Heroin Facts

  • Withdrawal symptoms from heroin begin within 24 hours after last use and may last up to 7-10 days.
  • Heroin is one of several highly addictive drugs derived from the opium poppy plant, along with morphine, opium, Dilaudid, and others.
  • Over 80% of heroin users inject with a partner, yet 80% of overdose victims found by paramedics are found alone.
  • Heroin IV users place themselves at greater risk of contracting the HIV/AIDS virus.

Escaping the clutches of heroin addiction

SOMERSWORTH - Terri Provencher, a 39-year-old mother and recovering heroin addict from Seabrook, has tried staying clean before.

She has been to seven to 10 rehabilitation programs over the years. But the lure of the feeling heroin could give her was too strong. Heroin was an escape from her life - a feeling of total blissfulness she had not been able to find inside herself. Nothing could bother her. The problems that weighed on her didnít matter for the 25 minutes after she injected heroin into her veins.

Provencher grew up in Seabrook and dropped out of high school. She started experimenting with prescription painkillers to dull the emotional pain of a troubled childhood that she couldnít get away from any other way. Some people she knew did heroin and she decided to try it. She sniffed it the first time and was hooked.

"It was the best feeling Iíve ever had," Provencher said. "I was just happy about everything and most of my life wasnít (happy)."

Within days she had to do more bags of heroin to get the same feeling. Then she tried injecting heroin, something she never imagined she could do. For the next five to seven years, heroin was a close friend - a friend who cheered her up when she was feeling down, a friend she could always turn to. Sometimes, Provencher thought she wanted to quit. She thought of her teenage son and husband.

But she couldnít quit.

"If you try to do this without help, itís miserable," she said.

For Provencher, getting arrested made her decide it was time to get clean for good. Something changed inside her, she said. She wanted to change the course of her life.

"You have to be ready for you," she said.

She was ready but she didnít know if she could do it alone. She felt she needed help getting started. The cravings and sickness of heroin withdrawal were "miserable."

Provencher heard about a new methadone clinic opening in Somersworth - Merrimack River Medical Services. She had never tried methadone before.

"It was the best decision I ever made," she said.

Provencher began the daily drive from her home in Seabrook to Somersworth for the oral dose of methadone. It tasted like cough syrup. For the first few days, she felt sort of high. After that, her mood leveled off. She didnít feel the same craving for heroin.

"It evens me out," she said. "Itís helping me build a foundation."

Along with methadone came counseling, Narcotics Anonymous meetings and writing in a journal. She started reading a Bible and going to church. And she started working to get her high school diploma.

"I do a lot of positive things," she said.

Things she had never done before because she was usually out looking for heroin to buy.

She doesnít want to take methadone forever. For now, it helps her forget the cravings and focus on becoming emotionally healthy. She says she would like to work at a rehabilitation facility, such as Merrimack River, to help other recovering addicts.

Taste of addiction

Steve, who asked that his real name not be used, got his first taste of the feeling prescription drugs could give him when he had his wisdom teeth removed as a teenager.

As a young man active in the world of bodybuilding, he tried an opiate-based drug used to help burn fat as part of his conditioning routine. He says he had no idea the pills were addictive.

"But I knew I liked them," he said.

He remembers the feeling he got when he ran out of the pills on a Friday afternoon and had to go through the weekend without them. It was almost 48 hours before he felt better.

"It kind of scared me," Steve said, adding, "I stopped using everything. I even stopped drinking."

About a year later, Steve burned his hand on some boiling water. The pain was unbelievable. Ice didnít help at all.

"I would have taken anything," he said.

A doctor gave him Vicodin. Steve said he told himself it was OK because the doctor prescribed it. He repeated the same scenario with other prescription drugs, always telling himself he could stop taking them anytime he wanted.

"I just felt great," he said. "For me, it didnít make me fall asleep, it made me energetic."

He rationalized his use, telling himself it was better than being an alcoholic.

"In some ways, I could go to work and be more focused," he said.

When Steve moved to New Hampshire several years ago, he tried heroin for the first time. He knew someone who went to Lawrence, Mass., to get the drug. The first thing he noticed was the high from heroin didnít last long.

"I think it was one of the better drugs I had tried," he said, adding the length of the heroin high was what hooked him. "Itís just too short. When you take it within a half an hour, you want some more."

He used heroin for several months and decided he wanted to stop.

"I think itís very hard to stop on your own," Steve said.

Although he had never considered trying methadone to stop using heroin, Steve decided to give it a try. At that time, the closest methadone clinic was in Hudson, N.H. He left his Somersworth-area home every morning at 4 a.m. to drive to the clinic for the daily dosage.

"For me, it worked incredibly," he said.

Steve said he feels people have a stereotypical image of methadone clinics as a ramshackle office where the dregs of society show up for a daily drug dose. He said the clinic in Somersworth is far from that. He has seen people from all walks of life there.

And he credits his daily dose of methadone with helping him move forward with life.

"For me, I think itís going to be easy not to start using again."

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