Life can be tough for heroin addicts and their families | Pittsburgh City Paper

Life can be tough for heroin addicts and their families

“People think it can’t happen to them because we’re living in suburbia.”

Laura Probst knows the worry that comes from a child staying out all night. Where are they? What are they doing? 

Unfortunately for the Hopewell Township mother of two, if her son or daughter were out all night, she knew what the two were likely up to. Both have struggled with drug addiction, and when they were out, she often wondered if she’d ever see them again.

On one such occasion, Propst’s daughter returned home with bruises on her body. She said she’d been in a car accident, but Propst knew the truth: She’d overdosed on heroin, and the bruises on her body were likely the result of someone bringing her back to life with CPR. 

“You can’t sleep because you’re afraid you’re going to get a knock on the door saying your kid’s dead,” Propst says recalling days like that. “Every time you knock on their door, you slowly peek in the door to see if they’re blue. It takes such a toll. I had three mini-strokes from stress.”

Today Propst’s two children are in recovery, and she’s the president of the Pittsburgh chapter of Not One More, a national organization dedicated to ending drug overdoses.

The group was started in California in 2012 by two mothers, one of whom had lost her child to a heroin overdose. The Pittsburgh chapter was formed in April 2013.

“One of the things we want to do is change the stigma and the way people view people who are addicted to this drug,” says Propst. “I think the general public has a view of addiction, and if you’re not affected by it, you don’t know.”

For Propst, the public perception and stigma associated with drug addiction is a large factor in the thousands of heroin overdoses that occur every day throughout the country. It prevents addicts from seeking the help they need, and it keeps the parents of addicts from getting the support they need as well. 

“People think we must be bad parents,” Propst says. “The blame is on us.” 

Propst says she and her husband lost friends because of their children’s addictions. Through Not One More, she works to educate the public that addiction is the same as any disease and can affect anyone. 

“People think it can’t happen to them because we’re living in suburbia with nice homes and nice neighbors,” Propst says. “These are the kids who are doing these drugs.” 

Propst says that some of the harshest vitriol her family has faced sometimes came from the parents of children who were also using. Often, she explains, parents are unwilling to accept that this is happening to their child.

“One woman’s daughter ended up committing suicide, and she was in such denial that this was even happening,” Propst says. “By the time you really grasp that this is a real problem, so many parents are losing their kids because they don’t know what to do.”

Not One More provides resources for individuals and parents impacted by drug addiction. They educate families on how to spot an overdose and how to respond.

 “The disease of addiction will surround the whole entire family,” says Propst. “Society has so much of this backward. We need to stop punishing people for this addiction.”

Propst’s experience made supporting Narcan, an overdose-reversal drug also known as naloxone, a no-brainer. Now she spends her time educating others on the benefits of the medication.

“There’s a lot of myths. There’s a lot of people who think they know something and they don’t,” says Propst. “They think, because they’re not educated enough, that if you give somebody Narcan, that person is just going to use more drugs. But somebody who has an active addiction, they’re not even doing it to get high — they’re doing it not to be sick. They don’t want the Narcan because they automatically go into withdrawal.”    

Propst has heard countless stories about lives saved with Narcan. One that particularly struck her came from a Donora police officer who administered Narcan to a mother who was overdosing while her two children watched. As the paramedics took the woman away, Propst says the officer didn’t believe she was going to make it. But she did. 

“He said you’d be surprised how good it feels to save a life,” Propst says. “Everyone who has a loved one dealing with this addiction needs to get Narcan.” 

On Sept. 17, Not One More will host a vigil in Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville.