Editor’s Note: A panel of three speakers discussed multiple facets of Ithaca’s heroin problem during a Q&A with about 50 people at the Tompkins County Public Library Monday evening.
This is the second of three stories about the presentation. Part I is here.
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Bus To Nature: Route 22
ITHACA, N.Y. — Eric Tenorio is a heroin addict who sacrificed almost everything in his life to feed his addiction, including a few close calls on his life.
Tenorio said he has been resuscitated from near-death four times, and has been stabbed and shot at in his quest for more heroin. But that didn’t stop him from using the drug. He said nothing could do that until he was ready to consciously make the choice to get sober.
For him, that happened the day after he signed his divorce papers. He said it was the wake up call he needed to check himself into the Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services program. He’s been sober since December.
He said he was raised in a family that smoked marijuana, drank and did other drugs, such as cocaine, LSD and mushrooms. All his friends did drugs. Five have died from overdoses.
Tenorio was not an exception to his friends or family. He used drugs and abused alcohol, too, he said.
It wasn’t until he started doing heroin, though, that his addiction cost him his six-bedroom house, his marriage and full custody of his two children.
“When you’re using, you make the conscious decision to actually throw those things away and get rid of them,” he said. “That drug has such a hold over you that you just don’t care.”
He said the need for the drug is driven by the desire to not feel sick from withdrawal.
“Imagine having the flu times 10 trillion, and then not caring what you do to make it go away,” he said.
The first time Tenorio got clean was in 1999 and he didn’t use again for 12 or 13 years. Then he started using heroin again and was in and out of rehab for the next few years.
But he said his stay at CARS has been different. He credits the rehabilitation for his sobriety and showing him a new productive and spiritual way to live.
He said he works, reads, exercises, visits with his children and meditates to stay busy or find peace throughout the day.
“Personally I don’t regret getting on drugs at all. It’s gotten me to a point that I never would have got to in my life prior,” he said.
Realizing that is what makes Tenorio’s sobriety feel different this time. He said that this time, he’s going to stay sober.
Jamison Wood, a recovering addict of over five years and representative from the Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County, has a different addiction story.
He said he was an average, middle class guy from a good family. His addiction started after he was prescribed painkillers for a shoulder injury he sustained while playing basketball in college. His reliance on prescription drugs led to him shooting-up heroin.
“It’s kind of mind blowing to think that I would ever do that,” he said.
He said he now works with people to help them kick primarily opioid addiction.
The men said their differences are a prime example of how heroin addiction is not prone to one gender, race, economic class or “type” of person.
But the drug impacts people the same way.
Narcotics investigator Kevin McKenna, of the Ithaca Police Department, said addicts are easy to pick out of a crowd.
He said people have a more pale complexion, a “certain look” on their face, and many have MRSA, a staph infection caused by skin-to-skin contact.
Wood added that addicts can feel euphoric when they first use the drug, but then feel lethargic and sleepy.
Tenorio said that he’s seen people with runny noses and watery eyes vomiting frequently. He said people will often make or receive constant phone calls and sleep constantly.
“There’s a lot of red flags, huge red flags,” he said.