Surviving heroin: One Waukesha County man's story
Courtny Gerrish reports.Photo: Video by tmj4.com
WAUKESHA - These days 24-year-old Ryan enjoys a relaxing afternoon fishing on the Fox River in Waukesha's Frame Park. He says, "It's just a place I can gather my thoughts and center myself."
Finding that center is especially important because Ryan is a recent recovering heroin addict.
"I would do anything I needed to do to get it," Ryan recalls.
Ryan grew up in New Berlin. "Good family, good upbringing. Parents, you know, still together, happily married. Older sister, dogs, I was always in sports," he says.
Ryan started experimenting with drugs and alcohol in high school. Ryan explains, "The sky was the limit at that point, just because I was doing so well. It was so easily available."
For some of his friends that high proved deadly.
"Everybody has a little bit different stuff, and nobody knows what's in it though, and that's when you start losing people," he warns.
Carol Hanneman-Garuz is with the Waukesha Addiction Resource Council. She says these days it's not unusual for kids to start using at age 12. "I guess the question for me, that we need to as a society ask--what is going on in the lives of our children?"
Garuz says simply punishing our children is not the answer.
"This is another chronic addiction, or a chronic illness, and it's important that we understand there are multiple interventions needed. Consequence is important, but if someone truly has an addiction they need treatment," she urges.
For Ryan, treatment involved several stints in rehab. He remembers, "I was in and out of jail. I just couldn't get it."
He knew he was tearing his family apart. "We get very selfish like that, and forget about anybody else because we're so secluded and empty inside."
The turning point? When Ryan was arrested last September for his 3rd OWI. He was sent to jail, and ordered to get treatment. It all finally clicked.
"I was so grateful after that, that I got arrested because I knew that I had a chance to survive. I wasn't dead yet, hadn't completely messed my life up," Ryan says.
Now Ryan wants to help others who are like him. He says there are signs of a user loved ones can look for. "Slurred speech, obviously the pupils. The kind of nodding action that you typically get."
Ryan is hopeful the heroin epidemic can be fixed, but he knows it'll take work.
"We need to offer more programs, more information. Get more out there that there is something that can be done with the disease of addiction," he says.
Though each day is a struggle, Ryan is looking forward to this second chance at life. "I lost that person, didn't know who I was. I'm kinda learning about myself again, and just enjoying life."
The Waukesha Addiction Resource Council helps addicts and their families get in touch with organizations that can help. You can reach them at (262) 524-7921.