Danni's Ripple Effect: Heroin Addiction Affects The Entire Family
(Editor’s note: This is another installment of Danni’s Ripple Effect:
Keep the Conversation Going, a series highlighting the effects of heroin
use in northcentral Pennsylvania. In this installment, we talk to a
local woman about how a family member’s addiction has affected the
family unit. Due to the sensitivity of this topic, the names have been
changed. Elaine Scott hopes, however, that you, the reader, looks past
the names and see how families are forced to deal with addiction.)
By SANDY RHODES
Heroin addiction doesn’t just affect the person searching for the high,
it is actually affects the entire family. That is what Elaine Scott
discovered when a close relative of hers became addicted to drugs,
including heroin. Jordan’s high became a family’s hell.
Jordan “started using drugs while in college,” Scott said. “A little pot here and there. Then it progressively got worse.”
As the years went on, it became clear that what was happening with Jordan would eventually fracture this once close family.
“There were excuses why (Jordan) could not come home. And there were always calls for money.”
Jordan had a few run-ins with the law (never involving drugs) and could
not keep a job. Jordan, however, has never taken ownership of the
pitfalls of life – it is always someone else’s fault. However, as the
family discovered, that was not the case. Jordan preferred getting high
to living a normal life and keeping a job.
Hitting Close to Home
For a while, Jordan’s life and addiction played out in another state.
However, when Jordan returned to northcentral Pennsylvania, Jordan’s
problem hit closer to home.
The family has had to deal with lies, manipulation, stealing and guilt.
“We have had everything stolen from us – prescription drugs, money,
personal possessions … it breaks down the whole family.” There is no
trust or communication.
And then there are the family dinners where Jordan may be present, but not really there.
Jordan “would be in a stupor and can’t keep (Jordan’s) eyes open.” And
with the lying and stealing, “There is constant tension. It’s always
In the end, they end up spending the holidays apart.
“It’s too hard,” Scott said.
Part of living with someone with an addiction is wanting to help them,
but not sure just how to do that. It is not as easy as an outsider would
think, Scott said while quoting a relative who said. “I’d rather die
first than to let (Jordan) die.”
So the family is left with the desire of loving their relative, not
liking what they are doing and in the end, being victims themselves.
“That is how heroin affects the family.”
There are also Jordan’s friends who come by and also steal from the family.
“(Jordan) gravitates to people just like (Jordan),” Scott said. Increasingly, the family feels isolated and hopeless.
But as Scott pointed out, some well-meaning friends may lead the family
to feel this way, also. What they may suggest the family to do is
“This is real life, not TV,” she said, adding it is not easy to turn your back on someone you love.”
“How do you say, ‘You’re not welcome here?’ You can’t”
Some also suggest doing an intervention much like the TV show of the same name.
“This is not TV. No one is going to fly in here on a plane and fix the problem.”
And dealing with an addict themselves is not as easy as people think.
“There is no reasoning with this person, no matter how much you love them.”
Chasing the High
While Scott and her family try to warn Jordan about the risks, it continually falls on deaf ears.
Instead, Jordan says, “Nothing is going to happen. I know my limit.”
But the fact is, addicts do not know their limits. Each batch of heroin
has different potencies. Some include ingredients such as rat poison to
help the batch go further.
“This is not a batch of cookies where a little added ingredient extends
the yield of the batch,” said Luke Hunter, a friend of Scott’s. Hunter’s
niece has battled addiction to pain medication. “This is adding
something that will likely kill the user. This is homicide.”
Scott agreed that users are playing a game of Russian roulette that lead to deadly results.
“They don’t know what they are getting,” she said. “They are chasing the high and don’t know their limits.”
Rehab agencies are available, but there is a long waiting list. Jordan was able to get into one, but was kicked out.
As Scott said, Jordan had no intention of staying clean – and Jordan’s downward spiral continues.
Where is rock bottom?
Many experts in the addiction field refer to a person hitting “rock
bottom” - a point in the life of an addict when they are finally willing
Jordan has not hit rock bottom, but no one knows what rock bottom will
be for Jordan or when it will come. Or even if Jordan will live through
Until then, the family gets calls at all hours of the day and night
asking for money. With each ring of the phone, there’s a chance it will
be that one call they fear the most – that Jordan was found dead.
“It’s not if, it’s when.”
Until then, the family lives with manipulation and fear – and guilt.
“They are the world’s best game players,” Scott said of addicts.
“Everything is a big joke. Users make you feel guilty. They turn
everything around. Like I’m the one with the problem.”
(See more information on hitting rock bottom in the accompanying graphic.)
Recently, Scott did something she really did not want to do – she
pressed charges against Jordan for stealing and pawning the ill-gotten
“It continues to ruin every single life the drug touched,” Scott said.
The fallout from this move is still not known.
Now is the time for the community to take a stand and fight back, she said.
“Don’t be afraid. We need to work together if we want it out of our city. It is happening a lot more. “Don’t be afraid.”
Some examples of drug use in a neighborhood:
• There's an unusually large amount of traffic, often at strange
hours. This traffic is usually quick, and the people stay only a short
time. Sometimes they don't even go in at all; instead, someone comes out
to meet them.
• Observable exchanges of items, especially where money is visible.
• Ability to afford items without a job -- cars, TVs, etc.
• Neighbors will continually host parties and appear to be under the influence of drugs.
• Repeated flickering of cigarette lighters.
• Windows are blocked out, preventing neighbors from seeing in.
• Finding drugs or drug paraphernalia (syringes, pipes, baggies, etc.) in the area.
• Noxious odors coming from around houses or buildings, such as musty or chemical smells.
• Houses or buildings where extreme security measures seem to have been taken.
Scott pointed out another need in the community is a support group for
those dealing with drug addiction – for addicts and their families.
While there are meetings for those addicted to alcohol, there are not
many for those addicted to other drugs.
“Taking a drink and taking of hit of heroin. They are two different highs. It’s a different ballgame.”
Paula Thompson, whose daughter Danielle Fitzsimmons died from a heroin
overdose in October, is working to start such a group in Bradford. (More
information about these meetings will come in a future installment.)
In the meantime, Scott wants the community to know that family members
are victims, too. And to simply exclude a relative from a family is
easier said than done.
“It’s not easy to say ‘go away.’”