Crystal sits in a booth at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Barre, a thirty-four year old woman wearing a bright blue jacket, hair neatly pulled back. The setting sun is a beautiful orange behind her. Unknown to those around her, Crystal is recovering from opiate addiction.
She is only one part of an epidemic. According to the Vermont Department of Health, the number of people being treated for heroin and other opioids has surged past alcohol and other drugs, with over 6,000 Vermonters in treatment in 2015. In the same year the state dispensed almost one million needles. Crystal’s story gives a window into the long, difficult journey of the addict’s experience.
How It Started:
Crystal was exposed to drugs by her boyfriend when she was nineteen; he used marijuana and she eventually started using it too.
“I’m not blaming him,” she says. “It was my choice.”
By the time she became pregnant, she had started using harder drugs, and using them daily. When she tried to stop doing drugs she would start drinking to replace it. She eventually became addicted to drinking.
“I felt like I always had to have something to change my emotions.”
Eventually Crystal gave up custody of her daughter to her own parents, “just a temporary thing until I got my life back on track.”
Her daughter was in the custody of her parents for five years. Then Crystal was able to regain custody briefly. Then she dated a drug user, used again, and ended up giving custody of her daughter back to her parents.
“I knew it was better for her, it was more stable, it was a much better environment.”
Crystal herself has never overdosed, but she’s seen it. “I’ve actually had to use Narcan a few times on people,” she said. “You don’t realize that you overdosed. The Narcan takes it right out of you. You get sick instantly.”
“A lot of people that do overdose and die are alone. I’ve been around people that if I wasn’t there they probably would have died.”
Crystal decided to get her life back on track last year. “I was trapped,” she said. “I felt stuck, I had no job,” she said. “I had no transportation, I was addicted to drugs… I really had nowhere to go.”
She ended up getting a few DWIs and she ended up thanking the cop in the long run. She went to court and ended up in jail for about a week. She has been using the Turning Point Center of Central Vermont for recovery.
Now she is on the methadone program. Some tell her that she’s still an addict because she takes the medicine every day. She plans on not having to go to the clinic every day and not have to rely on the medicine. Her doses are already half of what she used to be taking.
She says she has a job at Busy Bubbles and is starting at Earth and Recycling. She also volunteers at the Turning Point Center of Central Vermont, helping other addicts.
She says she’s finding who she is and who she wants to be and she’s starting her life over.
She says she and her daughter have a good relationship now.
“There’s more to recovery than not doing drugs,” Crystal says.
“You have to change your whole life, your friends, the people you’re around, the way you live your life. Everything about it.”
Crystal herself may be clean, but the effects of opiates continue to show itself in the people of Vermont.
“I see it every day. Not just drugs but alcohol,” Crystal says. “There are lots of people who use their last dollar to drink a beer. A lot of people, if they’re not doing drugs then they’re drinking and if they’re not drinking they’re doing drugs.”