- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Wesley Earl Windsor just celebrated two years of sobriety.
“If I don’t want to go back to jail, and I don’t want to be miserable and broke all the time, I can’t continue to hang out with people who drink and drug. It’s just that simple,” Windsor said earlier this week.
There are people in nearly every neighborhood, job site, in schools and around dinner tables throughout this county fighting the same battle, Windsor said. People “are being very naive if they feel it isn’t a problem.”
That problem with addiction seems to be most acute among white youth, ages 16 to 25 in St. Mary’s, according to police and drug counselors here. “It’s more of a white issue than African-American,” said Walden Executive Director Kathy O’Brien.
They’re not sure why. And, O’Brien said, it seems to be affecting young women in that group the most. Studies elsewhere are underway to determine whether there are physiological reasons why females seem to become addicted more quickly, she said.
County residents are invited to a drug summit intended to address the issue next Friday, March 7, at the Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department at 6:30 p.m. The event is free. The St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office, health department, county government, local schools and Walden, a facility that provides counseling and recovery assistance for issues such as substance abuse, are partners for the summit. Parents of young children and teenagers are especially invited to attend, to learn about the signs of drug abuse and to learn about help that’s available.
Last year in St. Mary’s, five people died as a result of heroin overdose, said Capt. Daniel Alioto with the sheriff’s office. That’s up from one heroin-related death in 2012, and none in 2011 he said.
In 2008, 17 here died from prescription drug overdoses, compared to one pill overdose death last year, Alioto said. And the pill-related deaths and heroin overdoses are directly related.
As police worked to get illegally obtained prescription pills off the streets, Alioto said, more users turned to heroin — a cheaper and more powerful relative to many prescribed painkillers in the opiate family of drugs.
At Walden, counselors and staff last year saw about 450 people in their clinic and about 60 percent of them were battling opiate addiction, said Gary Lynch, Walden’s chief operating officer. “I think it will be higher this year,” said O’Brien.
“The saddest part,” Windsor said, “is they really don’t know what they’re getting into.”
It usually starts with a kid experimenting with a pill. “They can just go over to grandmother’s house and open the medicine cabinet. They’re not having to go out and find a drug dealer,” said Windsor, who said he had tried everything from marijuana to cocaine, PCP and heroin, at times spending $250 a day to satisfy his addiction.
He said he’s spent years in jail, then gone through a 12-step program, continues sobriety meetings and now heads a transitional living facility in St. Mary’s. He also volunteers with some of Walden’s drug counseling programs and works as a painter and handyman.
After sneaking a few pills, kids get hooked, Windsor said. Then they want to buy some. Then, they realize how expensive the habit is. A 30 milligram oxycodone pill can cost $30,” he said. “All of a sudden, they don’t have no money.”
That’s usually when the high school student, the college student or the young professional turns to heroin.
“Ten dollars worth of heroin will give you the effect of $60 worth of pills,” Windsor said. Users often end up breaking the law — stealing, offering sex, swindling — just to get the drugs.
Everyone interviewed agreed. Long gone are the days when shooting up with needles was confined to junkies and prostitutes. Today, Alioto said, syringes are “just another vehicle” for users to get the drug they want.
Middle-class white adults usually think it can’t happen to their kids, that heroin is a “ghetto” problem,” O’Brien said.
But all it takes sometimes, Windsor said, is for a kid to experience family problems, or feel socially awkward.
“You get high,” he said, “and all of a sudden, you’re one of the cool kids.”