It’s not easy to talk about addiction problems in one’s family, but it must be done, according to Brian Swingle, Flemington council vice president and police commissioner. As he sees it, it is the only hope the community has of solving the heroin epidemic that is killing young lives across the state.
“Keeping silent about it is a death knell. If you don’t want to speak about it, you are doing no one any good, not the community, not the addict,” Swingle said.
Swingle said while Hunterdon County’s death toll is not in the double digits as it is in Ocean County, it has still doubled since 2012.
Overcoming the problem of opiate addiction in New Jersey communities is going to take more than each family trying to deal with the problem on its own, he said — instead it requires community effort which begins with awareness.
“Many parents don’t want to openly speak about it while they are in the middle of the problem because they see it as a dirty little secret. But sadly, you will then see them openly crying and wailing once they’ve lost their child,” Swingle said.
Swingle has spoken openly about the struggle he and his family endured during the last six years since his daughter became addicted to heroin at the age of 15 when her boyfriend at the time introduced her to the substance, never telling her what it was.
He is featured in a documentary released earlier this year called “Pills to Heroin: The Domino Effect,” produced by the Safe Communities Coalition of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, and filmed, directed and edited by Harry Hillard, an independent documentary filmmaker based in Somerville.
The 14-minute film will be featured at a town hall meeting on heroin use in Central Jersey at 7 p.m. Oct. 21 at the Somerset Valley YMCA, 2 Green St., Somerville. The town hall is part of an ongoing community effort to draw attention to the heroin use problem that continues to consume lives in Central Jersey and throughout the state.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, there were 752 overdoses statewide in 2009, with 389 — or 51 percent — involving heroin. The alliance says that in 2009, Hunterdon had three overdoses, Middlesex had 73, and Somerset had 12 — and that the numbers continue to grow each year.
Between 1990 and 2008, drug overdose death rates in the United States tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug deaths in New Jersey increased 20 percent between 2010 and 2011, driven mostly by prescription painkillers and heroin, according to a New Jersey Commission of Investigation report, “Scenes From An Epidemic.”
There is also a financial toll put on society.
In the U.S., illicit drug use cost $193 billion in the areas of crime, health care and work productivity in 2007, the latest data available, according to the Department of Justice.
Experts agree that heroin’s rise can be traced back to the surge of prescription painkillers on the market the last 20 years. But as prescription drugs become harder to obtain through tightening controls, heroin has become a cheaper, more potent and increasingly popular high.
But the numbers only tell part of the story. The other part — the human part — is told by Swingle, who speaks about the changes he saw in his daughter’s behavior as she fell deeper into the clutches of a heroin addiction. At one point, he said, she had turned into “a monster.”
The journey back
After a series of setbacks, his daughter Jessica Bogdanski, 21 is now free of heroin since May 26, 2012 and living in Fort Lauderdale. She works as a freelance graphic and traditional artist, but she said the struggle to remain free of her addiction is with her every day.
“My boyfriend at the time had given me a substance and a month went by before I realized it was heroin, I thought it was Xanax, ” Bogdanski said.
She said even after the first use, she noticed the next day that she began to long for more.
“From the very first use, you’re always chasing that first high,” she said.
Because she was hyperactive and could not easily rest her mind, she said she enjoyed the effect of heroin, not realizing that she was sinking deeper into the addiction.
“At one point I actually felt it was helping me. It would ground and focus me. It kept me focused while I was doing my homework and I found I wasn’t getting distracted,” she said.
Bogdanski said that after several rounds of rehabilitation and psychological counseling, she has come to realize that she was self-medicating.
“Because I was so hyperactive, the drug brought me down to normal. I actually felt that I was a happier, more pleasant person to be around,” she said.
But chasing the good feeling the drug offered became the primary focus of her life.
“I know now that I put everyone in my family through hell and I have a lot of guilt over it,” she said.
She said she came to a realization that she was in deep trouble.
“I got so sick of being sick. I found myself in this hell where I couldn’t function without this substance. I felt helpless. I knew I was either going to get help, or die,” she said.
Swingle said he spent thousands of dollars on rehabilitation for his daughter and the first time, it failed.
Bogdanski said the first rehabilitation center overmedicated her and turned her into a zombie. After being released, she relapsed, but the second center — Palm Partners in Del Ray Beach, Fla. — offered her a different experience.
“They allowed me to breathe and grow. It didn’t feel like being in a hospital and there were a lot of programs and activities,” she said.
She added that she was fortunate in that her five-month stay was covered by her insurance plan.
She said she chooses to live in Florida now because the awareness and approach to addiction is very different from New Jersey.
Palm Partners offers alumni meetings every week and a monthly barbecue which she attends. She said overall there are more support services in the state.
“In New Jersey you don’t have a lot of rehab centers, but here, if I have a craving at 1 a.m. in the morning, there is a meeting available,” Bogdanski said.
She said she is not fooling herself — she realizes that in terms of the rest of her life, she is at the very beginning of the journey toward a new life and she can never let her guard down.
“When you are a drug addict you have to be extremely careful. You can find yourself rationalizing and it can start with the simplest thing — like saying I can just have a glass of wine, that won’t affect me,” she said.
Bogdanski said what she has learned is that every day she has to be aware of putting something between her and her addiction.
Toward that goal, she is immersing herself in her art and graphic work. She said she has a special love for surrealism and the mediums of water color and oil.
For Swingle, looking back he realizes that no matter how difficult it was, he kept pressing forward. He also learned that when he thought he was helping his daughter, he was really pushing her deeper into trouble.
“She’s my daughter, so I would never give up on her. But what I realized eventually was that I was engaging in co-dependent behavior with her,” he said. “I thought I could fix anything.”
While it’s difficult to know what to do, Swingle said he finally realized the more he supported his daughter financially, the easier he made it for her to maintain her heroin addiction.
“After her first relapse in 2012, she was an adult and I realized that if I continued to hold her hand and fix everything I was going to kill her so I pulled myself back and let her go out there on her own,” Swingle said.
After a few weeks of living on people’s couches, Bogdanski again sought help.
“Some parents will say that all they are providing is food and shelter, but by doing that they are taking away the need for the addict to earn money for food and shelter,” Swingle said. “Then they shift their resources and spend whatever they have on more drugs.”
Bogdanski said she also realizes now as she looks back, that when parents think they are helping the addict, they are actually enabling them to fall deeper into trouble.
“Often in the process of trying to help,” she said, “you are taking away their bottom.” Article Link…