“Here, dude, try this. I just stole this shit from my grandma,” Eve said, handing Hunter a square strip of aluminum foil and a straw. While Hunter regularly used drugs, this combination of a straw and foil seemed strange to him.
“What’s this for?” Hunter asked.
“It’s for smoking THIS!” Eve remarked, pulling out a rectangular object that fit just inside the palm of her hand. One side of the package was shiny and silver, the other side was light pink—with the words “Fentanyl 100 mcg/h” written on it over and over again.
“It’s a Fentanyl Patch,” Eve explained. “It’s like a nicotine patch, but it has hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine in it.”
Hunter shrugged and decided to try it. His day had been rough, and was anxious to see if it would help him escape the cruelty of his parents’ divorce that had iced over his world. The smile stamped on his face was distant, but as he took in the Fentanyl, it almost became real. The drug had a chemically warm, yet tasty flavor, and his senses sharpened. Craving more, he flipped his black hair to one side, then took a second, and a third drag, from the foil pipe.
“You need to cook it,” Eve instructed gently. “Hold the straw in your mouth,” she said, lighting it for him. Hunter took a fourth, and then a fifth hit. As his eyes turned red, two dark, half-moon divots appeared beneath them. The car reeked of a chlorinated, vanilla fog, but Hunter had never felt better. Each hit brought a tingling sensation to his limbs, until his soul floated away, and from a strange distance, he peered down at his hollow shell.
Experts say that addictions form within the brain, which constantly adapts to the drug(s) being put into the body. Once the brain adjusts to accommodate for the addiction, the way it functions changes and requires more of the substance to maintain the new balance.
It was mid spring; as tree buds hinted at a realm soon to be reborn, Hunter’s world remained a dark and icy place. Barely making it home from his latest drug-induced escape, he stumbled to his front door. Slumped over, he dragged his body through the house with a slow sadness. His arms hung limp and foreign at his sides, and wriggled like two distended rubber bands. At the age of 16, he was a broken soul, grotesquely beautiful, and yet blinding to the eyes.
“Fentanyl chose me, and I loved what it did to me,” he recalls. “It made the world a better place.”
Waking to a piercing sunlight streaming through his windows, Hunter’s droopy eyes turned to slits, and his head throbbed in rhythm to his heart. In an effort to make it all stop, he pulled the covers over his head. For months now, he’d been regularly using Fentanyl. However, the high it provided was not enough, so he began mixing Fentanyl with methamphetamines. And getting his fix became his only motivation for leaving his bed.
Meth is a powerful, synthetic stimulant. When injected or smoked, it immediately produces a rush of dopamine. However, in the euphoric process, the dopamine receptors are eroded, which can make the user depressed. As a result, the addict will feel the need to use evermore meth just to release dopamine.
Coerced by the thought of another Fentanyl rendezvous, he hopped out of bed, and threw on some clothes. Lurching down the stairs, Hunter made his way to the car. Opening its door, his nostrils filled with the smell of chemicals—vanilla infused marijuana and a splash of butane. Weed clung to the seats’ fabric, balls of aluminum foil lay scattered across the car’s floor, jet-black smudges coated the steering wheel, while lighters spilled out of cup holders. Climbing into the car, he picked up a grease-stained McDonald’s bag and chucked it into the back seat. Turning the key, Hunter scrambled to adjust the volume, his favorite band, A Day To Remember, blared from the speakers. Selecting a song, he put the car in gear, and was off, once again, to “get faded.”
Pulling into the small church parking lot, Hunter stopped the car and peered through his dirty windshield at the building’s weathered red bricks, it’s cross—a mere ten feet away—boldly cast long shadows across his car. Jutting toward the heavens, the cross offered redemption, but today, it brought only the relief of cool shade, as Hunter sought his version of salvation: escape. Hunter’s lips were pale, cracked, and streaked with blood, and between his teeth, he clutched a straw. His chin trembled with anticipation.
The lighter’s flame danced and glowed a deep orange-yellow. Soon the foil turned soot black, and his mouth began to water. At a nearby playground, Hunter heard children giggling as they swung to see who could go the highest.
“I would watch them and remember what it was like when I was little, and didn’t have a care in the world,” Hunter says now.
As the kids on the playground enjoyed their childhood, Hunter was in the parking lot, ruining his.
Fentanyl is an opiate. Used appropriately, the drug is fairly safe and effective when prescribed for patients experiencing severe, on-going pain. However, its non-medical application can be deadly. Physiologically, Fentanyl can cause respiratory depression and weakened immunity. Psychologically, it alters the perception of reality, intensely disturbing an addict’s mental and emotional state.
Just as spring had officially sprung, so had Hunter’s rage. His phone laid shattered in pieces against the gray, chalk-covered concrete, a recent casualty of his unbridled anger. Standing at the back door, his mother shrieked, “You need to get your act together, Hunter!” Pacing like a caged lion, Hunter dug his fingernails into his scalp, scratching the fictitious bugs that burrowed into his skin. Falling to his knees, over his mother’s pleas, he screamed, “SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Moments later, Hunter lay crumpled on the sidewalk, his breathing shallow. It was then, his mother realized he needed professional help.
“Please don’t make me go,” Hunter pleaded, sitting in the hospital waiting room with his mother. While doctors debated whether or not he should be admitted into rehab, he became increasingly disgusted with himself.
