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Posted on Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

JoAnna's story: How heroin almost killed her and still tries to steal her soul

By Cindy Heflin


JoAnna's arm still bears the marks of her drug addiction. Memories of her former life make her determined not to go back. "I might be having a hard day now, but it was a lot harder when I was panhandling in below-zero windchill," JoAnna says.

Melanie Maxwell |

Editor's note: JoAnna is a young woman who grew up in the Chelsea area and now lives in Ann Arbor. She agreed to tell her story of heroin addiction in the hope that it might help others struggling with addiction and in the hope it might warn young people away from heroin and other drugs. is not using her last name or that of her aunt in order to protect their privacy. This is the first of two stories on heroin in Washtenaw County.

JoAnna has been to hell and back, and she’s determined not to make the journey again. The first trip almost killed her. Along the way, she lost her mother, succumbed to prostitution, worked as a thief, went to jail and tried to kill herself.

Heroin was the demon that sent her to the underworld of crime and desperation, and heroin still sings its siren song, trying to lure her back. But JoAnna is determined not to listen. She knows there’s nothing to be gained from heeding the call and everything to lose. But resisting it will be a lifelong battle.

JoAnna’s story is one that’s become all too familiar to police and substance abuse professionals in Washtenaw County and in Michigan. Michigan State Police statistics show the number of arrests related to heroin increased 80 percent in Washtenaw County from 2007 to 2010, the latest year for which data is available.

The number of arrests for heroin sales and manufacturing increased 375 percent during the same period.

Law enforcement agencies in Washtenaw County say the increase in heroin abuse stems from several factors, among them an increasing and cheap supply of heroin in the area and a growing prescription drug addiction problem. Many people who become hooked on prescription opiates, such as OxyContin and codeine, eventually switch to heroin because it's cheaper.

Heroin abuse carries with it many health risks, including infectious diseases, such as hepatitis and AIDS, among others. The most immediate risk is from overdose, which can be fatal.

Deaths from heroin overdose have been rising in recent years. In Washtenaw County, 20 people died from heroin overdoses in 2011. That's up from 10 in 2010, five in 2009 and four in 2008. Comparatively, the number who died from all forms of drug overdose has been growing much more slowly. That number was 69 in both 2010 and 2011, 59 in 2009 and 53 in 2008.

The local figures mirror a statewide trend. In 2007, 104 people died in Michigan from overdoses involving heroin or heroin in combination with other drugs. In 2008, the figure was 193. By 2009, the last year for which statistics are available, it was 225.

JoAnna, now 21, understands these risks. Avoiding them is what motivates her to stay clean — that and the desire to live like "a normal person." She still bears the scars from her past life. Needle tracks are visible along her arms, and she has some unresolved health problems. But her story is one of hope, proof that addicts can break the stranglehold of heroin.

The descent into addiction

JoAnna began her journey to addiction with alcohol and marijuana. She was 13. While in high school, she partied a lot. One day a friend offered her some heroin. “She was like, you know, ‘try this.’” JoAnna tried it. She liked the feeling.

At first, she only used it occasionally. But gradually, she began using more and more. She started out snorting heroin, but eventually switched to injecting.

“At some point it became an everyday thing where I started having withdrawal symptoms.” She was 15. She had just finished 10th grade at Chelsea High School. She never went back.

In the meantime, her mother, who had struggled her whole life with drug addiction, also began using heroin. JoAnna introduced her to it.

“My mom asked me what I was on and I told her, and she was like, ‘I want to try it. … and she tried it and she liked it."

For a while, she and her mom cleaned houses to make money to pay the bills and feed their drug habits. But JoAnna’s addiction was growing. It got so bad she couldn’t work anymore. She began having withdrawal symptoms every morning that lasted until she got high.

Meanwhile, the person who was selling her drugs in the Grass Lake area where she lived was arrested. A friend told her about someone in the Ypsilanti area who sold drugs. So she started going there to buy from him. Soon she was going every day.

The dealer showed her a new way to get money for drugs: Steal from stores and sell the stuff on the street. But that required a car to transport the stolen goods. So for long stretches of time, she turned to panhandling to get the money she needed for drugs.

“It became what I did every day to get drugs,” she said. Most days she begged for money on the Rawsonville Road exit ramp from Interstate 94, in every season, in all kinds of weather.

“When my habit was really bad, I would usually stand out there until I got $80. It would take a few hours, but sometimes it might take an hour, and sometimes I could stand out there all day and barely have $10.” Twice, she got a $100 bill.

For a while, she worked at a car wash. Someone who saw her panhandling had offered her the job. But she said her wages ended up being only about $3 an hour, so she quit.

Addiction takes her mom

Meanwhile, her mom had gone to jail after being charged with receiving stolen property. She got out after about three months and spent a couple of days with JoAnna.

“We had a really fun time,” JoAnna said. She had always been close to her mother and was especially glad to see her after being apart from her for several months.

“We didn’t have a mother-daughter relationship like the way a daughter should respect her mother, but we were best friends,” JoAnna said.

JoAnna’s mom spent two nights with her at her Ypsilanti area home. The morning after the second night, JoAnna got up and thought her mom was still sleeping. She had complained the day before about being very tired. Eventually, she went to check on her and discovered she had died in the night

JoAnna said she and her mother had used heroin, but she said it was Fentanyl that caused her overdose. Her mother was using prescription Fentanyl patches for pain. She had been taking the highest possible dose, JoAnna said. But while in jail, she had been off the patches for three months. When she started up again at that high dose, her body couldn’t take it, JoAnna said.

After her mother’s death, JoAnna’s life began spiraling downhill even faster than before.

“I went to the funeral, but I had to get high first,” JoAnna said. “Everything revolved around that.” She even stole from family members at the funeral.

After the funeral, things got really bad, JoAnna said. She was panhandling still. She eventually agreed to serve as a prostitute to one man after rejecting many similar propositions.

During this period she got a car from another man she had met while panhandling. That allowed her to return to shoplifting as her primary source of income. She began stealing shopping carts full of beer and baskets full of meat from grocery stores, and then selling the goods to people in the area who were eager to buy goods at a cut-rate price - and not worried about where the merchandise originated.

“I didn’t care if I got caught at the store. I was going to get my money whatever way I had to,” she said.

A family's struggle to save her


JoAnna at her aunt's home in Ann Arbor, where she's slowly rebuilding her life.

Melanie Maxwell |

At the height of her addiction, JoAnna got a call from her aunt Liz one day in June. Her aunt said something was wrong with her twin sister, but she wouldn’t tell her what. She told JoAnna to meet her and some other family members at a restaurant.

Worried about her sister, JoAnna said she started “freaking out.” When she got to the restaurant, she thought things were a little strange. “I was only four minutes late and they had already eaten. As soon as I sat down my aunt took my purse, and she said ‘this is about you’ and she gave me a hug.”

JoAnna cried and told her aunt, “I know you’re right.” She went to her aunt’s home in Ann Arbor and stayed for a couple of days, but said she didn’t know how to be clean. She couldn't stand the withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, sweating and chills. “I ended up trying to leave, but they did everything they could to stop me.”

She did leave. She called the man who had given her the car and asked for some money and the spare key. He brought them, and she went to get heroin. Her family begged her to come home. She did, but after a couple of days tried to leave again.

“They wouldn’t let me leave,” she said. “They were guarding the doors and stuff and took my cellphone. I said I needed to use the phone to call a family member, and really I called the police and said that I had been kidnapped by my family.”

The police came and told JoAnna she looked awful and that she should listen to her family, but they also told her aunt that there was no way for her to legally force her niece to stay with her. "The police officer said she’s got one foot in the grave and one foot in this world," JoAnna's aunt said. "He said you just have to let her go until she hits bottom. She ran in a torrential downpour and we could not find her."

Her boyfriend picked her up, JoAnna said. “I stayed out there and I avoided them. I lied to them a lot, telling them that I was doing the right thing. They knew that was a lie. ... I was really hard on my family, really mean to them and they were just trying to help me, but I didn’t care at the time," JoAnn said. "I just wanted to feel better."

After about a month, she went to a detoxification program, hoping to get clean. Her family’s intervention effort had helped her to see the harm her habit was doing.

“This experience with them showed me that it is affecting a lot of people, and it was affecting me, … like I was so tired of using, but I didn’t know how to stop. "

But by the middle of the second day, she couldn’t take it anymore. She said the people there tried to get her to stay, but the withdrawal, which JoAnna describes as 30 times worse than having the flu, was too much. “I told them I can’t get through this withdrawal … when I’m able to just leave if I want to, and I was probably going to have to go to jail to get through it.”

Seeking a way out

Not long afterward, she decided that’s what she would do. She learned there was a warrant out for her arrest on a retail fraud charge, so she decided she would turn herself in. She would do it right after her mom’s birthday on Aug. 21, she decided.

On Aug. 19, 2011, she told a friend about her plan. He urged her not to wait. JoAnna said he told her, “You need to do it now, because if you don’t do it now you’re probably not going to end up doing it.”

So, JoAnna agreed to turn herself in that day if he would give her money to get high before she went to the jail. He did and that evening he took her to the Washtenaw County Jail, where she surrendered herself.

Once there, she made it through the withdrawal but became depressed over the number of charges she was facing, including seven retail fraud charges and one charge for trespassing she got while panhandling on a freeway ramp.

By the fifth day she wanted out. She called the friend and begged him to come bail her out. She told him she was clean and didn’t want to use heroin. She just wanted out of jail. But that was a lie, she said. Her strategy was to get him to bond her out so she could use again.

But he didn’t bail her out, and she sank even deeper into despair. So deep that one day she decided she wanted out for good. She took off her pants and tied them around her neck as tightly as possible. She was trying to kill herself.

“I didn’t want to live anymore. There was nothing to live for and I felt like I just wanted to go be with my mom. I didn’t want to be where I was.”

