A daily struggle

Just a few years ago, Katelyn Crouse was shooting heroin into veins that she dug around with a needle to find and feeling like she wanted to die.

“Even after a year clean, I still question myself every day,” Crouse said. “My goal, daily, is that I am not using today. I have to remind myself. Every day.”

It’s a struggle, but one that Crouse is winning with the help of Celebrate Recovery, a Christian-based addiction recovery program through Community Church of Columbus.

Crouse, 25, who lives with her family in Bartholomew County, learned about Celebrate Recovery while incarcerated in the Bartholomew County Jail and now continues to be active attending meetings, church services and other events. She said such activities have helped her pull away from the local drug culture and move on to a new path.

Young adults such as Crouse have become the new face of heroin addiction across the United States, including what’s gripping Columbus and Bartholomew County.

Four adults died of heroin overdoses between late February and mid-March. A 29-year-old Columbus man was the first to die, followed by a 21-year-old Columbus woman, a 36-year-old Taylorsville man and a 31-year-old Taylorsville woman.

In the most recent death Friday night, the Taylorsville woman was found in a truck in the 10000 block of Jolene Drive of Taylorsville and was believed to have been dead for 24 hours before she was found, Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher said.

Just last week, a 25-year-old mother overdosed inside her car in a Columbus residential driveway — with three children younger than age 5 also inside. Heroin is suspected, and Christina Wilson was saved when a city police officer administered the antidote drug Narcan.

Using Narcan to save overdose victims has become a frequent occurrence. In the past year, more than a dozen people in Bartholomew County who overdosed on drugs were spared from death by the antidote.

Anyone who believes that heroin addicts are only found in back alleys of big cities or far away from Columbus should realize that heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs are readily available close to home, Crouse said.

Crouse said her Columbus suppliers were often her friends, some whom were dealing drugs for others, who often would share drugs for free to get individuals hooked and create addictions that would need to be fed and paid for later.

The college student readily admits she was a troubled teenager when growing up, jumping from high school to high school when she got into trouble for various offenses — some of them drug-related.

There were stints at Columbus Christian, East, North and McDowell McDowell Education Center, all in Columbus, as well as Triton Central High School in Shelby County; and Greenfield-Central High School in Hancock County, before she finally earned a high school degree from Liberty Christian Academy in Seymour.

“I was a hellion,” Crouse said.

How drug use began

Crouse traces her rebellion, anger and fear back to her mother dying in a car accident when she was age 5 and being raised by an alcoholic father. She describes her first addiction as being one of attraction to unhealthy relationships.

It was those relationships that led her from stealing pain pills out of medicine cabinets at friends’ homes as a young teenager to a full-blown heroin addiction by her early 20s.

Crouse remembers her first introduction to opioid medication.

When Crouse was about 15 years old, her father had been injured in a fire. He was prescribed what she described as an industrial-sized bottle of OxyContin. She began to raid the pills for her boyfriend, and then tried for herself.

Throughout the different high school experiences, Crouse said when she or someone else became injured, it was common to get hydrocodone or other painkillers from friends. If the medication wasn’t readily available, the teens would go through their parents’ medicine cabinets to get some, she said.

“I didn’t think of myself as physically addicted,” Crouse said. “It used to be fun — let loose with friends. I did not realize what it was leading to.”

During her senior year of high school, she moved in with a cousin in Columbus, which she said allowed her drug use to escalate. She described that time period as staying up all night drinking and doing pills.

When her grades slipped, she moved on to the high school in Greenfield and new friends there who also supported and encouraged her drug habit.

Relationships came and went, and soon she was experimenting with cocaine and Ecstasy. Cocaine is a stimulant that produces a short-term burst of euphoria and energy, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Ecstasy, sometimes called “Molly,” is a synthetic drug that also is a stimulant that alters mood and perception.

She was in another relationship by then, and decided to move to Florida, even though she had not yet finished high school.

She took a job at a Florida bar waiting tables, describing the move as a way to run away from her problems. But it also proved to be a location where she dove deeper into the drug culture.

Workers at the restaurant introduced her to Roxies, the nickname for Roxicodone, an addictive narcotic pain medication that Crouse said she used to keep going on long shifts. She was eventually evicted from the home she rented in Florida, and was forced to call her father, who drove to Florida to pick her up. At age 20, she returned to Columbus, where drinking, pain pills and Roxie abuse escalated.

