Heroin tightens its grip 

In Atlanta, the number of new heroin users is growing — with fatal results

Page 6 of 7

Sitting in a booth at the Majestic, I press Sarah and Brian about how hard they hit rock bottom while struggling with their addictions.

"You can turn the tape recorder off for that one," Brian jokes.

"There might be a statute of limitations," says Sarah.

"It's nothing too, too bad," Brian reassures me. "But bad enough."

"We never hurt anybody," Sarah says.

"No robbing people at gunpoint or anything," says Brian. "A lot of 'recycling.'"

"Oh yeah," says Brian's current girlfriend, who up to that point had been sitting quietly next to him, giggling nervously from time to time. She's pretty and waifish, with huge, dark eyes and a pink T-shirt dotted with rhinestones.

"We didn't bother anybody's well-being," says Sarah, jumping back in. "And I wasn't going to whore myself out. But, you know, you have to get a huge amount of money. So you come up with these crazy hustles."

During one of Brian's hustles, he was arrested on a robbery charge. His parents bonded him out of jail, and he and Sarah tried to get clean. It lasted three weeks.

Eventually, Brian was sent to a work-release program. That meant Sarah was on her own. Her overdoses, which Brian had once been able to help her control, got worse. There was one time, in the back of an ambulance, when the paramedic couldn't find a vein that hadn't been blown apart by repeated drug use. Another time, a cop shined his flashlight on Sarah's arms and called his fellow officers over to see. Her arms were purple with abscesses. She'd kept hitting the same vein, over and over, with a needle that had grown more blunt with every use. She used to draw little notches on her needle, one for each hit, to determine how worn it was getting. The more notches, the harder she'd have to jab it into her arm.

She racked up $10,000 in hospitals bills from the overdoses. She'd nod out for longer and longer stretches of time. But that didn't deter her.

After one of the countless trips to the hospital, Sarah was finally charged with heroin possession. Two weeks after she was bonded out, she got pregnant. By then, she was alternating her living space between a hotel and a Buick.

Finally, her parents got through to her. "I was in denial about being pregnant," she says, "and they kind of shook me into going to the doctor."

Four weeks after her son was born, she started using heroin again. Then she went to court on the felony possession charge. Her choice was to go to rehab or to prison.

"That's when I finally stopped," she says.

It's been more than two years since she touched the stuff.

"Now I blend in with everyone else," she says. "Sometimes I feel like I'm trapped in this world that's not really me, and that I'm really this junkie. But I'm also this person who recovered."

She says her son is her inspiration to stay clean. "He saved me. He gave me a reason to live. There are plenty of days when I want to give up and just say, 'Fuck it.' But that's just such a selfish decision."

Sitting across from Sarah in the booth at the Majestic, Brian's girlfriend perks up at the mention of the little boy. Up to that point, she'd been nodding off, her dark hair dangling dangerously close to the ketchup pooled on her plate.

She congratulates Sarah for quitting heroin while the child was still a baby.

"You don't ever have to explain anything to him," she says, suddenly lucid.

For Brian and his current girlfriend, the struggle with heroin has continued.

Once Brian got out of the work-release program in 2006, he'd been clean for a year and a half. But he was having a hard time coping with the outside world – particularly with the loss of his mother, who died from cancer while he was still in the program.

He says that six months after his release, he started using again.

"It was more than six months, though," his girlfriend says, stumbling over her words. "'Cause like, what happened was, like, when I met him, he had it. And, uh, he showed it to me. And I was like, 'Well, I guess I could do it.'"

At that point, her voice trails off, too gravelly and frail to comprehend.

Brian plows ahead with his story. He says that when he started back up, along with his new girlfriend, they were only using on the weekends. In no time, though, he was using every day. It went on like that for nine months. Then, one weekend in July, he and his girlfriend decided to quit. He says he hasn't used in more than two weeks.

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