Following a recent ride-along with Niagara Falls Police Officer Donnie Booth and a subsequent comment made by Police Supt. Bryan DalPorto, who both said heroin and opiate use are on the rise in Niagara Falls, I determined to interview some heroin and opiate addicts, if I could find some.
They weren’t hard to find, actually. I found one subject who led me to others and I was then invited to meet a group of five – all of them allegedly addicts – at an apartment in Niagara Falls.
When I arrived at the apartment, I found it clean and there were indeed five people there, all white, all in their 20s.
I disclosed that I was a reporter and that the conversations were on the record. They all agreed, provided I did not use their real names and that I blurred out their faces in the photos.
Kelly, our hostess, had been beaten up that day and was badly bruised. She was slight, about 95 pounds.
She said that her boyfriend had been arrested that day and while he was out of jail, she said she had an order of protection and that, since it was his apartment, she would have to move out in a couple of days.
All of her guests were more than willing to be interviewed.
Reporter: You’re all heroin addicts?
Billy, 24, spoke up first. He was a slightly built young man, a little feminine in demeanor but friendly and nice looking. Billy: Yes. I’m addicted. I was trying to quit. But then my friend died recently.
Angie, 23, a very slender blonde-haired, brown-eyed girl spoke: We both lost a friend.
Reporter: When was the last time you used?
Billy: A few hours ago.
Reporter: When is the next time you’ll use?
Billy: Whenever I can get it. If I don’t find a way to get it tonight then by tomorrow morning, or else I will be very sick.
Angie: I don’t take my medication all the time. I don’t take my subutex. I don’t want to do subs more than two days in a row because I know then I won’t get high the next day. I haven’t taken my subs steadily in about two months.
Reporter: When was the last time you used?
Angie: About a half-hour ago.
Reporter: How many days are you using per week?
Carl, 26, a reddish-brown-haired, brown-eyed young man spoke next: I just stopped (heroin) about five days ago. I’m on suboxone.
Angie: Suboxone blocks it. I was on subs but I figured out how to go around it.
Carl: Suboxone makes me not sick. It is a way to try to quit. If I take heroin after I take suboxone, I will get sick.
Reporter: Do you have a craving for heroin?
Carl: All the time. But I know if I take suboxone, I can’t take heroin.
Reporter: How long were you using heroin?
Carl: About a year. I was a technician but I lost that job. Now I got a minimum wage job. I lost my good job.
Janet, 24, blonde-haired, blue eyes, slender, spoke next: I tried heroin and it was fun. But it didn’t seem to be something I wanted to have regularly. I’m not going to lie. I like to smoke weed. That’s what I do every day. I’m addicted to weed. I like to have it every day. But something like pills, it gets me sick. I puked from heroin. I get sleepy and I puke. It wasn’t my thing.
Reporter: Do you all smoke marijuana?
Billy: Yes. Obviously ,if I have money I get dope first but if I occasionally have more money and I can afford pot, then I will get it. I have been homeless since I was 17. I was living in Pittsburgh and worked at a strip club. I was a stripper. I got paid more than the girls do. I got $50 bucks just to walk in the door. I could support my habit then.
Reporter: Do you have any family? Where is your dad?
Billy: He’s in jail for rape in the second degree. He had sex with a girl I literally used to walk home from school. She was younger than me.
Reporter: How old was she?
Billy: Fourteen. I have not spoken to him for a long time and I hope I don’t talk to him.
Reporter: You don’t like your dad?
Billy: My dad broke my ribs. He beat the shit out of me. He’s beaten the shit out of women my entire life. He always put me down. He used to tell me that if he ever found out I was gay or bisexual, he would go crazy, kill me and kill himself.
Reporter: Are you gay or bisexual?
Billy: I’m bisexual and I didn’t tell him until he was on the ground looking for a rock of crack. He smoked crack with me when I was 14. He had me on crack when I was 14. It was pretty bad. It was his way of bonding because we don’t get along, no common interest. It was coke (cocaine) at first and then he started smoking crack because it was cheaper and he brought me along for the ride.
Reporter: Are you using crack now?
Billy: If it is put in front of me, I’ll do it, but I don’t do it normally.
Carl: I prefer to shoot cocaine.
Billy: I definitely prefer to shoot coke.
Angie: Crack cocaine sucks. I smoked cocaine in North Carolina and it was awesome and that was it. I smoked crack once or twice.
Reporter: How are your ribs now?
Billy: They’re still broken. My ribs poke my lungs. When my dad first beat me up my ribs were popping outward and it was really bothering me.
Reporter: Do you need medical attention?
Billy: Yeah I’m supposed to be going to physical therapy.
Billy explained he was homeless.
Reporter: Where will you sleep tonight?
Billy: Hopefully at my grandmother’s.
Janet, who lives with her sister, told me about her brother who died recently from a drug overdose.
Reporter: How old was he?
Janet: He was 26 when he died. He did pills. He tried heroin. But he was more into pills. He shot Opana (pain medication).
Billy: That’s what I started with.
Angie: The first thing I started with.
Janet: My brother was allergic to the morphine. He might have done heroin and Opana together and he overdosed. That’s why I’ve been just smoking weed and not doing anything else since my brother died. My brothers were really messed up.
Reporter: You have another brother that’s using?
Angie: The first time I ever overdosed, nobody knew I was using and I was pronounced dead. I had no oxygen to my brain or heart rate. And it was for like two minutes or something like that. I had an out of body experience. I lost my memory after that.
Billy: I overdosed. I woke up and the paramedics didn’t know my dad broke my ribs.
Angie: One of the reasons I went to the hospital was my dad punched me in the head because I was staying with a Puerto Rican dealer. And that was the house I was at before I was found in an alley. I was high and had a concussion and I had an overdose. I was rushed to Memorial Hospital.
Billy: We’ve been called sketchy people. Angie and me, we would always go to people’s houses to go to the bathroom and do heroin together.
Angie: I’m weak because I lost control of my life. Heroin has taken everything. The first time I ever took it, I snorted it. Now I use a needle. I have a lot of health problems. I have a heart murmur. I have leakage in the bottom of my heart. Heroin has destroyed my body. I don’t get high anymore. You get a 20-second rush and then you get used to it. I’m not high any more. Do I come off as high right now?
Reporter: Are you?
Angie: Technically I would be because I did heroin earlier today.
Reporter (to Kelly) Do you use heroin?
Kelly: Me, it started with pills. I’m a snorter. It started out with Opanas or any other opiate-based drug I could find. When I could not find that, I started to snort heroin. Overall I have been using mostly subutex.
Reporter: You’re not getting that legally
Reporter: How much money do you have?
Angie: Zero dollars
Billy: One dollar.
Reporter: Where did you get that?
Billy: From my grandma.
Reporter: Does she know you’re using drugs?
Billy: Yeah. If she sees I’m really sick (from withdrawal), she’ll help me out.
Billy said he wanted to make a phone call to get heroin.
Reporter: So you have a cell phone?
Billy: That’s the one thing my mom will pay for. I can’t stay at her house but she makes sure I have a phone.
Reporter (to Carl) Do you have a phone?
Carl: My girlfriend’s cell phone.
Reporter: Where’s your girlfriend?
Carl: She got arrested for shoplifting. She’s in ECMC detoxing.
Reporter (to Carl): You have money then?
Carl: Not right now. I have 76 cents in my car.
Kelly: If I told you how much cash I had stashed in my house, one of these people would rob me.
Janet (who took out some pot and began to smoke and shared it with the others) I have $15.
Reporter: Do you consider yourself an addict?
Janet: I almost started to consider myself one. I want weed all the time and when I don’t have it, I will borrow money from somebody if I can or I’ll have somebody front me the weed and I’ll pay it back when I have money.
Reporter: Right now you have a supply?
Janet: That’s running very low. I’m hoping to use my $15 to give to my neighbor who has weed and, hopefully, he’ll front me even more than that but at least I’ll have $15 worth.
Reporter (to Carl): What’s the worst thing you’ve done to get heroin?
Carl: Steal. I’m facing a shoplifting charge. I steal red bull from Wal-Mart and sell it at a bodega.
Reporter: They know it is stolen?
Carl: Yeah. But the last time I shoplifted I got caught and when I was in jail, my girlfriend stole my grandma’s engagement ring. And I couldn’t get it back.
Reporter (to Angie): What’s the worst thing you’ve done to get heroin?
Angie: Not sex. Honestly. Panhandled. Cried in the bathroom at Sunoco and I got $20 bucks from a stranger. He gave it to me because I was crying and making a scene. I was just in a shameful spot. I am always broke but I am trusted by all my friends. I won’t steal. I don’t turn tricks. I’m not a thief. I’m not a liar.
Billy: I support my habit by people calling me to get shit for them.
Reporter (to Kelly): What’s the worst thing you’ve done to get heroin?
Kelly: The worst thing, the only bad thing I’ve done is steal, I guess. Funny, I would never steal unless it was for drugs. If it is not directly for drugs, I don’t steal.
Angie: I used to spend my whole day trying to get heroin all day. I would sit and do it and I’d come home and I’d be sick.
Reporter: Can you get heroin tonight?
Angie: A lot of places.
Billy: I have six that I go to currently. I can get it from more than that but those are the ones that I rely on. I have one in Riverside.
Angie: I have three.
Billy: Three of them are absolutely reliable.
Angie: The same ones I probably have.
Reporter: What would you be doing tonight if I wasn’t here?
Angie: I would probably smoke some more pot. Maybe I might (get some heroin). I would love to.
Billy: I will find some way to get money because my shit is kind of wearing off.
Reporter: If you used heroin tonight…
Billy: It would keep me good until about tomorrow morning. It actually makes me normal.
Reporter: Aren’t you normal now?
Billy: I’m normal now. I’m sustaining but I’m starting to feel hot, getting sweaty – the withdrawal.
Reporter: When will you feel a strong urge to have more heroin?
Billy: I had that urge about two hours ago.
Angie: Stop being a baby.
Billy: He said “the urge” not being sick. The urge. Somebody said let’s go but I don’t have any f-g money.
Billy made some calls and brokered a deal to get heroin, sell some and make enough to shoot. He called one of his heroin dealers to seal the deal. At my request, he put him on the speaker-phone.
Dealer (on phone): Hello.
Billy: What’s good bro? How is it from a scale of 1 to 10?
Dealer: It’s fire.
After Billy made his arrangements Angie said: I don’t need the heroin. I do like to smoke pot. I can’t really imagine myself without doing something. I was in jail for 10 months. All I had was pot there. I was shaking so bad.
Reporter: How did you get pot in jail?
Angie: I just knew people.
Kelly, our hostess was acting sick.
Reporter: Are you in pain?
Kelly: Very much so. The whole boyfriend beating me up this morning f–cked my shoulder pretty bad.
Reporter: Why did he beat you up?
Kelly: Because I broke up with him last night. This morning he wakes me up screaming at me because I’m not gone already. I’m going to be homeless now.
Kelly said she worked at a restaurant part-time, that she had a bachelor degree in psychology and that she bought Angie’s prescription subutex each and every day and, in turn, Angie used the money to buy heroin.
Kelly: The drug issue sort of put the career issue on hold and a lot of things on hold given that I require the subutex every day. I get withdrawals if I go more than a day and a half without it. I get incredibly anxious. I get cramps real bad, I don’t sleep. I’m very restless and jittery. I get headaches. I started using when my boyfriend started selling. He would get a large amount of Opanas, the pills, and sell them and he made a lot of profit off it and after a couple of months, we kind of got into it and we became full-blown addicted to it.
Reporter: Would you like to change your life?
Kelly: Oh my God, without a doubt.
Reporter: Where are your parents?
Kelly: My mother lives in Lockport. My father’s deceased.
Reporter: When did he die?
Reporter: What did he die from?
