By Harrison Slaughter, Sports Editor
Drug-related deaths and overdoses are becoming a weekly occurrence in Asheville.
Kim Hazlett, West Asheville Police Department senior patrol officer, said when the police make up ground shutting down distribution of one drug, another seems to make a comeback.
“Every time we seem to combat one, like oxycodone, and control the prescription writing, something else comes back. Heroin has made a huge comeback. We’re seeing probably five to six overdoses a week,” Hazlett said. “We’re losing a lot of young people. We’re probably having one to two deaths at least a week from heroin.”
Paul Gaither, recovering addict for nine years, said when it comes to using drugs, anything will do.
“If it was hard to find what I really wanted, then I would substitute something else for it. I wasn’t going to go without. When an addict is in desperate need of a fix, then it doesn’t matter what it is,” Gaither said. “The disease of addiction makes people not care. It makes them sloppy when it comes to getting high because all they can think about is getting that next one. I have seen a lot of people die as a direct result of using drugs.”
Most of the time, people overdose because they aren’t paying attention to how much they are using, said Kylie Brown, former resident at New Life Recovery halfway house.
“Addicts have no sense of reality. The only thing they can think about is using drugs and finding ways and means to get more,” Brown said. “This pattern of thinking distorts their perception of reality. They think everything is fine and can’t see the damage they are causing to themselves and people around them.”
Sarah Kirkpatrick, Buncombe County family drug treatment court coordinator, said an addict’s instinct is only to get more drugs, no matter what.
“An addict in active addiction’s brain has undergone a change. When it comes to addiction, their number one priority over eating, breathing and certainly over any morals or values is the drugs,” Kirkpatrick said. “If getting the drug comes over your natural tendency to protect or feed yourself, then you’re really not going to have a lot of capacity for following social norms or the law.”
About 75 percent of arrests made in Buncombe County are directly or indirectly related to drugs, whether it be drug possession or breaking and entering, Hazlett said.
“Doing drugs removes guilt and conscience. I believe wholeheartedly that drugs manage to remove any kind of immediate consequence in the mind of an addict. What you get is a false sense of bravado or you’re braver than you should be and it is all based around the drugs,” Gaither said. “You also don’t care about the people that it affects because most of those emotions have been dulled to the point of nonexistence. You don’t care who you’re fucking over.”
Brown said she started with pawning her things, then moved to stealing checks from her family and cashing them to get more.
“I would steal my friends and families’ things. I would break into people’s houses and steal their valuables and steal money. I would break into people’s cars,” Brown said. “I worked a lot and tried to keep a job, but sometimes that became difficult when the drugs took hold. I would beat people for their money and tell them I would get them drugs.”
Selling drugs is a crime. Gaither said he usually ended up using more than he sold, but it was something he got caught up in.
“In my experience, there is a direct correlation with using drugs and criminal activity. My drug addiction led me to the depths where I needed to find a means to get more of what I needed and I was willing to do whatever it took to get more,” said Devin Lindberg, recovering addict for three years. “I ended up getting caught up in selling drugs to support my habit. I was doing a lot of stuff that could have got me a lot of time in prison.”
One hundred percent of prostitution charges are a result of drug use, Hazlett said. Maud Boleman, recovering addict of 30 years and owner of Black Mountain Studios, said she experienced something similar to prostitution.
“When I was using, I was ‘dating’ a doctor. I was ‘dating’ a pharmacist. I was also ‘dating’ a dentist, although we never went to a restaurant together,” Boleman said. “I had all the professions covered. I was a professional woman and that’s how I got my drugs.”
Brown said she slept with people in order to get drugs, not realizing she was essentially prostituting herself.
When the addict is ready, the answer is available.
Addicts who are using will not stop until they have hit their rock bottom and had enough of the way they are living their lives, Brown said.
“I lived in a halfway house for a little under a year and I saw countless people come in and out of there, lots of times more than once. Most of the time, the people living there have gotten into trouble with the law or their families and they are there to get out of trouble,” Brown said. “Sometimes this is enough to keep them clean, but most of the time if they aren’t going to put in the extra work and just want to get out of trouble then they will just go back to using. It is one of the sad realizations of this disease.”
People who have gotten in trouble with the police because of drug-related incidents often get the opportunity to go to rehab, Hazlett said. She said rehab is great if a person wants it.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. I can put somebody in rehab and if they don’t want to be there and they don’t want to honestly change their life then it’s not going to stop because it’s hard. There’s nothing easy about it,” Hazlett said. “If you send them to prison then they can still get ahold of some of the drugs. They might be clean when they get out, but then they go right back because there is no change in their behavior, their circumstance and their associates. There’s just no change there so they might be clean when they get out but then they go right back to it.”
When Lindberg was arrested for selling drugs, it is what ultimately led him to get clean, he said.
“Getting caught selling pills saved my life. I speak to my old friends on occasion who I used to run with and I can’t imagine myself still being in that lifestyle. I thought I had it all figured out,” Lindberg said. “It took a lot of work and a complete overhaul of my thinking to get where I am today, but I wouldn’t trade my worst day clean for my best day using.”