“My tolerance was so high. I realized I was taking too much, so I would lay off a day or two from using it, but then it would be worse,” she said.

But then her father was diagnosed with a brain tumor, causing Crouse to again increase her drinking and pill popping. She explained that friends gave her drugs as a way of providing support.

“My friends were giving me things — they would say they were here for me,” she said.

“It’s how addicts operate,” she said. “Misery loves company.”

When her father died, she came into a substantial amount of money, something that Crouse said led her to experiment with heroin.

“I was so sick and miserable,” she said of the drug use. “I was sitting in my apartment with my friends — someone from work was staying with me — and they wanted to go to Indy before work and buy heroin,” she said. “So he comes back from Indy, and it was on from there.”

She started mixing heroin with Fentanyl, which is a powerful synthetic opiate analgesic that is used to treat severe pain. She also started snorting Xanax, an anxiety medication, in addition to the heroin, which users believe intensifies the high — describing the behavior as a way to simply be numb.

There was no problem getting any or all of it in Columbus, Crouse said, and some of it was given to her free.

“They know you’re going to come back and buy it later,” Crouse said. “That’s why they give it to you.”

By now, Crouse’s family and some of her friends were telling her she was getting too far into the drugs. She had been arrested a couple times for driving her car while intoxicated and was doing increasing amounts of heroin, including cutting it with melatonin, a hormone commonly used to help someone fall asleep, leading to numbness.

“I didn’t care if I died,” she said of the drug abuse. “I just did not care.”

When she was 22, she began shooting heroin into her veins.

Once she did that, she said she was forced to continue because she couldn’t get high any other way.

“I hated shooting up,” Crouse said. “I was miserable, and I hated it.”

But once she started, she said, there was no going back. She found herself in a cycle, doing meth to achieve energy and stay awake and then using heroin to come down, she said.

“A lot of people are cross addicts,” she said. “Generally, most people don’t do just one thing. It’s scary.”

One of the low points came when Crouse, who was to be a bridesmaid at her younger sister’s wedding, failed to show up at pre-wedding events and slept through the wedding until there was only an hour left of the reception.

“I was extremely high — and I told everyone I had been shooting heroin and needed help,” she said.

Two days later, her family put her in rehab in Indianapolis, along with her boyfriend, because there were no inpatient programs in Columbus.

Kicking the habit

In three weeks, Crouse and her boyfriend left the rehab facility after a dispute over smoking, and Crouse said she managed to stay clean for about two weeks. But then she went back to Roxie, and from there, back to heroin. This time it was black tar heroin cut with Fentanyl.

This form of heroin, produced most often in Mexico, is characterized by its dark color and burnt tire-like smell, which results from crude processing methods that leave behind impurities in the drug, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse. The impurities and unknown quantity of actual heroin in the concoction make it particularly dangerous, the agency reports on its website.

Because Crouse was still on probation from the previous operating-while-intoxicated charges, she was required to report to her probation officer for ongoing drug tests, which she failed. And then she was picked up on a theft charge for taking a bottle of tanning lotion from a tanning salon.

Her probation officer had seen enough.

“She threw me in jail,” Crouse said.

It was April 8, 2014, her late father’s birthday, the day she now notes as her sobriety anniversary.

She was offered some help in jail through addiction programming, which she initially refused. Crouse said she remembers thinking at the time that she planned to get out of jail and then begin using drugs again.

But that changed, when Crouse embarked on three weeks of cold-turkey heroin withdrawal while in jail, she said.

Symptoms of cold-turkey heroin withdrawal are brutal, consisting of pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes and involuntary muscle spasms. Her withdrawal was so severe she could only subsist on broth and the physical symptoms meant she needed to wear diapers and take as many as five showers a day while in jail.

“I begged them to put me in the infirmary, but they wouldn’t,” she said. “I saw people having seizures when they were going through it. It wasn’t that they (jail personnel) didn’t care, but they wanted us to suffer through the withdrawal,” she said.

The agony of that withdrawal led her to a decision.

If the withdrawal was what happened when she stopped using, she was not going to use drugs again, she said.