Kelly: Suicide. He was a pretty good secret keeper. He was molesting and raping my stepsister who was a year younger than me. He remarried and that was his wife’s daughter and he was abusing her since she was four years old until she was about 14 and it came out. People found out. He was charged. I had to go to the court hearing. Luckily, I didn’t have to go on the stand. He was sentenced to 30 years, no parole. And I believe he was there for a couple of months and he hung himself with a bed sheet in jail. I was very angry. He had touched me once when I was little.
Reporter: You lived kind of a hard life?
Kelly: Currently, I am extremely unhappy. The substance addiction or dependence – whatever you want to call it. My lack of independence. I depended on my ex-boyfriend. Obviously, with the whole breaking up, everything is crazy. I have no idea where I am going to live.
Carl: I’m unhappy too. The last couple of weeks, my girlfriend and going to jail the first time. A lot of things went downhill.
Reporter: Did it have to do with drugs?
Carl: I would not have been fighting with the boss about money if I wasn’t using heroin. I was spending it all so quickly. I lost a $50,000 job. And became homeless. It was a whole different incident. I lost my job. I lost my apartment…..
Reporter: What’s your future?
Carl: I’m staying away from heroin right now. It’s hard. Hopefully, when my girlfriend gets out of jail,l she’ll stay clean being that she’s pregnant.
Reporter: How do you feel about being off heroin?
Carl: It sucks. I hate it. Cause everything is real now. I didn’t give a f-ck about anything when I was doing heroin. Now everything comes to mind. I almost lost all the stuff in my storage unit. It would have been auctioned off on Sunday. I almost lost everything. That was bad. Jail was the worst thing I could imagine. Now I have to deal with everything. When my girlfriend and I were on heroin we stayed in my car, panhandled all day and I just got high with her and I wasn’t concerned about anything.
I didn’t care. And sure enough, she’s in jail and I have to deal with everything that happened. Money missing from my friends. Jewelry missing from my grandparents ’cause she stole it. I didn’t know. She said she wasn’t prostituting but I think she was. I’d drive her to some old guy’s house – she said it was her stepdad – for 20 minutes and she’d come out with 30, 40 bucks. He wasn’t her stepdad. I feel stupid. I was blind to it all.
That made me want to stop heroin too. She was into it before me. She brought me into it. She just screwed me up. I am three years older than her – she’s 22 – and before her, I was with a girl for seven years. We broke up because she wouldn’t quit drugs. We were both doing pills and I wanted to quit and she wouldn’t. Drugs have been a big part of my life. My mom was into cocaine real bad. My ma’s been sober for six years now. My father was an alcoholic. Vodka in the morning. A bottle a day. He wasn’t around much when I was growing up. My mom and me are close. My stepdad works; he pays the bills.
My sister is 23. She is a junkie. She was prostituting before. Now she lives with a 62-year-old man. He takes care of her. She is doing three or four bundles of heroin a day. I was doing two.
As the night progressed, Angie and Billy both seemed to become anxious to get some heroin. They managed to procure a bundle (10 tiny bags of heroin). A large, gruesome-looking Hispanic man came and delivered it outside the apartment.
I went outside and watched him and took a picture as he left and have published the photo in this article.
Billy used a needle and injected five bags into a vein in his arm. I watched him.
Reporter: How was the stuff?
Billy: Good? Rate it one to ten?– a seven.
Reporter: How do you feel?
Billy: I feel very good and I feel very relieved. Within moments, however, Billy appeared to be going to sleep.
Angie: He’s nodding because he did five hits.
Reporter: Billy how do you feel right this moment?
Billy answered groggily: Good.
Angie: Are you going to overdose, Billy?
Billy (slurring). No.
Angie: Are you sure? Because if you are really too f—d up, I want to know so I can take you to the hospital. Seriously, I’m not kidding. (to me) I don’t think he is going to overdose. He’s enjoying himself right now. He’s fine.
Angie prepared her own heroin as Billy sat upright but with his head sunk on his chest. Soon, he curled up and leaned over, half sitting and half reclining on the couch.
Angie (referring to Billy): I don’t get like that when I do it.
