The US drug epidemic – which now claims more lives than gun deaths – shows no sign of abating. One region that has been hit hard is central and southern Ohio, the towns and cities along Route 23, a highway that has become known for heroin trafficking.

Amanda is a recovering addict from Chillicothe, Ohio. Her addiction started with a Percocet prescription for back pain. She later switched to heroin because it was cheaper and easier to get hold of. After almost dying from an overdose in front of her young son, she stopped using heroin, but she is still battling addiction.

This is her story in her own words.

I grew up in Latham, Ohio, a small town probably 10 to 15 minutes from Chillicothe. Latham was just kind of boring. There’s not really much to do. There’s no movie theatres, nothing.

I think that’s one of the bigger issues for a lot of kids around here; a lot of the drug problem is because people are bored.

My husband, Justin, and I later moved to Fort Campbell, an army base in Kentucky. And that actually is where my addiction kind of began.

It began when I got a prescription for some pain pills and then my husband was on pain pills, Percocet, and I just kept taking them. I liked them. I was having some back pain, went to the doctor and they’re very bad about over-prescribing pretty much for anything. Or they used to be. “You got back pain? Here’s some Percocet.”

I liked them and kept taking them. It made you feel numb, happy and warm inside.

After I fell pregnant, I quit taking them. When we moved back here to Ohio, I got a hold of pain pills off the street. I was homesick. I got in with some of the wrong people and started taking Percocet, but this time, I started taking higher doses.

It got to where I liked it so much it became an everyday thing. The price of them was like $40 a pill, so think about it, when you’re taking at least two to three a day, that’s an expensive habit.

Then, someone I knew introduced me to heroin. I was uneducated about it. I began using. Started off snorting it, and then it progressed deeper, and before I knew it, it got to the point where if I didn’t have it I felt like I was going to die.

In the beginning, my husband didn’t know. I hid it pretty good. I think he knew that I was using something, but I don’t think he realised the extent.

The wake-up call

Once, I had used, and we went a couple minutes down the road to a gas station. He comes out of the store, and I am completely collapsed over. He thinks I’m joking. He’s like, “quit messing, what’s wrong with you?” He goes to pull me out of the car, and I’m purple and blue, like I had OD’d. He had to do CPR. My son was in the backseat.

I was so lost in that addiction, I never knew how bad it was, and I didn’t even think you could die. That was, of course, when heroin first started going round. Now it’s like people are dying left and right.

I got so thin because I was so strung out, and when I was like that, I just wouldn’t eat. I went down to 100 pounds, and I’m 5’11”. I was so thin.

I’ll struggle with addiction for the rest of my life. I do believe once you’re an addict you’re always an addict… it’ll always be a battle for me.

AMANDA, RECOVERING DRUG ADDICT

I’m lucky I never ended up with Hepatitis like a lot of people. I was clean about it, but how clean can you be, you know? You’re injecting something that could kill you.

When you’re using that every day it’s like your brain has completely changed. Like, you are not the same person you were before. It controls your mind, your way of thinking, everything.

‘It hurt seeing them go through withdrawal’

I never used heroin again after that. But I had two pregnancies on the Subutex [the brand name for the opioid buprenorphine]. When I gave birth, they sent their cords off and tested them, and nothing came back but the buprenorphine. But my babies both withdrew off of it.

It was out of my control. I wanted off that medicine but my doctor told me if I quit taking it, I wouldn’t carry the baby at all – that my body would most likely miscarry.

That’s the problem, though; people pay $200 to $300 to see their doctor. They don’t cut their dose. You have to basically tell the doctor, “Ok, I’m ready for you to lower my dose now”. It’s kind of like they’re pill mills, in a sense.

So your baby is withdrawing from this medicine that you have to take and you didn’t have no choice in the matter, because if you wanted them to live, you had to take it. But it hurt seeing them withdraw like that. It’s all from my addiction. I put my babies through that.

You have a lot of guilt and shame because it’s sad to see a baby have to go through that. I stayed at the hospital with them both the whole time and did everything I could to comfort them. They were the saddest days in my life because I just felt so bad.

Recovering addict Amanda with her youngest child in the backyard of her Ohio home. [Josh Rushing/Al Jazeera]

‘I just lost it’

I was such a good girl: went to school, started college. I was a perfect kid, and it was like, I just lost it.

I liked the good, happy feeling when I got my fix.

It’s like a big blanket just goes over you. Everything just feels perfect, you just feel like a new person. You don’t think about the negative. You don’t think about anything. It’s just like nothing matters.

I went to my in-laws for [my son] Brody’s birthday party once, and I was sick, had to have my fix for the day. I left his party to go get my fix. Looking back, I feel horrible for it, but then I wasn’t the same person. Amanda was gone. I wasn’t Amanda anymore. I was someone else. It was like I was possessed. I can never imagine leaving one of my children’s birthday parties now.

I would meet my dealer at his hotel, and I always had this guilt about my son in the back of my mind. But I just needed to feel better so I could take care of him. I needed to feel better so I could be a mum. I almost felt like I couldn’t take care of him without that.

I’m down to a quarter of Suboxone [a prescription medicine that contains buprenorphine and naloxone] a day, and I’m planning to come off that and go on the Vivitrol shot [an injectable medicine used to prevent relapse to opioid dependence] because I don’t have cravings. Going off Suboxone is worse than coming off heroin; you feel sicker than with heroin. The doctors do not tell you that when they start you on it.

‘It’s like you’re possessed’

People are so discriminating when it comes to addicts. I am a good mum. Some of the people that I have seen use are people you would never think use. It’s not like every drug addict is a junkie. They’re people, and they’re just wound up in this battle in their brain.

It’s like you’re possessed. It’s almost like the heroin is like a devil and it has taken you completely over.

Addiction is just such a deep emotion. I never, in my life, felt as lost. I had great hopes, dreams, and it just took it all, and I am only now to where I’m starting to get my life back.

It’s so bad when you see people struggling with addiction… you just want to grab them and shake them and be like, “you’re going to die”.

AMANDA, RECOVERING DRUG ADDICT

It has really affected me and my sister’s relationship. She’s just now gotten to the point where she trusts me again and lets me watch my niece.

I was a liar and a con artist. I was so manipulative and would lie about ways to get money. If someone is on drugs, they’re a liar. They’re going to tell you that the sky is purple if they can get $20 out of it.

It’s so bad when you see people struggling with addiction… you just want to grab them and shake them and be like, “you’re going to die”.

Now that I’ve dealt with addiction issues, I’m of course worried about the cycle. I hope and pray every day that my children never go through this, and if they do, I’m going to tell them my story.

I’ll struggle with addiction for the rest of my life. I do believe once you’re an addict you’re always an addict… it’ll always be a battle for me. Now it’s the Suboxone, you know. That’s a battle to get off that last small dose.

Source:-alzajeera