A new beginning

JoAnna said a guard who just happened by saw her and saved her. She says she still suffers from some short-term memory loss, but otherwise has no other ill effects from the suicide attempt.

She’s very grateful to the guard because soon after, her life took a dramatic turn for the better. “A week or two weeks after that I started to feel better. … I really was able to reflect on my life and think about what I had been doing. I liked the feeling that I had with a clear mind and not using drugs. I was in jail but I felt good for the first time in a long time."

She started attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings there. She started working toward a GED, which she completed earlier this year. And, perhaps best of all, she reconnected with her family. Her aunt, brother and sister started coming for regular visits.

“Just having my family’s support felt so good,” she said. “I just wanted to do the right thing, like I finally had the chance now.”

She was eventually sentenced to a year in jail, but was released to treatment at Home of New Vision in Ypsilanti after four months. The two-week treatment program was helpful. Still, she worried about what would happen when she left.

But six months after getting out of jail, she’s living with her aunt in Ann Arbor and still making it, one day at a time.

“I just tried and my family supported me, and I kept going to 12-step programs and did all the things that they told me to do.”

She still goes to the meetings, sometimes six times a week. “Every time I go there I learn something new. … You don’t even realize how many people have the same problems that you did."

She's grateful to her aunt and other family members for standing behind her, something that wasn't always easy. "People don’t understand this disease," said JoAnna's aunt. "It's torn our family apart."

She continues to monitor JoAnna closely. "She’s worth saving, and we love her and we just want to see her thrive."

This spring JoAnna got a job working at a local hotel and hopes to begin taking classes this fall at Washtenaw Community College.

“I had never thought that I would be wanting to apply for college or anything, but I want to now,” she says. "I want to do something with my life. When you’re using …. that’s all you think you’re ever going to be because everything is centered around the drugs. Once you get clean, you start trying to do productive things.

"... It feels good.”

As she reflects on her own adolescence, JoAnna has some advice for young teens: Avoid the party scene. “Partying may sound fun at the time. But it’s not worth it,” she said. “It’s not going to lead to anything good. “

What should kids do instead? “Do positive things,” she said. “Go to the movies.”

JoAnna has tough days and addiction still calls to her sometimes. Something will remind her of her past life. Or she’ll have a bad day and think about using to escape. Or when things are going well, she might think of using to celebrate. “Just the randomest things will lead back to that,” she said.

Recovery is pretty much a lifelong process for addicts. Estimates of relapse rates range anywhere from 40 percent to 90 percent. The good news is that a robust recovery community in Washtenaw County makes the odds against relapse considerably better here, said Jim Balmer, president of Dawn Farm, an alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility in Ypsilanti Township.

"Becoming abstinent is very important," he said, "but it's only half of recovery. Addiction is primarily a thinking and emotion problem."

Addicts need to build relationships with others who can show them how to change their thinking and behavior patterns, and learn to cope with the ups and downs of life, he said. That's why Narcotics Anonymous meetings like the ones JoAnn is attending are so important.

JoAnna understands the importance of support from others in recovery. "The meetings help remind you of where you were and where you can be," she said. "… These are what is saving my life. God and these meetings.”

JoAnna has something else in her favor. In order to recover, addicts need hope, Balmer said, and JoAnna has plenty of that.

“I know as long as I stay clean things can’t ever be as bad as they were. They can only get better.”

Contact Cindy Heflin at 734-623-2572 or or follow her on Twitter.


Matt Cooper

Tue, Jul 10, 2012 : 5:23 a.m.

I have to say I find it distasteful in the extreme for anyone to refer to someone battling an addiction as a "loser". If you aren't an alcoholic or addict you haven't a clue as to what you're talking about in calling someone a 'loser', and even less of a clue as to the absolute and overpowering devastation the disease of addiction wreaks on the mind, body and spirit of the addict/alcoholic. Secondly, to all the people who think they are experts...If you aren't an addict or alcoholic, you have no idea what causes the phenominon of addiction. Educate yourselves yourselves about it (try going to a few AA or NA open speaker meetings) before thinking you know so much about the nature of the beast. Also, please don't think you know the first thing about beating the disease of addiction if you either A. don't have significant education, experience and training in how to do this, or B. have not recovered from it yourself. I speak freely of these things because I myself am a recovering alcoholic and have direct experience with the causes and effects of my disease as well as how to beat the disease (If I do what I've always done I will celebrate 20 years sober in October), and I guarantee you I am NOT a loser. JoAnna, keep working! Keep on keepin' on! You know what to do and you are captain of your own ship. I wish you luck, and don't let those with little real information and even less real experience bring you down. You can stay sober just as long as you do what you know to do to stay that way.


Tue, Jul 10, 2012 : 9:57 p.m.

Well said, Doc.


Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 9:27 p.m.

Congratulations JoAnna, you have done what many, many people don't have the strength to do. You should be proud of yourself, I know I am. :) Take care of yourself.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 9:24 p.m.

I am not familiar with Dawn Farms or other resources for substance abusers personally but I can say that I strongly believe in public support for such programs. I don't think they should be mandatory but I like to think that such programs are available when a person decides that they want to change.


Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

I applaud JoAnna for having the courage to tell her story. Keep with it and you will succeed. Most of the people who read this article are supporting you in one way or another.

Macabre Sunset

Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

I don't think the headline writer should moralize about "souls" as if it's some sort of fact presented in the story. Religion and reporting do not mix, unless this is a church newsletter. Which it seemed for a while, with all those silly pretend-stories from Darcypolly or whatever her name was.

Dave Otto

Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

Approaching a trillion dollars spent on the 'War on Drugs' and yet street heroin is cheaper, more pure, and more widely available than it was 30 years ago. The criminal justice system has no solution to what is a physical, emotional and spiritual problem. Substance abuse is a public health issue. We need to take drug policy out of the realm of the 'drug warriors' and prison beds and return it to the realm of science and treatment beds. Take it from a former cop and drug court counselor - the war on drugs is a failure - how long do we keep throwing money at a system that has made treatment harder to get and drugs more powerful and less expensive? By what measure is that a success?


Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 7:40 p.m.

Well said.


Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 11:50 a.m.

As she reflects on her own adolescence, JoAnna has some advice for young teens: Avoid the party scene. "Partying may sound fun at the time. But it's not worth it," she said. "It's not going to lead to anything good. " What should kids do instead? "Do positive things," she said. "Go to the movies." I agree JoAnna, life is tough but if you party all the time especially when you are young life's "Party" is going to end really fast. A broad but easy way to be successful in life is #1 live for God, #2 Study Hard, and #3 Work Harder. In general with following that you will avoid what poor JoAnna has had to live through. Oh, one more thing to... don't be bitter and cynical in life either like so many of the people who blog in these discussions. Being cynical is like a cancer and being bitter and hateful will make you go down in the depths of despair as much as heroin.


Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 11:11 a.m.

I think one could apply loser-because using drugs does end to losing- your job, money, family and health. Clearly saying no is best, but does not help the kid (or adult) that's not wired in the way that allows the no happen. Terrible drug.


Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 3:55 a.m.

The obvious answer is to legallize all drugs???????

Woman in Ypsilanti

Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 7:44 p.m.

Is prohibition keeping people off of drugs? No. Is drug prohibition costing us a lot of money in law enforcement and prisons that could be used in better ways? Yes. There isn't a single place that has ended drug prohibition and then found their drug problem got worse.

rusty shackelford

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 11:20 p.m.

If you want yet another example of how messed up the drug laws are in this country, consider the fact that ibogaine, which has been shown to help many heroin addicts kick their addiction with minimal long-term side effects, is prohibited in Schedule I, in the same schedule as heroin itself. This classification not only causes many addicts to continue suffering needlessly, it also makes it extremely difficult for scientists to study the drug, an endeavor that might yield a variation with even fewer side effects. It would be an interesting follow up for to report on former addicts who have used ibogaine, for good or for ill. It's legal just across the river in Canada, and there are doubtless people right here in Washtenaw county who have used it to help kick their habit, despite our federal government's intransigence.

Paula Gardner

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 9:07 p.m.

It's disappointing to see a comment calling people in these circumstances - who are fighting to change - 'losers.' I think it's important to share personal stories in this community, and we do that with both the good kids doing great (or even just fun) things - and stories that involve adversity. I'm grateful that JoAnna was able and willing to share her story. We're also running a 2nd story on Monday that talks more about the impact of heroin in this community, and plan more coverage. Police call it a crisis. That's something I think we all need to be aware of, even if we chose not to respond to the people affected with compassion.


Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 1:47 a.m.

Macabre, your post comes closest to my feelings on the subject. I would add that you can blame addiction for how hard it is to get off certain drugs, but addiction can't be blamed for the decision to try heroin or cocaine or Oxy, or any of the other drugs well-known for their addictive properties. Poor parenting and stupid choices are much more dangerous than any drug, and much more costly to society.

Michigan Man

Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 1:02 a.m.

Paula - The xmo post was not out of line. xmo has every right to express his/her opinion. The opinion was not vile, obscene and/or racial/gender based. The Ann Arbor has so many accomplished, goal directed, community oriented, polished, poised and moving forward young people - xmo has being quite straightforward in suggesting your business ( highlight, focus on and extol the successes of these countless fine young people. Drug addiction, poor self esteem, health related issues as a result of drug use, no money, crime needed to support buying drugs, poor judgement as a result of drug use are not behaviors commonly associated with young people moving in a positive, goal oriented, solution focused lifestyle. My hunch is that your organization ( would not even hire the kind of person outlined in this article.

Macabre Sunset

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 9:48 p.m.

I wouldn't call her a loser. I hope she's got something inside and wants to contribute to society. I hope she understands that the choices she and her mother made wound up taking a lot from society as well as from her own future. I think we make a mistake, however, heaping too much praise on her (so far temporary) decisions to get clean and choose a better personal path. This is what we expect from everyone. I know, in her case, it's that much more difficult because the path she chose has tendrils that continually drag her back. I can respect what she's doing, but I'll save the praise for later. Finally, it's not the "impact of heroin," it's the impact of poor parenting and poor decision-making. There's always some way to take far more than you give back. Today one of those paths includes heroin.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 9:13 p.m.