Angie, using a separate needle, injected what was four bags of heroin into her hand, saying she would save one bag for the morning.
But Angie, afterward, didn’t feel she got a good enough high.
Soon afterward she was quiet and said very little.
And I left the group each to their own drug of choice.
For Angie and Billy, it was heroin. For Janet, it was marijuana. For Kelly, subutex and for Carl, suboxone…
The next day I interviewed John, the brother of Janet, who we had spoken of yesterday. Janet arranged the interview. We met in a car in a dark parking lot. Janet was with him.
The first thing on John’s mind was to intravenously use a pill he told me was Opana ER – extended release, a pain medication used to treat pain and which resembles in its effects morphine.
John was 26 and he proposed shooting up before me.
I agreed and he prepared a pill, crushing it and mixing it with liquid in order to put it in a needle and inject it in his hand.
John explained why he injected his hands: I’ve been an intravenous drug use for a long time. Now the veins in my arms are pretty well blown out.
Reporter: What did you just do?
John: It is Opana ER. It lasts for a long time. The pill is prescribed for chronic pain.
Reporter: Then it would be a legal prescription?
John: Yes. That was a 20 mg pill. With extended-release, the high lasts longer. Instant release hits you harder but doesn’t last as long.
Reporter: How long will this last?
John: Because I inject it intravenously, it hits you quicker but it doesn’t last as long. Maybe two to four hours. I did another Opana 20 earlier today. That shot I just did now, were I not to have had anything else earlier, it wouldn’t even get me high. It would just make me not sick any more.
Reporter: Where did you get it?
John: Friends. Just people. Some people who get prescribed for chronic back pain. Other people who go around and know people who get prescribed and they’ll purchase the pills for a cheaper price and turn around and sell them on the streets. There are people who make a complete living, make three to four thousand a week off of it. There are doctors that do that kind of stuff, too. There’s no way to prove back pain. Say you were to go a pain management doctor and say, “well my back hurts.” They can’t actually prove back pain. Other things they can prove, but back pain you can’t prove.
Reporter: Why don’t you go to a doctor and say you have back pain?
John: I don’t see it as being right. You’re going there and lying. I don’t want to go to do something like that. If I could go there legally from a doctor, it would further my drug addiction.
Reporter: You admit you’re an addict?
John: I’ve been addicted for years.
Reporter: Do you use any other drugs?
John: Marijuana. But I feel cigarettes and alcohol are worse than marijuana. It doesn’t affect your body in a negative way. Cocaine is bad. Opiates are bad. You get sick if you don’t have it.
Reporter: Would that happen to you if you stop?
John: I have tried stopping. I got hot and cold sweats, diarrhea. When I went to jail for a couple months, I had to get clean.
Reporter: Do you have more than one source for pills?
John: Oh, yeah. You have to. A person may get 60 or 90 pills a month. So when they’re gone, you’re shit out of luck if that’s the only person you know. You gotta know a couple people.
Reporter: Do you buy direct from the person who gets the prescription?
John: I know a couple people who get them prescribed but most of the time you get them from middle-men. That’s why the prices are out of control. A 20 mg pill costs $40 and a 40 mg pill costs $70-$80. A lot of the high price is due to the doctors getting arrested. When they busted Dr. Mehta, it raised the prices. It actually caused many people to switch to heroin because it’s cheaper. You can get heroin for a third of the price you get pills for.
Reporter: Can you get heroin in Niagara Falls?
John: I’ve been able to get it. But it’s not as good as if you were to go to Buffalo. It gets cut before you get it here, so you’re not getting as pure a product and you don’t know what you’re getting and the prices are higher. In Buffalo, it costs you $70-80 for ten bags of heroin which is a bundle. In Niagara Falls you’re going to pay $100- $120 and it’s not going to be as good. You’re best to go to Buffalo and find a source for good reliable heroin.
Reporter: When was the last time you did not do drugs for a whole day?
John: Two years ago when I was in Niagara County jail. In jail you can find drugs but they’re real expensive.
