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The Onset of Addiction

Bellingham's Bouchard said her brother's battle with drugs began when he tried alcohol for the first time in sixth grade.

"That led to pot, which led to cocaine," said Bouchard. "The drugs were more powerful than anything."

Potter's life became a series of derailed fresh starts.

He landed great jobs in the computer field but lost them. He completed Marine Corps training and then went AWOL and landed in prison. Whenever Potter headed out to Framingham, his family worried because that's where his "drug friends" lived.

"He wasn't a violent person. He wouldn't hurt another person. He hurt himself," Bouchard said. "With his personality, the drugs are the last thing he should have ever touched."

The occasions Potter would beat his addiction stay with Bouchard like small victories.

One night when the brother and sister were in high school, Bouchard, in tears, begged Potter to flush his drugs down the toilet.

"So I want to see you flush them down the toilet," Bouchard said she told her brother.

"And he did," Bouchard said.

Police say the road to addiction for most users is paved by a cat-and-mouse game chasing that very first high.

Intravenous injection gives the greatest intensity and quickest onset of the initial rush that users experience, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Those users experience the rush within seven to eight seconds while the euphoric feeling usually hits those who sniffed or smoked the drug within 10 to 15 minutes.

After the initial high, users may experience alternating feelings of alertness and drowsiness and slowed breathing.

Brooks likened a user's first experience with heroin to the sensation of taking a warm shower.

"As high as you are, you can never get there again. The second, the third time you just keep chasing that monkey," said Brooks.

Addiction grows

More potent drugs, cheap prices and increased availability are some of the reasons more and more people are caught chasing the heroin "monkey."

Statewide, 42 percent of people who entered state substance abuse treatment programs in fiscal 2002 used heroin. That's up from 19 percent in 1992.

"It's out there more. It's better. It's cheaper," said Northbridge Police Chief Thomas Melia, who is also chairman of the Blackstone Valley Regional Drug Task Force.

Heroin that once cost $35 now sells for $6 with the same potency level, Melia said.

The way people use heroin is also bringing the drug to a younger audience.

"The problem for the young kids is that they're snorting for the first time," Brooks said. "They think there's not a negative stigma to it if they snort it."

A December 2002 survey of students nationwide by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the University of Michigan shows 1.6 percent of eighth-graders, 1.8 percent of 10th-graders and 1.7 percent of 12th-graders reported using heroin at least once during their lifetimes.

"It's alarming," Brooks said.

Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses and liver disease, according to the National Drug Control Policy office.

They also run the risk of contracting HIV, and hepatitis B and C.

Of those 1,187 people in the central part of the state living with HIV/AIDS, 43 percent were infected while injecting drugs, according to state figures.

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