SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - Behind every opioid overdose, there's a person who helped fuel the epidemic, by giving or selling the bag of heroin that led to it.
The 22News I-Team investigated a part of the drug crisis we don't usually hear about, the men and women who are selling deadly drugs on the streets. We discovered that sometimes, the people selling heroin on the streets, are the same exactly people who are addicted to it.
Two inmates gave the I-Team an eye-opening look at why some opioid addicts go into the dangerous business of drug dealing.
Victor and Jason are from Springfield and are serving time for drug offenses. They were both young adults the first time they used drugs.
The first time Victor shot heroin, he was just 21-years-old. "I started hanging out with friends, peer pressure, doing what they were doing."
Jason told the I-Team, his addiction began when he was at a friend's house and found prescription pills in his friend's parent's medicine cabinet. "It started off with Percocets on the weekend. At first it was just fun."
But what started off as an easy way to get high, quickly escalated into addiction, drug dealing, and eventually prison. "At first it was just fun, but then the feeling and relief from stress, and the confidence it gave me, I wanted it all of the time," Jason said.
Jason told the I-Team that before he knew it, he had an uncontrollable addiction, an addiction that thousands of people in Massachusetts understand all too well, because they have lived through it.
Victor described his heroin addiction as all consuming. He told the I-Team it's the only thing he thought about, and after a while, it took precedence over his work, his friends, his family, and even his own well-being. "You don't really care about that stuff. It doesn't matter, all you think about is that next bag, and your next high."
It didn't take long before both Victor and Jason lost most of their friends, their jobs, and their money. That's when desperation kicked in, and they decided the only way to continue shooting heroin, was to start selling it.
Right around the same time, the use of a deadly synethic opioid called fentanyl started to increase in Massachusetts. It's used to cut heroin on the black market, and all it takes is a few grains to kill someone. According to the Department of Public Health, 83% of the people who died of opioid overdoses in Massachusetts in 2017, had fentanyl in their system.
Jason told the I-Team, most drug dealers who are selling heroin the streets would have no way of knowing whether the bags they're selling are laced with fentanyl. "I mean I definitely didn't have any idea what was in there. I mean, I knew I was supposed to be getting heroin."
Victor said by the time he got the bags of heroin to sell, they were already sealed. "You don't know what you're selling to tell you the truth."
Jason and Victor knew people who overdosed on heroin, but even that wasn't enough to stop them from shooting drugs or selling them. Their dangerous lifestyles didn't come to an end, until they were arrested. They didn't know it at the time, but their arrests may have very well saved their lives.
Victor and Jason are now serving time, but they're also spending time at the Western Massachusetts Treatment and Wellness Center, where they're getting the chance to turn their lives around.
Jason told the I-Team, he's finally getting the support he needed for so many years. "It's a very hard thing to overcome. You need a huge support system, and people who aren't going to give up on you. We help each other."
Jason said not a day goes by that he doesn't think about his addiction, or the people he hurt while he was caught up in it. "Now that I sit back and think about it, I'm making these people go through the same thing I'm going through, or worse. But when you're stuck in that addiction, it's just selfish, and you don't care about anybody but yourself. It drives you to be selfish and inconsiderate of others. There's you and your addiction, that's it," Jason said.
Jason and Victor are now both on the road to recovery, and hope that telling their stories will help other people understand the power of addiction.
2017: 1,501 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths (8% decrease from 2016)
(The Department of Public Health estimates that there will be an additional 433 to 518 deaths)
2016: 2,083 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths (22% increase from 2015)
2015: 1,648 confirmed opioid-related overdose deaths (30% increase from 2014)
Data shows opioid overdose deaths decreased for the first time in 7 years in 2017.
Opioid overdose related deaths in 2017:
83% screened positive for fentanyl
43% screened positive for heroin
38% screened positive for benzodiazepines
41% screened positive for cocaine
An analysis by the Department of Pubic Health found that while heroin-related overdose deaths decreased in 2017, fentanyl related overdose deaths increased.
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