Path to recovery; Addict shares story, helps others

A Noblesville woman is telling her story of heroin addiction in the hopes of helping others learn there is a way to get clean.

Laci Giboney, who started on a path to heroin addiction in high school, was the keynote speaker for an Indiana Youth Institute session about teen heroin use at YES Cinema.

Now 11 years clean from heroin addiction, she is in the process of setting up a faith-based alternative sentencing recovery center in Hamilton County.

But during her Nov. 10 talk in Columbus, Giboney painted a grim and detailed picture of her own descent as a teenager into addiction.

“I had been stealing from my family. I was in a huge downward spiral that nearly killed me,” she said.

In and out of rehab centers and jail, Giboney said her drug addiction was fueled by a sexual assault when she was 15, leading her to bury her shame and pain in alcohol and drugs. She started off with alcohol and marijuana and then moved on to experiment with opioids.

“I made some really bad choices,” she said.

When she reached bottom, she was a 20-year-old active heroin user who was homeless, living on park benches at 25th and Keystone in Indianapolis, she said.

She eventually was arrested, convicted and served two and a half years in prison for her drug abuse, something that led her to get clean, get a degree in social work and eventually start a family.

But her story is illustrative as to how many young people start down a path of drug abuse early in their lives, and only through intervention by law enforcement or concerned family members find their way out.

The Indiana Youth Institute, which sponsored Giboney’s talk, reports heroin use among high school and middle school students peaks in 11th grade among students in southeastern Indiana. During their junior year of high school, 0.3 percent of students said they were using heroin, the study found.

The statistics came from a survey provided to the institute by the Indiana Prevention Resource Center.

Goboney said in the past 15 years, heroin overdoses have killed more people than car crashes for those between 18 and 25.

After a short tutorial on how prescription opioid abuse leads some patients to seek out heroin as an alternative when the patient can no longer get a painkiller prescription from a doctor, Goboney said addicts have no choice but to seek some sort of alternative on the street.

And for young people in particular, the easy availability of heroin, and the fact that it is cheaper than many other drugs, leads teens down that path, she said.

“Now I’m told by some that people can buy heroin for 5 bucks,” she said. “For teenagers who are partying, that’s cheaper than a case of beer.”

But, she warned, heroin is far more deadly than most teens realize.

“It’s coming into the United States from Mexico, and it’s being cut with fentanyl,” she said.

Fentanyl is a powerful painkiller that can kill with just a small amount, depending on potency and how much of it is in the heroin.

Goboney said she remembers not wanting to use the heroin, but had to because of the fear of the physical side effects of withdrawal. After going through treatment seven or eight times, she was finally able to completely detox from the drug, a process she said took nearly six months.

She advocated that counties establish long-term recovery centers to address the physical, spiritual, emotional and family components for those who are addicted, including having programs for families to learn about addiction and the manipulating, stealing and lying behaviors that come with it.

During a question-and-answer session after the presentation, Columbus Police Department Sgt. Jay Frederick, a recent presenter at the Desperate Households conference hosted by the Bartholomew County Substance Abuse Council, was asked what people in Bartholomew County should do if they suspect a loved one has an opioid addiction problem.

Bartholomew County does not have a residential treatment program but social service agencies do refer residents to addiction programs offered through Centerstone, which is located in Columbus among other communities.

“We’re not looking for added clientele,” Frederick told the group, referring to taking drug abusers to jail. “But sometimes, if criminal activity is occurring, the best thing to do is let the criminal justice system be engaged. What the judicial system can do is put some teeth into the recovery process,” he said, referring to consequences if a drug abuser does not fulfill requirements that a court might order as a sentence.

Goboney put photos of her jail mug shots on the large screen at YES Cinema, saying she felt like it was important to really see the person staring back from the photo.

“I show these because I clearly didn’t care about what I looked like,” she said of her years in addiction. “I think it’s important to look at this. It’s so easy to judge and be judged. People tell me all the time I don’t look like a heroin addict,” she said, looking back at the photos.

“As a professional in the field now, I now know we have to be so careful when talking to people who are addicted — being careful of being judgmental,” she said. “They need someone to fight for them. They need someone to tell them ‘You are valuable. Your mistakes do not have to define you.”

Goboney said she remembers thinking at one point she would be a junkie forever and that she would die as an addict.

“So when I travel to share my testimony, I now say you can get sober, you can beat this,” she said.

Upcoming program on heroin abuse

Healthy Communities at Columbus Regional Health is sponsoring a community awareness presentation about heroin abuse next spring when a noted author will speak in Columbus.

Sam Quinones, an author and journalist who wrote “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” will speak at a session from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 19 at The Commons in downtown Columbus.

Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid, a public education program introducing participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental illness, will have a session from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 8.

The course uses role playing and videos to teach people how to offer help in a mental health crisis and connect people with ways to get care. The course is not about participants taking on the role of professionals or diagnosing a problem. It’s to answer the question: “What should I do if I see someone in emotional distress?”

The program teaches common risk factors and warning signs, including anxiety, depression, risk for suicide, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and schizophrenia.

Cost is $20, but scholarships are available. The session will be at Centerstone, 720 N. Marr Road.

To register or request a scholarship, email Melissa Newland at melissa.newland@centerstone.org.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.