Last year in Milwaukee County, heroin killed at least 143 people. That was a nearly 30 percent increase over the previous year. Most health officials agree, addictions to opioids and heroin are continuing to worsen. WUWM caught up with a recovering heroin addict who’s now helping others struggling with addiction.
Jason Dobson calls himself one of the lucky ones. He had been addicted to heroin and knocking at death’s door.
“I can remember the exact first time I shot up. I was in a low-income house with some people I didn’t even like watching them do it. And just by the look on their faces, I said I want to try that. You know, it took me to depths that most people don’t come back from. As you see on the news today, many people are dying. That could have easily been me. I’m surprised it wasn’t me because of the amount of drugs I ingested daily. I shouldn’t even be here,” he says.
At age 38, Dobson says he used drugs for nearly half his life.
“At about the age of 16 is when I started smoking marijuana and partying more on the weekends with harder drugs,” he says.
Dobson says those harder drugs included acid and cocaine and eventually opioid pills in his early 20s. He says he supported his habit with money from his parents and his job as a mailman, not to mention huge amounts of debt.
“There’s days I spent thousands. It was nothing. For years, I did that in the beginning. You know, I’ve maxed out credit cards that had $100,000 limits. Go pull off a couple thousand dollars cash daily to use drugs. I’d buy enough to last me for a week, it’d be gone by that night,” he says.
Dobson says after about five years of using pills, drug manufacturers moved to time-release prescriptions that people could no longer crush to get an immediate high, so he turned to heroin. He says he went from being someone who said he’d never use drugs via an IV, to shooting heroin into his veins.
“Even like the first couple of times I had to have somebody else do it for me. But then eventually, if you want to stay high you have to learn to do it yourself and that also becomes an addiction itself. The whole process of getting high becomes an addiction. Just to be able to see you know, sticking that needle in your arm, watching the blood go into the (needle) that whole process becomes an addiction itself too,” Dobson says.
Yet somewhere inside, he wanted to stop.
“There’s times when you’re going to get drugs and in your heart and mind, you don’t want to do it. You’re actually crying on your way there, but you’re body says you have no choice in the matter,” he says.
The U.S. Postal Service eventually fired Dobson, after he was caught using on the job.
“They put cameras in my truck and they had a live feed to a laptop so they followed me around for a couple days. And then finally, that last day, when I was just about to shoot up again, they rolled up on me with guns drawn and get out the vehicle and took me away like I was a criminal,” he says.
Dobson recalls his lowest point, after his wife divorced him and took their two children.
“I ended up at the Milwaukee Mission. I had lost everything. The house, vehicles, all the toys. I had everything a guy could want. And eventually, at the end of the road, it was all gone. I remember begging my parents to help me. They bought me a bus pass a pack of cigarettes and dropped me off at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission. They told me this was your mess, you figure it out,” he says.
Dennis: “Was that the help you were expecting?”
“No. I wanted them to take me back home and put a roof over my head, which probably would not have helped,” Dobson says.
Dobson says what did help was a residential treatment program called Serenity Inns on Milwaukee’s north side. He got a space there after one week in the homeless shelter.
“And the funny thing is, I delivered mail in this neighborhood for 14 years and I never knew what this place was. And when they gave be the address to it, I was like wait, I’ve been on these steps 300 times in a year you know, and then here I am, you know?” he says.
Dobson says for the first 90 days in the residential program, he was consumed with trying to figure out how he could outsmart the system and get high.
“I sat through and contemplated all these ways, but nothing came through. And all of a sudden, I got that moment of clarity and realized that I’ve got enough information and finally this time and started opening up and realized that I could do this,” ge says.
After Dobson completed the seven-month treatment program, he went to school and got the required training to become an addiction specialist. He now works as a counselor for Serenity Inns and has been clean for five years. Dobson says he hopes his life serves as an example for people trying to get clean.
“I’ve been where they’ve been. I’ve done what they’ve done and I found a way out. I’ve seen the other side of it now. There’s nothing they can’t come to me (with) that I haven’t done, haven’t felt,” he says.
As far as his personal life is concerned, Dobson says he lives with his parents, he and his ex-wife are seeing each other again and he’s an involved parent. He repeats how lucky he is, because for many people, addictions don’t end this way.