SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — It’s a quiet epidemic that has crept into the Ozarks. In 2015, Springfield Police seized 397 grams of heroin. That compares to just 26 grams seized in 2012.
For the next three weeks, KOLR10 News is putting the focus on the growing problem of addiction to painkillers, opioids and heroin in the Ozarks.
To begin, we want to delve into what addiction feels like. We have the story of two former addicts who now help others in recovery.
“You lose control, there is no control,” says Willie Carter, a Substance Abuse Counselor and Former Addict. “It controls you, you don’t control it.”
“(I) began using heroin at the age of 16. I became addicted to heroin when I was 17 years old.”
“It’s primary– it’s chronic– once you have it, you will always have it.”
“It’s really hard to go through it,” said Edgar Hagens, better known in the community as “Rock.”
“I first started using heroin at the age of 16,” he said. “The very first time I was just curious– my other friends were using.”
“When you first start using it, it makes you sick,” Carter explains. “You throw up , you’re nauseous in the stomach– but once you’re past that, its a euphoric feeling people want over and over again.”
“It was something I enjoyed,” adds Rock. “I liked the high.”
Both Willie Carter and Edgar Hagens, better known as “Rock,” have come a long way since their teenage years..
“You spend your whole life searching for that first high all over again,” said Carter. “And you never get it.”
“I thought this was gonna last the rest of my life,” Rock said. “Because mentally, I was just in that war within myself that this is the best thing in the world to do is use drugs, have fun– and I thought that was life.”
“I never got to the point where I didn’t like the high, I didn’t get that,” said Carter. “I stopped liking what went along with it.”
Rock is now the proud owner of Rock’s Fashion in downtown Springfield.
“I’m a responsible, productive member of society,” he said.
Rock and Willie, a substance abuse counselor, work together at Victory Circle Peer Support Group to help other men also in recovery.
“Wherever you are right now in your life– it gets better,” said Willie.
Reminders in the form of scars leave behind memories of a past these men aren’t proud of.
Rock’s history is turbulent. “I’ve been to prison 4 times. I’ve been shot 4 times. I’ve been in high speed chases and all kinds of things– car accidents. I’ve seen a lot of people die.”
Willie was in and out of prison five times in Missouri. He’s also been locked up in New York and Illinois.
“It’s such a grueling lifestyle,” he said. “Because it carries you to places you wouldn’t normally go and it makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do.”
It’s been a battle– a habit both men struggled with for nearly three decades.
“The more you use, the more you’re gonna need to use to feel the same effect,” said Carter. It does something to the brain– it does.”
“Last time I used was May 20 of 2000,” said Rock. “And at that time, you didn’t hear of heroin in Springfield.”
But that’s certainly changed. In 2015, the Springfield Police Department responded to 99 heroin overdoses.
“You have no control over whether you’ll use or want to use,” said Carter. “Your mind and body tell you you have to have chemicals in your body in order to function.”
“It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe– the feeling itself,” added Rock. “But the addiction part is the physical withdrawals.”
Withdrawals with symptoms so severe– it’s painful.
“Physically throw up, balled over– dry heaving,” said Carter. “Aches and pains, sweats, sleeplessness– it’s one of the most miserable feelings a human being can have in its body.”
It was a dark time, lifted by light– and for Willie, a spiritual awakening.
“There is hope in the life today– that other life is hopelessness.”
Willie and Rock now dedicate their lives to helping others follow in their own footsteps– to attain a life away from addiction..
“I thought I’d die overdosing or shot,” Carter said. “I never expected to live this long.”
From living in a nightmare, to living the dream. For these men, there’s no looking back.
“I thought it was impossible,” said Rock.
“Even my worst days clean are better than my best days getting high,” said Carter. “I just never dreamed I would be clean and live a life like I am today.”
Willie and Rock are helping form a “heroin anonymous” group in Springfield that will begin on May 7.
Friday, April 29, KOLR10 News will explore the devastating effects addiction takes on not just users, but everyone around them.