Many people addicted to opioids find that just when their recovery has reached a stable point, everything can fall apart, very suddenly.
Jeremy Miller, a 28-year-old opioid addict in recovery who was lauded at a Centerstone open house in November, spoke at the time about his long journey out of the grips of heroin to finding a good-paying job at NTN Driveshaft in Columbus, using that employment as a stepping stone in rebuilding his life.
Miller had been clean from drugs for 10 months when he stood before that gathering, telling city leaders and others that without Centerstone’s intensive outpatient counseling program he would not have evolved from what he described as a “selfish, cold-hearted heroin addict who cared about no one but himself.”
The crowd gave him a standing ovation and Miller received a hug from former Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Stephen Heimann, who had sentenced Miller repeatedly to jail, prison and Community Corrections as he dealt with the effects of addiction for years.
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Two months later, Miller was arrested for twice violating his probation — by using heroin and failing to show up at his apartment as ordered by the Bartholomew County Probation Department. He will spend the next four months in a four-person cell at the Bartholomew County jail.
Miller’s story is not that unusual. The mental-health agency expects 70 to 80 percent of its clients to relapse at some point, said Anna M. Hilycord, Centerstone’s manager for adult and family services.
“We see this occur when people transition to the next level of care as well, intensive outpatient care to aftercare, which is three groups a week to one a week,” she said. “People in recovery can be very sensitive to changes in routine. People may also have a sense of security that they can use and be OK, or because they have been doing well, that it will naturally continue with less effort and structure.”
Handcuffed in shackles in a conference room at the jail a few weeks into his sentence, Miller said he is ashamed of what he has done, particularly after having so many people congratulate him for his recovery just a few months earlier.
“This is embarrassing,” Miller said, as he was led into a jail conference room Feb. 6 for a media interview about his relapse into heroin. “One minute, everything was perfect. And the next thing, it’s not.”
Miller’s girlfriend found him overdosing and unresponsive at his Cottage Avenue apartment in early December. Miller was taken to the hospital, which was reported to his probation officer. Initially, Miller was allowed to go back into his work-release probation program as a heavy hot press operator at NTN Driveshaft.
But later in December, he resumed taking heroin and did not return to his apartment at an agreed-upon time with the probation department, leading to a revocation-of-probation hearing in Bartholomew Circuit Court in January, and a 266-day jail sentence that would follow.
Without the relapse, Miller would have completed his 30-month probation in December. That probation sentence was the result of a 2016 plea bargain on felony convictions for possession of a narcotic drug and theft.
With sentencing guidelines allowing one day off for every day served, the probation-revocation sentence will keep Miller in jail until late May — if no problems arise. But he is considering asking Judge Kelly Benjamin to let him out early if he can prove good behavior in jail and sobriety there has put him back on track.
“I don’t think any time in jail is helpful to me. It’s a waste of my life,” Miller said.
As a result of resuming his heroin use, Miller lost a place to live. A break-in at the apartment after he was incarcerated resulted in the theft of many of his belongings.
He lost his job at NTN Driveshaft after he stopped showing up for work. And he won’t be able to spend time with his 2-year-old son until he is released from jail, further disrupting relationships with his family.
After learning what had happened to Miller, Heimann acknowledged that sometimes receiving recognition for an accomplishment can cause an individual in addiction recovery to become too confident about his or her ability to avoid relapsing.
“They think they have it whipped and they let their guard down,” said Heimann, now a senior judge. “Then they are not taking time and reflecting enough on all those little things they need to do to stay sober. … It’s a slippery slope. You have to build a wall around yourself and put on some armor to keep drugs and alcohol out of your life.”
Miller has 12 felony convictions dating back over the past three years, ranging from dealing and possession of narcotic drugs to theft and other charges related to stealing to support his drug habit.
He has overdosed numerous times, including three times on heroin in four months in 2016. In some of the cases, naloxone was used to revive him, although he doesn’t know how close he was to dying in any of the overdoses.
Miller started over in 2017, working to find and maintain sobriety under the watchful eye of Bartholomew County Community Corrections officials and Centerstone’s intensive outpatient program.
Introduction to drugs
Growing up in Edinburgh, Miller started abusing drugs in middle and high school, smoking marijuana and stealing prescription pills from relatives.
His drug addiction snowballed to the point that he never finished high school, but he earned a GED while in prison in Miami County for drug charges.
“When you go to prison, you learn a lot more ways to hustle drugs,” Miller said. “You come out well-educated on a lot of new ways to feed your addiction.”
However, he credits his grandmother and her perception of him as the reason for getting clean last year, along with participating in a program at the Bartholomew County Jail called Pops, which teaches inmates how to be a better father and provider for their families. He had been continuing outpatient work with Centerstone, going to meetings as many as six times a week.
“Before, I was selfish. I didn’t care about nobody else’s thoughts or emotions,” he said of the years he was addicted to heroin. “I was hateful and mean.”
