PUEBLO, Colo. - Drug treatment counselors at Crossroads say there's been a 20 percent increase in the number of people getting help for heroin addiction.
KRDO-TV spoke to a former heroin addict, identified only as "Lisa," who has been clean for eight months. She said the road to heroin addiction began with prescription pills.
"I started injecting pills and then I was doing that 6, 7, 8 times a day cause the high would just go away so fast," Lisa said.
But after two years of using pills, Lisa wanted a longer and cheaper thrill. "You're just always chasing that next best thing or the high." She found it, in heroin, four years ago. Once she started, she said she couldn't stop.
"You just feel like this warmness go through your body. Up your spine. In your head," Lisa said.
She was spending about $200 a day to support her and her ex-boyfriend's heroin addiction. She found herself living on the streets so she could afford to keep shooting up.
Her addiction ended after she was arrested last year. Lisa said going to jail saved her life. But getting off heroin was the hardest thing she's ever done.
"You become dilated, so light bothers you," Lisa said. "Sound bothers you. Smell. You can't be touched. You can't even be around people."
For the past eight months, Lisa has been getting methadone treatment at Crossroads to overcome her heroin addiction. Methadone is a synthetic opiate that blocks the effects of heroin.
Dianne Hayhurst-Vigil is the director of Pueblo services for Crossroads. She said there has been an increase in the number of young people requesting help. It used to be people in their thirties through sixties. Now, Hayhurst-Vigil said more patients are in their twenties.
"Some of these have been people that are in auto accidents, sports injuries." Hayhurst-Vigil said it begins with patients using pain medications and then they get hooked.
Donald Ross Patrick, an emergency medicine physician at Parkview Medical Center, said heroin abuse is directly linked to prescription drug abuse. In an interview with KRDO-TV on Feb. 16, Patrick said, "With the combination of decreased availability of prescription drugs on the streets and increased amounts being used by the patients or by the users, they're starting to switch to other cheaper alternatives."
Lisa agrees. She says heroin is cheaper and easier to find than prescription pills.
Once Lisa began getting help at Crossroads, she got a tattoo on her arm that reads: "I've seen the needle and the damage done." It's a reminder of where she's been and no longer wants to be.
In the past six years, she's lost more than 10 friends to heroin overdoses. When asked how she plans to avoid relapsing, she said, "The only thing keeping you from not doing it again is what you've attained in sobriety."
Lisa said she plans to continue the methadone treatment as long as she needs to in order to make sure she doesn't go back to using heroin.