvement stores and sells his loot, or the gift cards he gets when he's allowed to return items without a receipt.

"If I don't have the money, I'm finding ways to get money. To get high," he said. 

Andrea asked,  "Stealing?"

"Yup," he replied. 

Andrea asked, "From family?"

"Family, friends, anybody that I can manipulate," said Ryan. 

He will do -anything- to avoid going through withdrawal.

"You're restless and antsy. You cannot sit still. You feel like you wanna crawl out of your skin," he said.

In the motel room, Ryan begins to vomit, profusely.

It isn't withdrawal now, but the rancid smell of heroin that hurtles Ryan into uncontrollable vomiting. 

"The smell of dope makes me puke."

But still, he wants it in his veins.

"I just feel like the lowest person on the earth. I sit in the mall and in the movie theatre and like, when I'm at the hospital and just look at people and be like, this is what normal people do," said Ryan.

On the path toward normalcy, Ryan's life has been a patchwork of stints in detox and rehab, and failed stays at halfway houses. 

 

"I don't feel like doing this anymore. I'm tired of it," said Ryan.

As the sun sets on another monotonous day, despair comes to stay for the night.

"I just numb myself so much that I can't even cry," said Ryan.

Andrea said, "You're gonna stay alive out here, aren't you?"

"Yeah," replied Ryan. "I'm gonna keep fighting, cause I know this will pass soon enough."

Ryan's family has already spent more than $70,000 in private rehab facilities. The longest program has been three months and afterwards, Ryan went right back to feeding his addiction. His family cannot get him insured because of his pre-existing condition. 

After this report, WUSA9 has been overwhelmed with support for Ryan, and contacted nearly two dozen treatment facilities nationwide to try to get him the help he so desperately needs. 

We were able to track Ryan down.

His health appears to be deteriorating fast. He now has a black eye, stitches from a fight and looks noticeably thinner since we last saw him. 

We told him that a lot of people who saw this story think if he does not get help immediately, there are two options. One is prison and the other is dying on the streets. 

We asked him if he will go to a program we found in North Carolina that is long-term and free. 

He promised and said, "Yeah, I will go."

However, getting treatment is a double-edged sword, since Ryan cannot get into any long-term program until he is detoxed, stable and resolve some pending court cases for theft and paraphernalia charges.  

Written by Andrea McCarren, WUSA9

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