William Patrianakos is one of them. Mr. Patrianakos, who grew up in Lockport, just outside Chicago, tells people that “if there was a graduating class of first addicts to heroin around here, I was one of them.” He started by taking OxyContin pills he got from a girlfriend, and he switched to heroin when he no longer could get the pills. He had struggled with depression, he says, an drugs made him happy.
To finance the addiction, Patrianakos stole from his family, borrowed from friends, and taught himself to counterfeit $100 bills. Like many addicts, he entered treatment programs several times, only to return to heroin. He finally was arrested for counterfeiting and spent a year in a court-mandated drug program. Even then he relapsed for three months before, he says, he finally quit heroin for good.
Today Patrianakos, who is in his mid-20s, works as a computer programmer, makes speeches about drugs, and works with support groups for parents whose children are struggling with addiction or have died from overdoses.
In many places, heroin is still a hidden problem because of the stigma attached to the drug, parents and drug experts say. “There’s still an unwillingness to talk about it in some communities,” says Ms. Kane-Willis of Roosevelt University. “There’s a sense of shame and a ‘it’s not here’ mentality.”
That may be changing, with communities trying to deal with the problem more openly. “We’re trying to raise the curtain,” says Janice Harris, the mother of a 22-year-old heroin addict in Tucson, Ariz. Ms. Harris is founder of the There Is No Hero in Heroin Foundation, which held its first “community awareness forum” in Tucson in November.