Paula. Why did you delete my comment? I try VERY hard to be respectful and appropriate.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 8:35 p.m.

I knew a young Chelsea woman who became a heroin addict. She was the daughter of a singl parent...a professional. This young woman was beautiful, intelligent, and well-liked. Her mother allowed her to have overnights (coed). While the mother was sleeping, the party began. My daughter told me about the drugs at this party. The young woman introduced her to several drugs. My daughter and I have a very open relationship. Once I got wind of this, My daughter was forbidden to even socialize with this girl. Some drug addicts will try to bring others down with them. I am glad she was not successful with my child. Occasionally, I would see this young woman on the streets of Ann Arbor. Tears would run down my face as I saw what she had become. I hope she is healed and happy now. Her mother was her worst enemy by not noticing the signs and remaining in denial. Talk to your kids. Allow them to be open with you, without fear of retribution. Hosters of overnights and parties beware. It is a good idea to sleep in an adjacent room with the door cracked. But, ultimately, don't host. Teenagers very often lack the judgment to make good choices. Please do not consider this an attack on the victim. It is a long healing process. I wish this young woman all the best in her recovery.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 8:19 p.m.

Addictions rob you of your soul. When I look into an addict's eyes, I see no life. I am glad this young woman overcame her addiction.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 7:37 p.m.

This story brought tears to my eyes. Congratulations to JoAnna for being strong enough to climb out of a VERY deep hole without the help and support of her mother. You deserve to live a good, clean life and I hope that you continue to build a stronger connection with the rest of your family. I will certainly have you in my prayers for your recovery and remember that you have MANY people's support.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 6:24 p.m.

Fire lake, not the best place to take up residence.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 6 p.m.

Paula-Why are you defending this story? If anything, you guys need to be putting more of these stories on the front page. Our kids are dying from drugs and alcohol. I treat addicted adolescents in my therapy practice and articles like these help tremendously. There are too may people that still think addiction is an issue of willpower and moral character. The commenter that calls these kids losers, shows us an example of the lack of compassion we see regarding the disease of addiction. I'm a recovering alcoholic with a masters degree from U of M. I got that degree after I recovered. Am I a loser? U of M didnt seem to think so. You would be shocked to know who some of the other losers that are in recovery. JoAnna is fighting for her life against all odds and will go on to help countless others recover from this insidious disease. How can another article about the U of M be so important that we should sideline a story that will help save lives. Kudos to Paula for making it front page news! The more you write stories like this, the more lives will be saved.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 8:40 p.m.

It is not always "losers" who become addicted. Chelsea has, in the past had a terrible drug problem in the Middle School and the High School. Kids do what they do. They make bad choices. It does not make them losers.

Michigan Man

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 6:12 p.m.

U of M degree means nothing - who cares!

Dutch Thomas

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 5:30 p.m.

Cannabis Cures addictions and the American War on Some Drugs FOSTERS addiction stories such as this young woman's tale. The American War on Some Drugs also destroys our freedom and the lives and fortunes of not only those directly and indirectly affected by the American War on Some Drugs but also the wasted Tax Dollars is now tolling in the TRILLIONS of Dollars. All that tax money could build and fund the best schools on Earth and provide the best Health Care to the most people in History BUT the American War on Some Drugs is VERY profitable for a few. We are fools led by Insane people operating under insane assumptions whose very goals are Tyranny and Profit for the "Worthy and Elect"

Honest Abe

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

"MARK" - Perhaps you should read this. You had EVERYTHING. You now have nothing. I hope not to see you standing on the US-23 exit ramps. Seek help and save yourself.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 3:56 p.m.

@David Cahill, xmo and others: Addictions are a problem on Sundays too. This story gives strong reasons why legalizing alcohol and marijuana are bad ideas and debate is due. Granted, as soon as your comments clash with moderator's very personal view, reckless censoring gets out of control. Also for retired people a clean, healthy youth is beneficial, even if you only look at it from an economical standpoint. Funding for retirement benefits will be depleted much quicker as more young people drop out from school and succumb to drugs. JoAnnaa provides an advice of tremendous value: stay away from parties. Kudos to her and family for her recovery. Unfortunately young people dismiss that. The arrogant idea that "that" wouldn't happen to them is exactly what keeps addiction growth. @Michigan Man: Is your under-40 idea a sarcasm? "Who should make the decisions" has nothing to do with age. It's about education and understanding of the problem. With the widespread use of marijuana, the under-40 crowd that you propose would legalize mj right away and even rename Wednesday to Weedday. Idealism is what started the hippie trend, and most of hippies were younger than 40.

Michigan Man

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 4:30 p.m.

