Three years ago this month, Dustin walked out of jail in Asheville, NC, and headed straight to a nearby drug rehab clinic. He had a bag of clothes over one shoulder and an old TV under the other. It was a drill he knew as well as anyone; for 20 years, he’d been cycling through lockup and detox, between dead-end jobs and nearly life-ending ones, all in service of his heroin addiction.
This time felt different. Nearing 40, he’d lost all interest in the addict’s life, the exhaustion, the lying, the cost and periodic horror, the nearness of death. During the months behind bars, alone in his own head, he’d also begun to believe he had special powers, like the ability to see through walls and to visualize others’ thoughts.
Peers’ experience and inside knowledge are what give our service credibility with callers. Dustin can usually establish rapport with callers in minutes. They can feel who he is, where he’s been, over the phone. He listens, and so do they.
That he’s here at all defies any odds. His drug use started in high school when he was prescribed Percocet, an opiate, for a football injury. He took one a day, then two, and soon was switched to Oxycontin, the legal heroin peddled by Perdue Pharma that helped create a vast market of addicts and a growing army of dealers, including doctors, pharmacists, and big pharma, like J&J.
The pills were easy to get, and by the time he got out of college, Dustin was taking 15 to 20 a day. He held it together, barely, through a year of teaching elementary school in Florida.
That’s when the bottom fell out. State and federal officials began to limit opiate prescribing after 2012, and Dustin, like hundreds of thousands of Americans, turned in desperation to heroin. No more teaching 4th graders, not like this. He went the other direction, south to Miami and to the club scene and its underground economy of drugs, escorts, deals gone wrong, and gangs.
“For a while, I was living out of my storage space in the winter,” he said. “I had to get high just to stay warm.”
Days later came his last arrest (trespassing), his subsequent psychosis, and after release, the 72-hour psych ward confinement. There the delusions dissipated, and in their place, he discovered a grim commitment. “I don’t know if it was my age, or the bad relationships, or just the years – twenty years,” he said. “Most heroin addicts don’t last more than five.”
It was different this time. After leaving the hospital, he got support from his parents to enter long-term rehab in Georgia and completed a 90-day program. He returned to Asheville clean and, through a mutual friend, connected with the GPS.
“Everyone’s story is different, you know, like I came from a good, supportive middle-class family – there was none of the childhood trauma so many people have,” he said. “But I sure know what psychosis is, how powerful it is. I know what it means to do time, to live as an addict, all that. And I remember that when I was trying to find help all those years, I could not find anyone who’d gone through what I had."
“That’s why I think that experience is so important for the GPS. You’re not calling someone who’s answering phones for a paycheck. No, you’re getting someone who knows exactly what you’re going through and who cares.”