Lewis began abusing other drugs, too, scouring the family medicine cabinet for painkillers and anxiety pills: Vicodin, Darvocet and Xanax, among others. “It made me forget and just not have to deal with real life,” he says.
Though his mother tried different approaches — punishment, lectures, praise when he entered rehab — nothing stuck. About a month after his release from a court-ordered, 8½-month residential treatment program, Lewis, then 17, reverted to his old ways.
“I just gave in when I got out,” he says. “You can learn every trick in the book to prevent you from using, but you have to use what they teach you.”
He returned to marijuana and cocaine, then moved on to heroin. Within six months, Lewis — who once was so scared of needles he’d look away when a doctor gave his younger sister shots — was mainlining.
Finding the drug was easy. Lewis could always hop on the expressway and head to Chicago. Butheroin use also has surged in the prosperous suburbs close to home. In nearby DuPage County, for example, a record 46 heroin-related deaths were reported in 2013, spurring authorities to develop programs to combat the problem.
Lewis never thought of quitting until last May, weeks after his arrest, when a childhood pal called, frantically seeking help. He and a girlfriend had taken heroin with a woman who’d overdosed and died in her sleep. Lewis urged him to call the cops. Afterward, he says, his mind raced with thoughts of the death — and the prospect his friend could face criminal charges.
Nonetheless, he continued using, sometimes blacking out, waking to find heroin bags strewn about the bathroom. After a few days, he decided to get clean.
“I was thinking I could have overdosed. I could have been there. I could be in jail right now. ... It was like, ‘This is crazy. What am I thinking?’”