The Heavy Toll on Families of Heroin Addicts


KOLR10 News continues a focus on heroin use in the Ozarks with a story of loss – not financial or due to theft. But due to choices made both by those who have become a part of this rising epidemic, and those who have remained silent in response to it.

Here are the stories of those who, perhaps more than the addict, suffers from the use of, and addiction to, heroin.

Paul Byersmith knows first hand that the pain caused by a heroin addiction is not only felt by those who use.
“I’m just like… it’s terrible, but I really wish Craig would get arrested. Just get arrested go to jail so you are not really like using anymore. Because jail is better than the alternative of not being here anymore.”

Paul’s brother Craig, died at age 20. As short as Craig’s life was, his family says the tragic ending was a long time coming.
“It was kind of a shock but I had already mentally, like, back when he was really heavily using…Like it’s a friggin terrible feeling to mentally prepare yourself for the passing of a loved one because they’re so addicted to a terrible drug, you know?”

And now, the memories are so painful, it can become unbearable and sometimes it’s easier for paul to forget his brother. “There are some days when I don’t think about him. Which is a blessing.”

While watching the destruction of a family is hard enough,  it’s important to understand the gradual impact of heroin on whole communities.  Law enforcement sees this impact every day. 

Pulaski County Sheriff Ron Long says there is only one way to describe heroin in his community–it’s a monster. “When they suddenly become a victim of the monster we call heroin or opiate based products,  it makes it hard for us and the families both.”

Long knows from experience how tightly that monster can grip the lives of its users.  “Back when I was working narcotics, I would watch individuals – people that are so addicted – they would take that syringe and stick it in their jugular vein or take a razor blade and rip their arm open, just to find an active vein because they’ve shot up for so long that they no longer have veins that are easy to get to.”

And right now, that monster is running wild and causing destruction in a huge part of his community.  “Realistically, about 75 to 85 percent of the inmates in our jail have an addiction problem of some kind,” Long says.

So how do you fight a monster with that much influence over those it’s affected?  Steve Bales is with the Pulaski County Coalition Against Drugs.  He says the solution starts with education.
“Be educated. Don’t be afraid to research. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Don’t close your curtains. Cause that’s what the drug pushers and dealers want you to do.”

But Bales says the best way to stop the problem is by confronting the issue head on. “They want you to turn your head and not see what they’re doing and as long as our residents keep doing that, this issue will persist.”

Paul Byersmith agrees. “I dont know…. just try everything you can.”

He says his message to those with addicted loved ones is simple. “Just fight them. Because if you don’t something like this might happen.”  And don’t give up.  “The worst part of his death was that it could have been prevented.”

Perhaps by being brave enough to have conversations about this monster called heroin, lives like Paul’s brother, Craig, could be saved.

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