Fairness Liller started using drugs when she was 12.
“I just wanted to fit in with my friends,” she said. It was the beginning of a rocky journey that Liller, now 40, said took her to many dark places and made her a completely different person.
“With a name like Honesty I would lie, lie, lie,” she added. But when she was 26 years old, a phone call with her father made her realize the “living hell” she had done to her family. Then she decided to seek help.
Liller’s story is about a widespread opioid crisis that has gripped the US since the late 1990s. Since 1999, drug overdose deaths have quadrupled, with nearly 500,000 people dying of an opioid overdose between 1999 and 2019, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to a 2019 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study of drug use and health, the most recent year for which data is available, an estimated 1.6 million people in the U.S. aged 12 and older have a drug use disorder. opioids.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 10.1 million people have abused prescription opioids, 745,000 people have used heroin, and 70,630 people died of drug overdoses in 2019.
Methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone are the most common drugs involved in deaths from prescription opioid overdoses, according to the CDC. “Anyone who uses prescription opioids can become addicted to them. In fact, as many as one in four patients who receive long-term opioid therapy in primary care struggles with opioid addiction, ”the CDC reported.
CNN spoke to several adults who started using drugs as children but managed to change their lives. Here are some of their stories.
‘It made sure I didn’t have to feel’
By the time she was in high school, Liller said she’d experimented with a variety of drugs, including cocaine. She started using opiates when she was prescribed them after a car accident at the age of 16 and started using heroin at the age of 17.
I felt numb; it kept me from having to feel. I had childhood trauma, and I’ve always had body image problems, and all these drugs filled those voids for me as a young girl and teenager, ”she said.
She didn’t stop, even when she became pregnant three years later, and her daughter was born in withdrawal.
‘All I cared about was getting heroin. That’s all my brain cells could contain because I got so sick and went through so many withdrawal symptoms, ”she added.
After she finally started getting serious about seeking help, she kept going. She has been recovering for nearly 14 years and is CEO at the McShin Foundation, where she began her recovery.
She is now trying to help those who suffer as she did.
“Children are dying, they are getting younger and younger, so be careful who you hang out with,” she said. “I am just one of the success stories that made it. But I have suffered a lot of damage to my body, my soul, my family and the people around me because of my addiction. “
She said parents should also reach out to their children and be patient and open-minded. She encourages them not to give up and seek a recovery organization for their child.
‘Nobody trusted me’
Katie Morrow was in second grade when her parents divorced. She said she was withdrawing into herself and did not want to make her mother’s life more difficult. In high school she began to experiment with drugs.
“I really wish I had reached out at that point in my life and asked someone for help or told someone what was wrong with me,” she said.
Morrow said she initially started using drugs out of curiosity and because she wanted to match her friends. But by the time she was in high school, she found that it gave her relief from her depression.
One day, when she was 21, her mother sat with her and counted the hospital bills for all the times she overdosed.
My family hated the way I lived and the choices I made. Nobody trusted me. Nobody wanted me around, ”she said.
Two years later, she stole her family’s credit cards and fled to Mexico. Once her mother brought her home, she decided to press charges against Morrow. Then the court forced Morrow to seek help. “My long-term plan was to complete the program and then return to drugs,” she said.
Once she was on the program, however, she began to appreciate herself. “I started to see that this was something I wanted for myself. That program really changed my life, ”she said.
“I’m so different from the person I was now that I feel like I’m telling someone else’s story, and I don’t recognize that person anymore. And I’m so grateful that I made it, ”said Morrow.
Now she is a specialist in prevention education the non-profit Your Choice to Live, which works with parents and children on drug prevention.
Her path “caused a lot of heartache and a lot of pain in people,” she said.
Life can be difficult at times, Morrow said, but drugs or alcohol won’t solve those problems. Those substances’ can make you forget (your problems) temporarily, but it will never fix things and in the long run it will only make them worse, ”she added.
‘It took me on a very dark path’
Dixie Lewis started drinking alcohol and smoking weed in high school. But when she was 16, she was introduced to prescription pills. By the time she moved from home at the age of 19, she had started using heroin, which was cheaper than pills.
After multiple overdoses and hospital visits, she decided to seek help and has been recovering for two years. Now, at the age of 26, she has her own home and custody of her young son.
Lewis said children don’t always realize who they are surrounding themselves with. “Trying to fit in isn’t always the key to success. For me it brought me a very dark path, ”she added.
Support your children, she said, and “don’t turn your back on them.”
In the ‘grip of addiction’
Bailey Darbaker lost his mother to lung cancer when he was 10. In this time of emotional turmoil, he started taking opiates when he was 11. And although he finished high school with college credit, he didn’t think he would be successful.
Darbaker said he ran into legal trouble for years and was thrown into prison systems because he couldn’t escape the “grip of addiction.” He is now 24 and is recovering and in a long-term relationship.
His advice to children is to “distance yourself from the people who will lead you” to use drugs.
‘I tried to navigate my own life’
Ashleigh Nowakowski’s brother was on a variety of drugs at school, including prescription pills and heroin. He was in and out of jail and her parents sent him to rehab centers, but nothing seemed to work for about 10 years.
Nowakowski says her family life was chaotic when she was a teenager because her parents tried to help her brother.
“As a sibling it was very difficult because I was trying to live my own life, but my parents were so focused on him that I didn’t get any of their support. And so I felt a little neglected in a way, not that they intended to, ”she said.
Nowakowski now educates students, parents, and teachers on how to prevent substance abuse.
She said that when children make the choice to use drugs, they don’t realize it hurts siblings, parents, grandparents, and friends.
“When faced with that choice of whether to use that drug or drink that drink, think about how that one choice could affect people who love you,” she added.
How to Prevent Addiction and Get Help
The reasons why children become addicted can vary.
Judith Grisel, a professor of psychology at Bucknell University who once fought addiction herself, is a behavioral neuroscientist researching the causes of drug addiction and the role of stress in addiction. She says that sometimes adolescents are just bored and looking for something risky to do.
Grisel, who is also the author of Never Enough: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction, says that children who have experienced trauma or a lot of stress sometimes use alcohol and drugs to escape those situations, eventually becoming dependent on those situations. fabrics.
“The fastest way to fix this is to find ways to help children cope with stress and find developmentally appropriate ways to try new things and take risks,” she said.
Jessica Lahey, who has struggled with an alcohol dependence, is now teaching parents and educators about preventing substance abuse.
Genetics, the environment, stress, adverse childhood experiences, academic failure and social exclusion all contribute to substance abuse risk, said Lahey, author of “The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence.”
To combat those stressors, she said it’s important to talk to children about these issues when they are very young and to always have open lines of communication.
For more information and resources on prescription drug abuse, visit GetSmartAboutDrugs.gov and JustThinkTwice.gov.