Rachel was 12-years-old when she learned her cousin and most trusted confidante, Jeremy, was dependent on heroin. It wasn’t until five years later, in 2015, that Jeremy actually admitted he was addicted to heroin, though. The admission was brought on after Jeremy survived his first heroin overdose.
Jeremy entered, and completed, rehab and returned home the cousin Rachel had begun to forget existed.
“My cousin was always the life of the party; the funniest person I've ever met. Girls loved him,” described Rachel. “I never noticed how much he and I drifted apart until he began his journey to recovery and I got the old Jeremy back. I had my best friend back that I never even realized I lost.”
Like many families who experience a loved one’s first successful stint in rehab, Rachel and her family believed the hardest part was behind Jeremy; he was recovered, and their family could transition back to their normal lives and routines.
“This being my family's first time going down the road of recovery with somebody, we thought we had it covered,” admitted Rachel. “We’ll monitor him, babysit him, never let him be alone, and nothing will ever happen.”
Unfortunately, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that between 40 and 60 percent of recovering drug addicts will eventually relapse. With heroin, those rates are even higher. Some experts claim the rate of relapse for heroin addicts as high as 80 percent, which means that the recovery rate may be as low as 20 percent.
Jeremy and Rachel grew up very close, living right next door to one another. Rachel was “over the moon” that her cousin was clean and himself once again. Jeremy was home from rehab for 15 days when he and Rachel decided to partake in a beloved, little tradition of theirs at home: ice cream and milkshakes.
After excusing himself to use the bathroom, Jeremy returned shortly after, visibly high, and collapsed right in front of Rachel. He began seizing on the floor, his breathing hollow, his skin turning blue. Rachel and Jeremy were home alone, and he was dying right in front of Rachel’s eyes.
“I was 17-years-old at the time and in that moment I had every bit of innocence ripped from me when I looked at his face and thought, ‘I don't know what is happening, but he's going to die if I don't do something,’” recalled Rachel. “I was all alone and he put me in that situation.”
Rachel called 911 and Jeremy’s mother, both responded to the house immediately. Narcan was administered and Jeremy survived his second overdose. As he was being rolled to the ambulance, he spewed hateful things at Rachel. By then, Rachel knew that was the addiction talking, not Jeremy.
“I think back to that night every day and I get so angry,” said Rachel. “How could the one person who was never supposed to hurt me, hurt me more than anyone ever will?”
A question posed by families across the nation.
Jeremy entered rehab again but did not complete the program. He then moved into a sober house for five months. A year later, Jeremy still struggles daily with his heroin addiction, staying clean only to relapse time and time again.
Rachel feels as though Jeremy does not have much remorse for what he put her through the day they were making milkshakes because he has repeated the behavior of using when they are alone together.
“He says he wants to stay clean, but does not want to go to rehab,” said Rachel. “He claims completing rehab that one time was enough and he just needs to utilize the coping skills he learned there.”
“Jeremy claims he understands that his problem has a direct effect on everybody, yet he tells us his problem is not our problem,” added Rachel. “I'm at the point now where I am totally convinced he'll never stop using drugs and it saddens me that I even think that. Most of the time I really believe he doesn't care that he's hurting us.”
Rachel, now 18, is still trying to wrap her head around how someone like Jeremy, now 29, could have drugs continue to ruin his life, and the lives of those who care about him most.
Six years of Rachel’s life has been spent worrying if her cousin was going to die. A rational fear of many who love someone battling the disease of addiction.
Rachel still considers Jeremy her best friend. They talk and/or see each other every day, but Rachel admits that his relapses are a constant strain on their relationship.
“I've had nightmares about the night Jeremy overdosed. To this day I'm nervous to be alone with him. It was a learning experience, but it was also completely traumatizing,” expressed Rachel. “It's heartbreaking to think I can't trust someone I once trusted with my life. This is a painful, everyday struggle and I would give my life for Jeremy to get better. I just want the life we had with him ten years ago back.”