Brandy Turco said she used to think like Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones and Middletown Councilman Dan Picard.
Jones recently scoffed at the idea that his deputies should carry the overdose-reversing drug Narcan, and Picard suggested last month that the city seek a legal opinion about not having EMS units respond to repeat opioid users.
Now, Turco couldn’t disagree more with them.
Jones’ deputies, like a majority of Butler County law enforcement officers, do not carry Narcan and will do so only “when the courts order me to do it, we’ll use it,” he previously said on a national television program.
Picard has since withdrawn his request, but for Turco, a mother of four who lives in Monroe, when you have a daily fight on your hands with a heroin-addicted child, the way you think changes, she told the Journal-News.
Drug overdoses were the leading cause of deaths in 2016 in Butler County, according to the coroner’s office. Of the 192 drug overdose deaths in 2016, 153 of them — or 80 percent — were fentanyl/heroin related.
Turco, 43, said her stepson, Troy “TJ” Hunter, has been an addict since the age of 12.
“It started with cigarettes and marijuana and so forth … but he’s been a heroin addict for three years. There is not anything out there that he hasn’t tried,” Turco said of the 20-year-old. “There was a time I would have looked at a heroin addict and said ‘you piece of crap get your life together,’ but God has a way of showing you things.”
She said Hunter’s addiction “has changed my whole outlook because I know that it’s a disease and then I have had to fight for him and I know that there are people out there that don’t have anybody to fight for them.”
“Family and friends, even my own mother, have said I should just cut him off and let him die. But I could never do that as a mother — I will always fight for my children and I couldn’t just let him go and cut him off,” Turco said.
Hunter spent time in rehab at two local facilities and went out-of-state to seek treatment, she said.
“I did get to a point where I just couldn’t do it anymore. I told God, ‘you are going to have to take him or me,’” Turco said.
At one point, Turco said she did kick her stepson out of the house, because “he was stealing from us for his habit, but I cried myself to sleep every night worried about him.”
Hunter is now living in Kentucky with relatives who are making an effort to help him stay sober.
“I have been clean for 26 days now,” he told the Journal-News, adding that he wants to eventually become a good dad to his one-year-old daughter, who lives with her mother in Hamilton. “Basically going through a heroin addiction is like going through hell. Over time you end up pushing people away and doing some pretty bad things. When you wake up all you think about is doing whatever you can to get high.”
He talked about begging for money in front of McDonald’s for food, only to get cash from people and head to straight to the drug dealers instead of inside for a sandwich.
“Most people don’t know what they are getting into when they try heroin and I didn’t know what I was signing up for,” Hunter said. “You eventually will hit rock bottom or die. When the doctor told me after my third overdose in a week ‘see you tomorrow,’ that is when I decided to work on getting clean.”
Addicts need strong support systems, Turco said.
“Without a support system to get an addict sober that equals death,” she said.
Now, Turco and Hunter want to attempt to pay it forward and help someone who might not have a support system in place. The two of them plan to make a six-day, 540-mile bike trip to Washington, D.C., as part of the national FED UP! rally on Aug. 31.
The FED UP! Coalition’s mission is to raise awareness of the growing drug epidemic and overdose deaths attributed to opioids and other prescription drugs.
“I am not even sure at this point who we would select to receive the funds we raise — but it costs at least $12,000 for a 30-day stay at a treatment facility,” Turco said. “I am hoping that TJ and I can raise at least $10,000 to help one person.”