After counseling and intensive work in groups, Miller said he learned how to hold down a job and had created a new group of friends. He began thinking about what the next 10 years of his life could be like with continued recovery.
“Timing was everything,” Miller said of chances he had to find a new job and a new life, guided by therapists and counselors who showed him a path that would not lead to his death from a drug overdose, but a chance to have a productive life.
“You gotta want it. It won’t work for you if you don’t want it,” Miller said of recovery.
But it was something a Centerstone therapist said that struck a nerve with him: “If you’re not working on recovery, you’re working on relapse.”
As it turned out, Miller was working toward a relapse.
“This was a personal decision. I knew what I was doing,” Miller said of returning to heroin in December. “I knew what the consequences would be. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Centerstone tries to help people in recovery from relapsing in early treatment by monitoring individuals through increased drug tests and referring them to Relapse Prevention, a once-a-week group that focuses on increasing skills around triggers, coping and addictive thinking, Hilycord said.
Centerstone also recommends people in recovery increase their time with a recovery coach, who can provide a framework for increasing external support, coping with stress and obtaining concrete supports such as housing, health benefits and more, she said.
“The less support you have, the harder it is,” Hilycord said.
People with addictions who are homeless, whose children have been taken away and those who have been abandoned by their family, those who have been abused and assaulted — how motivated can they be to be clean and deal with the problems rather than getting high to numb the pain, she asked.
“Recovery demands a lot and doesn’t necessarily offer a lot in return at the beginning,” Hilycord said of decisions to be in treatment, go to group meetings, give up friends, family ties, sharing with strangers and getting judged.
“We encourage people that if they can hang in there, pleasure will come back. They’ll feel good about themselves in a way they may not have for a long time,” she said. “And things that seem boring or not very exciting now will have more meaning. This comes easier when the brain is more healed as well,” she said.
Caught in addiction
Hilycord said addiction does change the brain and causes euphoric sensations that are craved, but also a strong compulsion to ward off detox or coming down off that euphoria.
“We know it can take up to 18 months or longer for the brain to heal from the effects of drug use. So basically the brain is still primed to use, even when the motivation and desire to stop is there,” she said.
In describing getting clean in 2017, Miller said he began feeling like he was starved and there was a room full of food all around him.
Although he had made new friendships in his recovery groups through Community Corrections, he found that those friends also had begun relapsing into addiction, leading him to consider following that path.
“I had been clean for so long, and I thought I was being deprived,” he said. “And once I started again, I couldn’t stop.”
He said he now knows that there’s no such thing as using heroin just one time.
“I tried it once and it turned into using it for a week straight,” he said.
Although it’s been a few months since he overdosed, Miller said he still felt a little dope-sick after detoxing in the jail following his arrest.
But since he has plenty of time to think while sitting in a jail cell, he is trying to piece together a life plan for after his release, when he will no longer be on probation or required to attend recovery programs.
He plans to seek admission to the jail’s Recovery Works program. This spring, Miller plans to ask for a modification of his sentence to be allowed to return to work release outside the jail, he said.
He wants to apply for a job at a local industry where he worked prior to NTN Driveshaft and said he is fairly sure the company will take him back.
And he plans to return to Centerstone for recovery meetings in the hopes of avoiding another relapse, Miller said.
He is considering enrolling in an inpatient treatment drug-treatment program but is unsure whether he could afford the cost or the time away to participate in it.
“I need to do something to better myself,” he said. “(My son) is almost 3 and he’s my number-one priority. I’m in the process of writing a very hard letter to my sponsors at Centerstone.”
Miller said he knows he needs to explain his actions and apologize and begin again in the recovery process, this time with an understanding of the triggers that could lead to relapse and how to avoid them.
“I’m going to start all the way back over,” he said.
The United States is in the midst of the worst drug epidemic in history.
With alarming frequency, opioids — including prescription drugs, heroin and fentanyl — are killing Americans, including an increasing number in Bartholomew County.
The Republic is taking a yearlong look into the public health crisis that touches nearly every segment of our community and that crosses all socioeconomic lines.
Addicted & Dying will tell the harrowing stories of people with drug addictions and families who have lost loved ones.
We will talk to doctors, addiction specialists, law enforcement officers and others on the front lines battling a problem that is ruining lives and putting mounting pressures on social service agencies, hospitals, the judicial system and the economy.
Beyond that, Addicted & Dying will explore solutions and a path forward — what treatments and approaches work, what communities can do and how to help people in need.
The project begin with a three-part installment in January.
Sunday: The second installment of the series focused on the workforce, including changes that some employers are making in the screening process because of a shortage of workers. For some candidates with drug arrests or other criminal charges on their background check, this new flexibility from some employers increases their chances of being hired.
Today: After a relapse into heroin use, one Columbus factory worker went from having a good-paying job to a 266-day jail sentence.
Got an idea for our project? Contact us as firstname.lastname@example.org or call 812-379-5665.