“I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone else deciding what was best for me, especially those assholes,” Hunter remembers. So he stood and shouted, “You know what…fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you too!” Pointing to the doctor, the receptionist, then his mother, he said, “I’ll fucking sign myself in, ‘cause I’m NOT giving any of you the satisfaction.” After a weeklong program of what he described as, “hospitalized-hell on earth,” Hunter was released and began using again.
Spring had slipped into summer, and as the days grew longer, so did Hunter’s longing for his next high. “The day before my mother’s birthday,” he remembers, “she and I went to Wal-Mart. I convinced her to pick up an air duster [a can of compressed air that releases gases that can get a person high] so I could clean out my car. But, when I got home, I inhaled it, because I wanted to get fucked up. You could say I got sufficiently high, because I blacked out.”
THUD… Hunter’s mother’s eyes snapped open. Roused from her afternoon nap, she rushed through the hallway, tripping over furniture in her haste. Stepping into the kitchen, she gasped with terror.
“HUNTER!” she cried–his lifeless body lay still on the linoleum. While his mother dialed 911, his stepfather tried to resuscitate him. Hunter’s cheeks were sunken dents; his unblinking eyes boar a cold stare, and all the color had drained from his face.
“When I came to, my stepdad was holding me, and my mother was on the phone, hysterical because I’d overdosed,” he recalls. “I was freaked out, and my mother wouldn’t let me hug her, so I had to force my hug on her to try to calm her down.”
That night, Hunter’s mom slept in his room. She was confused. “I don’t understand why you keep doing this,” she said. “I don’t know why you have to do this stuff to me,” Hunter remembers her saying. “Do you know how scary it is to watch you suffer? You’re my baby, Hunter. I want to help you, but I don’t know what to do.”
A few days later, while Hunter was in outpatient rehab, his mother searched through his bedroom. She found, hidden in his drawers, hydrocodone pills. Then, she went through his phone’s text messages, and discovered he’d been trying to trade the pills for Fentanyl. It was the wake-up call she needed to finally check him into an inpatient rehabilitation program.
“I was pretty doped out the first day in rehab,” Hunter says now. “I did my intake and signed a bunch of papers, but didn’t really know what was happening.”
Brooding glares bored through Hunter as he entered a midday group session. One of the boys was stating his name, where he was from, and his drug of choice. He concluded the intro with a “fun fact” about himself.
Mother of fuck, this summer is going to SUCK, Hunter thought to himself. Having gotten high on his way to rehab, his head was still spinning as he took a seat.
“Pass,” Hunter said, when the introductions reached him. Confused expressions bounced around the room.
“You can’t pass,” a boy said. “It’s against the rules.”
“That’s too bad,” Hunter encountered, “’Cause I’m not talking anymore.”
“When I woke up, everything hurt,” Hunter remembers. “I had cold sweats and was freezing under those two, thin-ass blankets.” Setting foot on the icy floor tiles sent Hunter to his knees. “I thought I broke my ankle,” he recalls.
Hunter’s body felt like fragile glass. Each hesitant step toward the bathroom caused his body more and more pain. Collapsing on the toilet, he found sitting wasn’t much better. “Trying to shit made my ribs and hips feel as though they were shattering,” he remembers—a pained expression crossing his face.
Arriving back at his bed, his roommate asked if he was okay.
“I’m not okay,” Hunter said. “I don’t know why I need to be here.” Then, for the first time, he broke down–he’d never felt so alone, or so far away from home. To Hunter, it felt like rehab had come so quickly, but the reality was, prior to entering, he’d been using for a year and a half.
When the abuser stops using meth and Fentanyl, their dopamine levels decrease and they’re unable to feel pleasure, are fatigued, prone to excessive sleeping, and have thoughts of suicide. Withdrawal occurs when the body is denied receiving a certain amount of a particular drug to which it has become addicted. When a user cuts back on the amount of drugs they have become accustomed to, the brain’s homeostatic setting tries to adapt.
Fall’s trees provided a kaleidoscope of color. It was the day of Hunter’s release from rehab, and the leaves, variegated confetti, celebrated his feelings of joy. Though still on probation, he couldn’t recall ever feeling so free. “I was excited to see my friends and sleep in my own bed,” he remembers. “But on the way home, I received word that one of my friends just died from a heroin overdose, and so the feeling became bittersweet.”
Today, Hunter wakes up without needing to reach for Fentanyl. With each day of sobriety, Hunter feels he’s growing stronger. “But,” he says, “I worry that addiction will haunt me forever.”
During rehab Hunter learned the “12 step process.” Though only on step nine (making amends), he has been clean for over a year. He routinely attends Narcotics Anonymous meetings at a church, but not the same one where he used to get “faded.”
“I know I can only take things one step at a time,” he says, “and now that I’ve accepted my own reality, I think I can move on.”
1. We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. (2)
A. TOM HORVATH, PH.D., ABPP, KAUSHIK MISRA, PH.D., AMY K. EPNER, PH.D., AND GALEN MORGAN COOPER, PH.D. “How Does Addiction Affect The Brain?” Mental Help How Does Addiction Affect the Brain Comments. N.p., 26 Aug. 2013. Web. 21 Jan. 2017.
“Twelve Steps of Narcotics Anonymous.” Welcome – Narcotics Anonymous San Fernando Valley. N/A World Services, 1989. Web. 21 Jan. 2017.
“Overcoming Substance Abuse with Important Facts & Resources.” Addiction Hope. N.p., 16 Jan. 2016. Web. 21 Jan. 2017.
Muniz, Humberto Antonio. “Silent Symphony”. Wikimedia, 7 May 2017, https://commons.wikimedia.org.