Worker - No, my idea that young people control their future makes perfect sense. Let the young people decide how they want their medicare system to look when they are 65. Let the young crowd decide how they want social security to work when they rely on the financial benefits for the quality of their living. Many decisions old people make today ( I am 63) will obligate our younger folks to programs, services, taxes and the like that just may not suit them as they age. BTW - I am totally opposed to legalized marijuana, cocaine, herion, etc unless would want to fry your brain - if you do - go ahead and ruin your life.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 3:41 p.m.

I feel this is a good example of why not to give money to panhandlers. Sometimes, the money goes directly to drugs and nothing else.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 3:33 p.m.

Keep fighting, JoAnna. People you don't even know are hoping for the best for you. Your support system is bigger than you know.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.

tdw, your friends had enough money to buy oxyconton. The kids you are talking about did not, so they used heroin.

Milton Shift

Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

She may have come from a family with money, but she herself didn't have the money for an Oxycontin habit.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

Not necessarily. The young woman to whom I referred came from a well-to-do environment. This kid had money.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

I've noticed that heroin seems to have made a comeback with kids.I've known ( as acquaintances ) kids who are or have been addicts.I don't get it.I'm 49 and when I was young if someone mentioned heroin, me and my friends would say " are you out of your ( blanking ) mind ? " I was no angel, I smoked a lot of pot but the big " H " ? no way in hell. I'd like to see something about Oxyconton ( sorry my spell check is too old for that one ).I've had at least 3 friends OD and die from that stuff.They were my age and 2 of them were quite successful ( worth over a million each ) and it just destroyed and killed them.They had offered it to me but I figured I had enough problems ( drinking ) so I said nope.Zanax also seems to be a big problem these days.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.

People without genetic or toxin induced glitches in the dopaminergic/receptor system have no idea what people who suffer in their lives. They are biologically driven to find some way to just feel normal. Dopamine deficiency (and, often, in conjunction with other neurotransmitters) or dysfunctional transport (to cell receptors) is at the heart of all addiction. Our current treatment approaches fail these people, by not addressing the true cause. Pharmaceuticals can and do provide some short-term easing of cravings, but, in the long term, actually make the transport/receptor system MORE dysfunctional than it was to begin with. The appeal of heroin (and other substances that we struggle with - nicotine, alcohol, many foods... - causes a burst of dopamine release. People who, like JoAnna, manage to stay off their chose dopamine-boosters, can thank their own extraordinary strength of character. And, YES, the support of loved ones, support groups, caring counselors. These social interactions have been shown, scientifically via functional MRIs, etc, to also cause a release of dopamine. But the idea that their addictions arise from some kind of character defect, and that all they need is to be shown "how to change their thinking and behavior patterns, and learn to cope with the ups and downs of life," is simplistic and, ultimately, damaging, since the root cause of the biological imperative to boost dopamine (and associated neurotransmitters, like serotonin) are not effectively addressed. I offer article for a much better explanation, but I do warn that the author is also promoting a product, about which I know nothing. This article addresses genetic susceptibility, but the dopaminergic system can also be compromised by toxins, like mercury. JoAnna, after all, is certainly a member of Full-overdose Thimerasol Generation. Seek information available by googling - orthomolecular and addiction.


Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 1:29 a.m.

mhirzel -- whoever you are -- thank you for posting this. You've provided in just a few paragraphs what has taken me over 2 decades to learn. Addiction is absolutely a psychosomatic response to chemical and neurotransmitter abnormalities in the brain; that being the "disease" of addiction. Great info.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 8:47 p.m.

That was very interesting info. However, kids make choices. Good or bad, they make choices.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 2:47 p.m.

Interesting. Thanks for another perspective.

Basic Bob

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 1:19 p.m.

Although the stories vary, this is a common theme for addicts. We are very fortunate to have so many resources in our community. In my opinion, the most important one is the police and court system, who provide strong encouragement to addicts in the system. Many addicts choose to go to treatment, live in a recovery house, and attend regular meetings - rather than incarceration. Finding recovery from addiction does not require that addicts be jailed or institutionalized, or that they use specific drugs. Many members have no criminal record and choose to attend meetings voluntarily. Currently, there are 26 Narcotics Anonymous meetings each week in Washtenaw County alone, plus hundreds more in the metro area and statewide. In Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, half of these meetings are "open" to anyone: people who don't know if they have a problem, family members, visitors, guests, nursing students, and treatment professionals. No addict need ever die from the horrors of addiction.

Milton Shift

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 12:37 p.m.

walker101 - marijuana is often used instead of heroin or to help someone quit. The gateway theory has been thoroughly disproven. When Nixon cracked down on marijuana importation in the 70s, the result was a rise in the use of heroin - proof that marijuana lowers heroin usage. Most people who pull a dramatic bank heist will first practice at the firing range. Does this mean practice using firearms is a gateway to bank heists?

Milton Shift

Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 8:42 p.m.

I've yet to meet a junkie who didn't get into TV first.


Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 2:29 p.m.

Yeah sure Milton. Do you think pushers who sell marijuana don't sell heroin t their customers? JoAnnna here says she started with marijuana and alcohol, the heroin supplied by one of her party buddies. MJ is, always has been a gateway drug either for a better high or supplied by the same source.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 11:54 p.m.

