There is no “typical heroin user,” said Stephanie Sunderland-Ramsey, a program coordinator with Wayside Youth and Family Support Network in Watertown.
She has seen people from all backgrounds, races and income levels who have become addicted to heroin and other opiates.
“Anybody can become addicted to opiates,” said Sunderland-Ramsey, who said many people first become addicted to some sort of opiate given by doctors for pain relief – often following a surgery.
Melanie St. Pierre, a prevention specialist with Wayside, said she has seen a pattern.
“People start out with a legitimate prescription for a legitimate purpose,” Sunderland-Ramsey said. “They get addicted and they try to get more (prescription medicine) but it is expensive so people turn to heroin.”
Sunderland-Ramsey wants to reduce the stigma.
“When you see a heroin addict that person started as you – someone wearing a suit going to work, wearing a backpack going to AP class or a mom – and they had their wisdom teeth extracted,” Sunderland-Ramsey said.
Sunderland-Ramsey often hears about the cases only when they have a tragic ending. From 2010-2013 there were 19 drug-related deaths in Watertown, with 11 more suspected ones that remain under review.
Sunderland Ramsey said they look much like the town population. They range from age 18-56, with most between 35 and 50 years old. Two were Hispanic, one was African-American and the others were white, she said. Half were female and half male.
In an effort to prevent people from becoming addicted to prescription painkillers, such as oxycodone, Sunderland-Ramsey said people do not have to take all the pills in a prescription.
“In pain management, people should be aware of the pain and only take them when needed,” she said.
This is a part of the Watertown News series about the impact of heroin on the community. Read previous stories here: