Is there hope after heroin? Checking in on addicts seven years later

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Back in 2007, FOX6 News aired a series of stories about an issue that was just beginning to surface. FOX6's Brad Hicks interviewed four people addicted to heroin. Hicks says in his 20-plus years of reporting, he has never done a story that has generated so much reaction. And sadly, for all the good it may have done, the heroin problem has gotten worse. Wisconsin is now confronted with a heroin crisis. So how are the addicts Hicks interviewed seven years ago doing now? Have they cleaned up? Are they in prison? Are they even alive?

"It's continued to get worse. It's in every single community. We've seen the number of deaths quadruple," Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel said.

In Waukesha County, more people are dying from opiate overdoses than car crashes.

"I've never seen anything like this," Schimel said.

"We have a heroin epidemic. The statewide approach right now to a large degree is -- basically throw it against the wall and see if it sticks," Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said.

The Attorney General's Office is sponsoring heroin summits. Students and parents are rallying for real solutions.

In 2007, FOX6's Brad Hicks interviewed four heroin addicts. Seven years later, he's checking in on them.


Hicks first met Hannah when she was 19. She had been arrested -- and was finally clean. But months later, she looked like a different person.

She says she shot up heroin the same day she was released from detox.

One week after her interview with FOX6's Brad Hicks seven years ago, Hannah overdosed.

Seven years later, Hannah says she's been clean for six years. She has a job.

"I'm really hard-working there," Hannah told Brad Hicks.

Hannah is about to get her driver's license for the very first time.

"That'll be nice to drive. I can go back to school," Hannah said.

A few years ago, Hannah got her own place -- and then moved back home to take care of her mom. In doing so, she may have found her calling.

"A lot of the nurses said to me, 'you're so good with her. You should think about being a nurse. You just have a natural care for others.' It made me feel good," Hannah said.


Months before Hannah's first arrest, Melissa Erickson had been busted for heroin.

"It's just a really dark, scary place," Melissa said.

Seven years ago, Brad Hicks talked with Melissa after at least two of her friends had died.

"You'd think that would make someone quit, but that drug is just so powerful," Melissa said.

Too powerful for Melissa.

She got busted again -- and spent two years locked up. She moved to Florida, and went back to heroin.

"Back into those old routines of stealing and lying," Melissa said.

But now, the beauty of the beach has become her sanctuary.

"It's pretty much a big reason why I think I'm sober. I've been really in tune with my spiritual side," Melissa said.

When FOX6's Brad Hicks caught up with Melissa in April of 2014 -- she was nine months clean.

"I totally had to change -- a whole new lifestyle for myself, and I'm just really excited," Melissa said.

Melissa has started doing yoga, and has a full-time job.

"I got a promotion within three months of being there.  I'm now a supervisor," Melissa said.

Melissa says every day, she remembers what doing heroin was like.

"It's just my motivation to never want to go back there," Melissa said.


Nikki is a confidential informant FOX6's Brad Hicks interviewed back in 2007.

"A couple kids make it seem okay, and make it not seem like such a bad thing," Nikki said.

Nikki had been busted for heroin, and started helping police.

Like everyone who has tried heroin, he quickly became controlled by his craving.

"That was the only thing that really meant anything to me in my life," Nikki said.

He's not proud of where it took him.

"I took a lot of liberties with the morality I had previously possessed," Nikki said.

But now, Nikki can be proud of where he is.

"I feel great. My life is going fantastic. I have a good job, a college degree. My family and I get along," Nikki said.

Nikki attends weekly meetings and says he's been sober for what will be seven years.


Then, there was Kevin.

FOX6's Brad Hicks says he was worried about Kevin the most.

He described his life doing heroin as "hell."

"You wake up sick -- just can't function," Kevin said.

Nowadays, Kevin says he's done with heroin.

"I don`t do the dope anymore," Kevin said.

But being an addict for decades has taken its toll. It's been a tougher climb out for Kevin.

"I lost all my belongings. I had no way to pay rent. I lost a place to live. I lost my vehicle. I lost relationships with everybody," Kevin said.

Kevin now spends most of his time in his family's garage -- listening to music and reading.

"I'm blessed to have a place over my head at least -- but it still sucks because I have no life," Kevin said.


All of the addicts FOX6 News interviewed seven years ago agree -- they are the lucky ones.

"Everybody I know that I used with is either in jail right now or dead," Hannah said.

"I've had three people OD in my arms and turn blue and die," Kevin said.

"Many, many of my friends are dead and in jail and in prison," Nikki said.

Each of these former addicts has deep regrets.

"Words can't even express how horrible it was and how much I wish I could take it back," Melissa said.

"It's a lonely experience," Kevin said.

"If I would have put all my energy into something good, I could be out of college by now and have a husband and kids," Hannah said.

Each of these individuals is proof that there is hope after heroin.

"I definitely told myself that I really had fun using and that's just what I wanted to do -- and I think I almost convinced myself of that for those years. Now being sober, it's hard work but it's so much better," Melissa said.

"I had to consider the possibility that everything I thought I knew about life could be wrong. I started to take some advice from a treatment center. They told me to attend some 12 step programs," Nikki said.

"It's never to late to start over," Hannah said.

So do these former addicts credit anything in particular with helping them to beat the addiction?

Each has taken their own path, but three of them specifically credit a drug called suboxone or subutex with helping them to get a leg up in their recovery.

The drug blocks the opiate receptor in the brain -- the part of your brain that produces the craving -- so when you're on suboxone, you can't get high -- even if you use.

The challenge becomes weaning off of the suboxone, because you're really only supposed to take it for six months to a year, and there can be some serious side effects if you stay on it too long.

CLICK HERE if you'd like to learn more about the CJ Lomas Recovery Foundation's 3rd annual golf outing that is set to take place on Friday, July 25th at Muskego Lakes Country Club.