"...When Nixon cracked down on marijuana importation in the 70s, the result was a rise in the use of heroin -..." Please provide references. I cannot find anything validating your claim


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 3:10 p.m.

Actually, I don't think that social drinking causes alcoholism, but I do think that it contributes to an alcoholic start down a difficult path. For example, one might be vulnerable to alcoholism (similar to a vulnerability to opiates due to dopamine deficiency issues discussed by mhirzel below) and have a drink (or a "smoke") at a social event, and that leads to such a physical satisfaction that it occurs again - more readily with a compromised or vulnerable person - and sets the addiction into motion. For those who are vulnerable it was a "gateway". It was an acceptable behavior. In its first expression. But for those physiologically vulnerable it then leads to a destructive process. If this first social drink or toke is at a young age, the vulnerability is greater. And the effect of use is more damaging as there are YEARS that would normally have been spent learning how to deal with emotions and relationships, etc that are lost. So there is more difficulty in quitting since not only does one have to quit, they have to learn skills that they may never have even established yet. And this, for me (to the anger of many professionals) is where I see choice as being a factor. It may be difficult for someone younger, and, I do not blame anyone for having a vulnerability or for their addiction, I am just at a loss to explain why those who know they have a vulnerability make a decision that very first time to risk that kind of destructiveness. Or, maybe I should realize how strong a pull the drugs have that anyone (knowing their vulnerability) would risk it anyway.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

And, some alcoholics had a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at the ball game. Does this mean that social drinking is a gateway to alcoholism? Of course not. I hope for the day that addiction to any substance can be treated as the medical disease that it is, and not as a personal choice or weakness.

David Cahill

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

I'm disappointed to see that has gone with crime/drugs as the lead stories in many recent Sunday editions. I thought that this news outlet was a bit above "if it bleeds it leads."


Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 2:23 p.m.

David: I agree with you. It seems that all the news we get are about UM sports, crime and the dysfunctional local political landscape. When I read, I need to have more informative news than what is provided, and I'm at a point where I'm now beginning to not feel the need to sign onto

shadow wilson

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 9:32 p.m.

Totally with you David. Firstly opiate withdrawal is not the huge ordeal junkies want us and themselves to think it is. Secondly how many times are we gonna hear this story .must we stroke the junkies ego.....the subject of this story can serve her fellow dope fiends best by staying clean completely, and out of the limelight . advising people to ..go to the movies... seems callow. The horrible heat wave should have occupied this space......lest any of you wish to chastise me I speak from personal experience.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 8:53 p.m.

Finally, an important story that needed to be told and discussed. Thank you, Keep up the good work, and NEVER shut up about these stories. And what does the fact that it is Sunday have to do with it


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 7:39 p.m.

It is not's fault there are crime/drug problems occurring around us. They are certainly not the ones to blame.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 4:28 p.m.

David, with as many drug addicted clients you have represented I'm surprised at your comment. Perhaps you just hate seeing work when its the weekend?

Michigan Man

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

Lets face it - quality of life in Ann Arbor trending downward over the past decade or so. Vacant homes, crime, heroin use/addiction, permissive drug culture, poor roads, few jobs outside of the U of M system, etc. Ann Arbor crowd needs to understand decisions made in the past are now catching up with the culture and quality of life in and around Ann Arbor. The goofy, pristine image of Ann Arbor and its hippie era 1960's feel is just a fraud. Best deal with this or it will spiral out of control. I might suggest Ann Arbor not allow anyone over the age of 40 be involved in civic, cultural or political decisions. Leave the future of Ann Arbor to the under 40 crowd so that they can take back their city!

Paula Gardner

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 1:15 p.m.

David, In our planning for today, I considered this story - which has been reported over many weeks and offers more insight than many crime stories - and the NCRC update to both be lead stories. This one will play online as the lead photo for a few hours, and, barring breaking news, we'll highlight the UM story in a few hours. Paula

Milton Shift

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 12:35 p.m.

There are three primary problems a heroin addict faces: 1) Quality of supply (Is it cut? Unpredictable potency? Spiked with fentanyl?) 2) Affordability of supply (Do they have to steal, deal, or resort to prostitution to afford it?) 3) The police (Do the get a criminal record that makes it hard to get employment? Are they traumatized by a long jail term? A lot of people self treat PTSD with heroin...) Virtually all the problems they face are derived from one of these two issues. In many other countries they have a different approach than here: they just give them clean free heroin in a medical setting. Heroin-related crime disappears overnight, overdoses become an issue of the past, HIV and other diseases stop spreading, and instead of doing their drugs around other junkies who encourage them to continue their habit (or try new drugs), they're around doctors and nurses who are encouraging them to quit and giving them guidance on how to do so. You are who you are close to, and surrounding someone with such positive influences often gives great results.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 7:28 p.m.

This is one of those issues. It doesn't matter how many successful real world programs there have been that are just as you described, people just can't believe that such things work. They'll keep demanding more prohibition and the real world facts that prohibition doesn't work for this drug won't matter to them either.

