She was 14 at the time, not old enough to drive.
But there she was, being introduced to demons named Xanax, Oxycodone and Percocet. Despite being addicted to these painkillers, Carly Riddell, now 23, graduated from Monroe High School in 2011, moved out of her mother’s house, landed a job and bought a car.
Her life seemed to have a clear path.
She became pregnant, and got off the painkillers for the next nine months for the safety of her unborn son. When she was prescribed Percocet in the hospital, that triggered her addiction again. And when the cost of her addiction continued to rise — one Percocet cost her $12 — she turned to heroin, which was cheaper, $10 for a bag, and the rush was faster and lasted longer.
“So I went that route,” she said.
A recent health study found those who are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to be addicted to or abuse heroin, and that 45 percent of people who used heroin were also addicted to painkillers.
At the height of her addiction, Riddell was a bartender in Fairfield, and she commonly traded her customers drinks for drugs. Her heroin use, from there, “took off,” she said.
Two years later, her life was spiraling out of control. Money she saved to pay her rent and car payment was spent on her heroin addiction that came with a $120-a-day price tag. Her mother noticed she had changed, too. Riddell was told she looked terrible and wasn’t acting herself.
“I’m addicted to heroin,” she told her mother.
Riddell was sent to The Watershed, a drug recovery center in Florida, for 30 days of rehabilitation. She came back to Butler County and was clean for two weeks, she said. But she returned to those same friends, that same drug lifestyle and she relapsed. She didn’t change her faces and places, a common suggestion from judges.
Back to The Watershed she went. Then again. After the third drug treatment program, Riddell said things are different. Her son is 3, and she wants to be a better mother.
“Time to put it down,” she said of her addiction.
She has split custody of her son, lives in a house in Middletown with her sister, and walks to work because she has no car. It’s not the best arrangement, of course. But she’s alive, and for that, she’s thankful. Riddell said she never has overdosed, never required Narcan, though she has been close several times.
“Been lucky,” she said. “Blessed.”
Others not so much. In the past year, Riddell said, about 20 of her friends have died from drug overdoses.
Twenty wasted lives.
When she was asked about those lost friends, her eyes welled with tears.
“I hurt for them,” she said while sitting on her porch smoking a cigarette. “This is a disease, I don’t care what others think. You don’t wake up one day and decide to do heroin. You don’t care at that point. You want to die. Heroin made me hit a rock-bottom that I never thought I’d hit. I lost everything that I ever worked hard for. I will never forget what I lost and the people that I hurt.”
So then why would anyone introduce heroin into their lives? Why would anyone load a bullet into a chamber of a revolver, spin the cylinder, point the gun at their head and pull the trigger?
“It gives you such a warm, comfort feeling,” Riddell said, trying to explain. “It eases your mind; takes you outside your mind.”
So now that Riddell has walked that path, what’s her advice to others considering heroin?
“Don’t set yourself up for failure,” she said. “Heroin is a whole new ballgame. If you want to gradually lose your life or be on the path of destruction, then go ahead and use. If you want to save yourself, and not have to deal with the drama or the pain or the hurt of this addiction, I would steer away from ever even thinking about that.”
Then she looked in her front yard, and spotted some toys that belong to her son. That brought a smile to her face. It’s good to be a mother.