Crouse decided to take her decision one step further and attend Celebrate Recovery program meetings at the jail, if for no other reason than to get out of the cell block.

As she approached her release from jail six months later, Crouse agreed to return home to live with Jennifer Everroad, who had lived with Crouse’s father while she was growing up and had filled a mother role for her.

Everroad remembers exchanging letters with Crouse while she was in jail, and Everroad tried to visit her once, but Crouse did not want anyone to see her in withdrawal.

The letters made Everroad realize some things about Crouse’s addiction.

“People say, ‘Well why don’t you just stop?’ Everroad said. “She couldn’t.”

Crouse continued to participate in Celebrate Recovery meetings, learning she had to give up all the people and things that surrounded her when she was addicted to heroin. She learned instead to choose what her new supporters were offering — sobriety, goals and a healthy lifestyle.

“I had so much guilt about the things I had done,” Crouse said of what she needed to talk about in the meetings, and what she needed to tell her family about her addiction.

But she came to understand that those who were counseling “got her,” and she could talk to them about anything.

“They hold me to a higher standard than I hold myself to,” she said. “They pushed me.”

Pulling things together

As Crouse’s lifestyle changed, so did her family relationships — for the better.

She began to cry as she talked about re-establishing her relationship with her younger sister and picking up her nephews from school, things that could have never happened when she was using drugs.

She and Everroad now have the mother-daughter relationship that Everroad had always hoped for, and Crouse didn’t realize until now that she needed.

“She is my best friend,” she said of Everroad. “She was a mother to me when I didn’t want her there. She’s the woman I want to be someday.”

Crouse lives with Everroad, who is a nurse, at their

rural Bartholomew County home, sharing life there with her half-brother.

Crouse has a job as a server at a local restaurant and she made the dean’s list her first semester at IUPUC, in fall 2015, something she didn’t think was possible.

She and her half brother now have a close relationship, and she talks to him honestly about what she did in her life.

“I tell him I’m a recovering IV heroin addict — so he knows what that is and that it doesn’t happen to him,” she said.

Crouse is majoring in psychology, and after IUPUC graduation plans to get her master’s degree, and then perhaps open a halfway house in Columbus to help recovering addicts.

“That’s a big dream, but I’m a dreamer,” she said.

On April 8, she will celebrate two years of being drug and alcohol free.

Everroad said Crouse’s family never gave up hope she would find her way back to sobriety, because she had such potential.

“I’ve always known she could do it,” Everroad said of the young woman whom she considers her daughter. “She is such a bright child. I think her parents would be proud of her.”

Some people might have said she was hopeless, Everroad said of Crouse. “But in my heart, we never gave up hope.”

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What: A Christ-centered, 12-step program incorporating Eight Recovery Principles staffed by volunteers, offered through Community Church of Columbus. “Open to men and women who have a “hurt, habit or hang-up.”

Offered: The support model offers services for those who are struggling with addiction or harmful habits in a wide range of subjects, including alcohol, drugs and more. Meetings are available at Community Downtown, 522 Seventh St. and at the church at 3850 Marr Road. Groups are also available for inmates inside the Bartholomew County Jail called CR Inside for Men and CR Inside For Women.

For families: An Insight Group is offered for people who have someone in their life struggling with addiction. The group meets at Community Church of Columbus at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays with childcare provided.

To learn more: Visit cccolumbus.org, email [email protected] or call 812-348-6257.

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To learn more about community resources dealing with addiction, call 211. The service will put you in touch with services in South Central Indiana, including those in Bartholomew, Brown, Decatur, Jackson, Jennings, Orange, Scott and Washington counties.

For more information about drug rehabilitation services in Columbus, call Centerstone, 720 N. Marr Road, at 812-314-3400. Centerstone’s Crisis Line is at 800-832-5442.

Community Church of Columbus and its Celebrate Recovery program offers referrals to addiction programs. The church can be reached at 812-348-6257 or by visiting cccolumbus.org.

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Series of quotes from Katelyn Crouse:

“It used to be fun — let loose with friends. I did not realize what it was leading to.”

“I hated shooting up. I was miserable and I hated it.”

“I didn’t care if I died. I just did not care.”

“Even after a year clean, I still question myself every day.”