Part 3 sidebar: Wasted Youth/Slow Road
Christine D'Eramo was heroin-free for nearly a year when she moved back home in January, confident she beat her addiction.
It lasted a month.
Old scenes, old places, old friends, old habits lured her back to her old life of drugs.
“I really thought I could do it,” D'Eramo said. “I couldn't.”
It started with cocaine soon after she returned home.
“I thought that because it wasn't my drug of choice, that I was OK,” she said. “I wasn't.”
Soon, heroin beckoned her again and she fell. Not as hard as the dozens of other times she relapsed, but this time it hurt more.
After six years battling heroin, after dozens of detoxification and treatment programs, D'Eramo thought she turned the corner of her addiction.
She learned, as 80 percent of heroin addicts find, that the road to recovery is peppered with detours.
The average heroin addict will go through treatment programs up to 10 to 25 times, studies found. About two-thirds relapse after getting treatment the first time.
“It is not easy,” Nick Tenaglia, clinical director at High Point's Treatment Center in Brockton.
Addicts often need to stay away from home, old friends, old jobs, old routines to learn how to live drug-free and prevent relapses, he said. “They can't go back to the same situation,” he said. “They're not strong enough.”
Why is it so hard to recover from a heroin addiction? Researchers suspect heroin may “rewire” the brain, creating more targets for the drug and making it harder to break the drug habit.
Heroin mimics endorphins, the body's natural pain killer produced in moments of shock or injury, and binds quickly to the receptors in the brain. The drug magnifies that natural effect of endorphins and produces a surge of pleasure and sense of well-being.
D'Eramo, 24, is considered one of the lucky ones.
Now in a two-year treatment program, she survived three overdoses since 2001 .
Others in the region did not.
An examination by The Enterprise of death certificates filed in 28 city and town clerk officers found 39 people died of opiate overdoses between Aug. 31, 2006 and Aug. 31, 2007.
Earlier this year, after examining 2 1/2 years of death certificates as part of the ongoing “Wasted Youth” series, The Enterprise found that 74 people had died of opiate overdoses between Jan. 1, 2004 and Aug. 31, 2006.
D'Eramo knew several of the dead and knows, but for luck — and the drug Narcan used by doctors and paramedics to reverse the effects of an overdose — her name could have been on one of those death certificates.
D'Eramo began using OxyContin at 18 then, as her addiction to the powerful painkiller grew, and the cost rose at $40 for a 40 milligram pill, she turned to the cheaper heroin.
She was 19 and a college freshman.
She started dabbling in drugs to be social, she said.
“By the end I didn't want to be around anyone,” she said. “I didn't care about anyone else. ... I began using to make friends. Now it just brought me to a real lonely place.”
When D'Eramo returned home to her parents, her brother and sister in January, she was convinced it would be for good.
She had begged her parents to let her return. She was, at the time, on Suboxone, a drug designed to stop the craving for heroin, and there were no sober houses that would take her while she was still in that treatment program.
And she missed her family.
She had been in enough treatment programs, enough half-way houses, enough transition programs.
She just wanted to be home.
“I love my family,” she said. “Before, I never wanted to be around them. Now, that's all I want.”
But home was in Abington, what her mother called her personal “ground zero.”
“Home was not a good place for her to be,” Mary D'Eramo, her mother, said. “We felt she needed to be in a sober house or a program with other people who are going through the same thing she was. She needed more help.”
Christine D'Eramo was persistent. This time it would be different.
Within a month, her family began to worry she was using again.
Christine D'Eramo first denied it. She said she convinced herself using cocaine wasn't relapsing. At least it wasn't heroin. She could handle it — even if she was shooting, or injecting, it.
Tension rose along with the suspicions in the household.
One night her parents talked about going to court to ask a judge to commit her to a treatment program.
She asked them to do that the next day.
She went to a program in New Bedford for women then a series of other programs until a slot opened at a transitional housing program for women.
D'Eramo said the long term program is what she needs.
She has been there nearly four months, is working at a store and focuses on today.
When D'Eramo was an art student at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, she dreamed of becoming an art teacher.
“Now, I don't even know what I want to become,” she said.
What she does want is to stay clean.
“I need the longer program,” she said.