After seven attempts recovering from a heroin addiction, Caitlyn Collins lived in a car and hadn’t seen her young son in months.
She had been kicked out of her apartment and had stolen from her parents.
“I wasn’t depressed, none of that. I don’t have that sad story that made me want to use. I just did it,” Collins said. She described her struggle with addiction — her first use was at age 12 — to an overflow crowd at Centra Lynchburg General Hospital on Tuesday.
After an arrest and her eighth go at recovery, including treatment in Lynchburg and moving into a recovery home, Collins is three years sober.
She lives on her own, is in school with plans to go to Old Dominion University. She sees her son often. She told her story Tuesday as part of Attorney General Mark Herring’s campaign to bring awareness to the heroin and opioid epidemic besieging communities throughout the state and nation and hope for recovery.
“I found freedom is basically what it comes down to,” Collins said.
Herring said preliminary 2015 statistics from the state medical examiner show a 40 percent rise in heroin deaths from 728 in 2014. Prescription overdoses were about the same as 2014, although the medical examiner’s office still has cases to review, he said.
An overflow crowd was the largest group screening of “Heroin: The Hardest Hit” a documentary produced by the AG’s office, according to AG staffer Brittany Anderson. The 40-minute film featured families talking about their loved ones who died by heroin or opioid overdose.
“This is cutting across every geographic and socioeconomic divide there is. Heroin doesn’t care where you’re from. It’s happening in urban areas. It’s happening in suburban areas. It’s happening in rural areas. … It’s incredibly addictive,” Herring said, adding his office is focused on prevention and education as part of a plan to fend off the epidemic. A shorter 30-minute version is in the works to be coupled with curriculum for schools, Anderson said.
“The old message of ‘drugs are bad, just don’t do them,’ is not really effective,” Herring said.
Brent McCraw, Centra director of addiction and recovery services, said overdoses have risen as opioids have become more common through increased prescriptions. He said people using the drug through snorting and smoking also perpetuates the drug’s use.
In an interview, Herring described a common path to addiction. An individual receives a legal prescription. After the prescription runs out, people look for more and find heroin, which is cheaper and more potent. Leftover medication often is stolen or otherwise diverted, McCraw said.
The documentary followed with a call to action to the community members, medical and mental health professionals, law enforcement, and nonprofit organizations, which all had representatives in the room. Anyone interested is invited to attend a forum from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. June 14 at Centra.
The Attorney General’s Office plan includes punishing those who “profit off of addiction,” including dealers, traffickers and medical professionals who make prescriptions available illegally.
Along with prevention, Herring and many in the medical community want focus on treatment for the individual.
“We are not going to be able to arrest our way out of this,” Herring said. “It’s important to expand those treatment and recovery options, so when someone who is suffering from an addiction is ready to take that step there are services and there’s a lot of people with very caring hearts who are ready, willing and able to help.”