Janet had been quiet for while: She asked: Do you mind if I roll a (marijuana) joint right now? I consented.
She began to roll a joint and soon the two were sharing it.
Reporter: If I said to you I want to get into this would you try to talk me out of it?
John: I would talk you out of it.
Reporter: Why, you’re doing it yourself?
John: I would never wish this addiction upon anybody. In the long run, you feel horrible.
Janet: He knows I’ve tried things and he always discouraged me.
John: I’ve been down that road and I would never wish it upon anybody. I wish I didn’t do it myself. I would like to stop. I’ve thought about trying to quit and I’ve quit and gone clean for a little while. I ended up getting back to it in the long run.
As I looked at him in the dark car, I noticed that he had a fair face. Indeed he could have been a good looking man, dark haired and blue eyes, but his face was drawn, the left side of his face was unevenly sunken in. He was as thin as a rail.
John: I’ve worked the last three years full time. Before that, all I did was sell drugs. Now I work 35 to 45 hours per week. I make between $500 and $700 to $800 a week.
Reporter: Do you have your own apartment?
John: No. I’m staying here at a friend’s house. I sleep on the couch. I lost my apartment. My problem is I can’t save money because I make enough money where I can pay all my bills. But I can’t get an apartment because you need a security deposit and first month’s rent, getting your electric on. My problem is getting the money to get going because I can’t save. If I have money, I spend it on drugs.
Reporter: How much do you spend a week on drugs?
John: Anywhere from $500 to $700.
Reporter: That’s almost what you’re earning. What about food?
John: I’ll buy stuff here and there A couple things a week. You find a way to eat.
Reporter: Do you sell drugs?
John: Occasionally. As a middle man. Because I can always find drugs. I know a lot of people and I’ve been doing it for a long time. I can always find drugs. Most people cannot always find drugs. So people call me when they can’t find drugs and they ask me if I can get them drugs and so I’ll go get it for them and, in turn, they will do the pill with me so I’m not sick anymore.
Reporter: You just took an Opana. How is it?
John: Semi-pleasurable at this time. I’ve done enough to where I can get high. If I hadn’t done nothing up until I got here with you and I just injected that Opana and I hadn’t done nothing in a few hours, I would not get high when I actually did the shot. The second that rush is over which lasts from 30 seconds to a minute, once that’s over, I’m no longer high. I’m just not sick any longer.
I’m just, we’ll call it “get right.” Because before you feel wrong almost. You don’t feel right. You feel sick and getting right after I do that shot. I am not high. I’m just right. I’m normal again. I feel normal. I can carry on the day. Before I got with you, I had already done a pill maybe two hours before so I wasn’t sick. I did this one to get high.
Reporter: How many pills do you have left?
John: I just have a half of one.
Reporter: What are you going to do when you run out?
John: I’ve gotta find something tomorrow; hustle away tomorrow. It’s day by day
Reporter: Do you have a girlfriend?
John: No. I can’t take care of myself how am I going to take care of another individual? I can’t afford my own habit [so] how am I supposed to bring somebody else into this world? I don’t even attempt to look for a girlfriend. I’m not a bad looking guy. I can find a girlfriend if I wanted. But I would never want to bring somebody into this kind of life. I’m an addict to the point where I cannot hide it. I’m too far of an addict to hide it.
John explained a little of his work. He said he missed only one day of work in the last three years.
John: I’m a 100 percent functioning drug addict.
Reporter: Do your parents know?
John: Yes. They don’t like it but what can they do? They can’t do anything. I lost my brother about two years ago. He died from drugs.
Reporter: What did he use?
Reporter: How old was he?
John: 26. Same age as me.
Reporter: How widespread is this drug use?
Janet: Thousands use it.
John: Maybe 30, 40 percent of young people from 16 to 30 use some kind of drugs from marijuana to heroin. How many are addicts like me? I don’t know, I’d say thousands around here.
I concluded the interview with John and drove him and Janet to a nearby location. He remembered that he left his Opana at the home he stayed and where he slept on the couch and that he would soon need it.
You have to take me back, he said. I can’t go without it.