Milton Shift

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 3:34 p.m.

You are the one living in a dream world - I am being realistic, you are not. Heroin addicts will get their heroin one way or another, and the choice is ours: will they commit crimes to get it? Will they die from contamination and unpredictable potency? That's all prohibition can accomplish - killing addicts and increasing crime.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

If you sleep with dogs, you get fleas. If your close friends are heroin users, guess what, your probably shooting up. This a reality not a fantasy world as you would like. There is currently a rise in heroin use, funny a rise in criminal activity among drug dealers and killings, no coincidence. The more heroin you shot the more you need, its a fact, you become more tolerant and need more for that high. Supplying heroin only encourages more dependancy and a demand for doomed life which "H" takes control,just look at all these other countries.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 12:34 p.m.

Thank you Joanna for telling your story. Addiction destroys and then it kills. Thank God for Dawn Farms. It's a great organization to donate to, and it needs the help. At leas your money is not ending up in the pockets of Corporate Fund Raisers. God Bless Joanna.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 12:26 p.m.

Unfortunately this is just another story that has been duplicated millions of times, I've known many friends that have been down this same path in varying degrees, some made it and others succumbed and eventually OD. I grew up in the 60's and witnessed what drugs do first hand, for whatever reasons at the time like many of my peers I tried marijuana as a teenager along with many of my friends, some like myself decided that smoking weed was an introduction to other hard core drugs and eventually lead to "H", it was nice to get high but it was also very addicting and some of my friends craved for a better high, fortunately for myself I stopped before it got out of hand, so I guess the bottom line to this story is that you start of what many consider marijuana is just an innocent weed, you better think again, just like this young lady and many of her peers they all started with marijuana, some make it and others will eventually graduate and go hard core. So for those who want to legalize weed just look around and see what it's done and where it leads to. Smoking weed is just an initial start to a decline in life.

Woman in Ypsilanti

Mon, Jul 9, 2012 : 7:25 p.m.

Chocolate is the real gateway drug. I have not met a single person who uses alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, or heroin who didn't first start out on chocolate. I do however know several people who have used chocolate and never went on to use heroin just like the vast majority of marijuana smokers do not go on to use heroin either.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 8:58 p.m.

Fact: Marijuana is not physically addictive. I was in college in the late 60s/early 70s, I tried weed, and I inhaled. It was fun for a short while, but I was an athlete, and smoke breaks your wind. Look around you at people our age. Most are fine people and citizens. In that era I did not know ANYONE who tried heroin.

Milton Shift

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 3:32 p.m.

"I have yet to know a heroin addict who did not first smoke pot or do other drugs. Do you? " Yes, I have. But I have yet to meet a heroin addict who did not begin with watching TV. You want to throw people in jail and make their lives worse because they are struggling with a health problem? Shame on you.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 2:41 p.m.

@egcthree and @Homeland Conspiracy I used to believe as you two do, and while I still have not been fully converted, after talking to many addicts, I now see things a little differently. One thing is that both of the drugs you are pointing out, tobacco and alcohol, are legal. You do not have to enter into a "criminal world" to get them. When you are buying marijuana, you are doing something illegal and you are placing yourself with other people who are dealing illegally in the world of drugs. Basically, it exposes you to and makes you more vulnerable to other drugs by putting you in the proximity of them and diminishing your line of following the law. (So do I think that legalizing it would help with this very specific problem? Yes. However, there are more problems than just that which I do not think legalizing it helps. Certainly not the type of "legalization" we have going on now which is a farce.) So, like I said, I always laughed at the idea of marijuana being a "gateway drug", thinking just that those who move on to harder drugs were just a small percentage of those who started with pot. However, there is some breaking into that world. I have yet to know a heroin addict who did not first smoke pot or do other drugs. Do you? Maybe prescription drugs are the true "gateway drug". I would love to see hospitals and doctors become much more strict in sending patients home with opiates. And those who use them keep them locked up. I feel like there are responsible people who could easily limit the number of these drugs getting into the hands of kids.

Homeland Conspiracy

Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 2:10 p.m.

Tobacco is the real gateway drug!


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 2:09 p.m.

If you want to believe in a "gateway" drug then alcohol is the "gateway" drug not marijuana. Walker I think you took refer madness as being factual instead of some comedic propaganda


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 10:34 a.m.

Heroin is a serious promblem in the State of Michigan, especially in our youth........its a sad story


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 2:39 p.m.

Unfortunately it's throughout the nation, our children are starting at middle school level and increases by the time they graduate from high school. The cost is now minimal, when I was in HS no one could afford it.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 10:20 a.m.

I will keep this strong young woman in my thoughts. It's a terrible drug, she is on a good, health, albeit hard, path now. Congratulatiions. She has a bright future, and her ability to beat addiction shows she has the stuff to be successful. Terrible drug.


Sun, Jul 8, 2012 : 2:04 p.m.

My thoughts exactly. Stick with it Joanna. You have more people rooting for you then you probably think.