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Voices for Recovery


Pam Day (05/08/2009)

Pam Day cradled her 19-year-old daughter.

Ciara Bishop could no longer stand, the pain twisting her insides. She retched, her muscles spasmed and her mind whirled with panic attacks.

Her mother bathed her, massaged her and rocked her. Nothing eased the agony.

For five days it went on this way: A pale, thin Ciara curled up on the den floor and cried out for help.

"To watch your child go through that, to hold her, just to hear her scream, I couldn't bear it," Pam recalled. "I had no idea the monster I was about to have to ride."

Out of work, out of money for drugs and too sick from the violent withdrawal to do anything but want to die, Ciara admitted to her mother that she was a heroin addict, shooting up as many as 14 times a day.

The treatment centers were all full or too expensive, so she turned to her mother instead.

Please, she begged. Can you help?

Ciara is the country's new face of heroin: a young, white suburbanite whose addiction began at 15 with prescription painkillers her boyfriend stole from his father's medicine cabinet.

Counselors at Maryhaven, central Ohio's largest addiction treatment center, said that in the past 18 months alone, the Columbus agency has seen a steadily increasing number of adolescents who admit to opiate use.

Statistics from publicly funded treatment centers show the number of people seeking treatment for opiate addiction has increased by 300 percent in a decade.

Some central Ohio doctors say they are seeing at least two teenagers, sometimes more, come to their office each week to talk about a pill or heroin problem.

And officials at both publicly and privately funded facilities agree that young, well-educated white suburban residents are driving the increase, according to the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services.

"The bottom line is, if you think your community is immune, think again," said department spokesman Eric Wandersleben.

Once a fresh-faced tomboy with a passion for volleyball and a knack for fishing, Ciara, now 22, comes from a family that has lived in Groveport her whole life, the past seven years in the same split-level home on the cul-de-sac of a middle-class neighborhood.

Pam, 43, has worked at AT&T for a decade, and Brian, her husband of 17 years, clocks in every day at Groveport Town Hall.

They thought they had it all, despite signs of trouble. By 11th grade, Ciara was failing school and cutting class. But she always made her 9 o'clock curfew and called to check in several times whenever she went out. So they chalked up her failure to her lifelong struggle to focus, and they let her quit school in hopes that she would earn a general-education diploma.

By the time Ciara was 18, she admitted her pill problem, and after she spent five days in rehab, everyone thought things would turn tidy once again.

Chadd Michael Jordan was six years older than his baby sister, and he thought that gave him the right -- the duty, even -- to guide her.

"Even in their secrets, they stuck together," Pam said. "It is hard to understand, but that's how it was."

By the time tough love kicked in and Pam kicked Ciara out of the house at age 20, brother and sister were using drugs together all the time. The street market for prescription drugs is expensive, with one OxyContin pill going for as much as $80, and Ciara was gobbling up four every day.

Heroin is much cheaper and there's plenty more of it, and adults can buy syringes at any drugstore now. So Ciara made the switch.

She and her brother rented a room at a Worthington hotel and Ciara fed their habit by earning money as a stripper. Slow nights brought her $400. A good one brought double that.

They talked to Pam regularly, but visits were rare.

"We were breaking my mom's heart, and it was too hard to watch that," Ciara said. "So we stayed away and did our thing."

On April 1 last year, Ciara had put in a full shift of dancing, and she and her brother needed a fix. It was about 5 a.m.

Something was wrong. Chadd was sweating heavily. He couldn't focus on his sister. He said his arm was numb.

Then Ciara noticed his speech was slurred. Within minutes, he could barely talk.

Ciara said she panicked as he begged her to shoot him up. All he needed, he told her, was his drug. So she got a syringe ready and drew up heroin from a little foil bowl. Even as she feared he was dying, she helped her brother get high.

By the time a squad arrived, the stroke had gripped him firmly. Doctors blamed a blood infection tied to his heroin use.

Just before Chadd died at Mount Carmel East hospital on April 5, 2008, Ciara made him a promise: "I bent over and whispered in his ear, 'I love you, Bub. I will get clean. I promise you.'? ? "

Ciara hasn't used heroin since May 5. She visits a methadone clinic on 11th Avenue every Monday and pays $150 for a week's worth of the drug that treatment officials say is better for her than heroin.

She is one of 938 in the methadone program at CompDrug, and 1,200 are on a waiting list.

She has worked hard to break her old habits and to stay away from bad people, places and things, she said. But that means she doesn't stray far from home.

The methadone zaps her energy, so she sleeps a lot and spends time each day studying the Bible. She attends a church recovery group every Friday night, and she and her mother lead a grief group on Mondays.

Judy Colegrove is Ciara's 12-step sponsor. She said that Ciara's faith in God sustains her.

"Ciara doesn't get up in the morning wondering if this is the day she will fall," Colegrove said. "She gets up in the morning knowing this is the day she'll survive."

Ciara knows she will have to work again one day and reconnect with society. She aims for college and hopes to become a counselor. She is trying to reconcile a lingering misdemeanor criminal charge from her days as a drug user.

For now, she settles for regular visits to an area middle school to share her story with students. And at least once a day, she ventures out her back door, through the back gate and across the road to Groveport Cemetery.

Chadd is buried there in a spot his family can see from its property.

"I feel like he gave his life for me," Ciara said. "My brother died so that I would turn my life around."

If she ever feels weak, if she ever wavers, her view of the cemetery reminds her: The family doesn't have just one plot there. It has two.


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