Road to recovery from heroin addiction includes relapses
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org April 12, 2012 8:40PM
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- Heroin leaves deadly mark on Will County
- Hundreds attend rally against heroin use in Will Co.
Updated: May 14, 2012 8:17AM
HOMER GLEN — Addicted to opiates, Bill Patrianakos was working for a tyrant. He felt compelled to steal and make counterfeit money to satisfy his drug habit. His friend overdosed. He himself overdosed. He seemed out of control. He was under the tyrant’s control.
That old life was not freedom. However, Patrianakos has freedom in his life today. He is recovered from his addiction, he has been free from drugs for years, and he now is a Web developer, close to earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science at DeVry University.
He is on the board of directors of the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization — telling people that a tyrant, heroin, is taking people’s lives in Will County.
Road to addiction
Patrianakos was a talented student from Homer Glen who graduated Lockport Township High School in 2005. He looked forward to attending a university in Chicago.
He tried cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana at the end of his senior year in high school. That progressed to marijuana and cocaine during his first semester at college. He left the college, and then another one, after drugs took away his goals.
One night in Homer Glen, Patrianakos met a friend. He thought they were simply going to smoke marijuana.
“This particular night, he had something extra,” he said. “So we’re smoking our weed, and he pulls out a little pill, tells me its Oxycontin. I had heard of it, never done it before.”
“I did it that one time, and the next weekend, I asked him, ‘Can you still get that stuff?’ And we did it again.”
“It took about two months, and I was physically dependent, totally addicted. And we were trying to get it from everywhere. Looking back, I knew I was addicted, because when our original source ran out, I was scrambling to find someone else who could find it,” Patrianakos said.
He began to steal drugs to satisfy his addiction.
“I had a friend who had a grandmother dying of cancer. We would steal hers. We would steal her opiates, her Vicodins, Fentanyl. We got Fentanyl patches,” he said.
Patrianakos’ use of opiates changed his appearance and strained his relationship with his family.
“I looked like death,” he said. “I had sores all over me because I was scratching from all the opiates, because they make you itchy.”
One family member got him into a rehabilitation program.
“When I went there, I remember very clearly, sitting in these groups, my arms crossed, and looking at them. And I started to cry a little bit, and they asked me, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I said: ‘I don’t belong here. I don’t have a problem. You guys are screwed up. You guys have problems. I’m fine.’”
One night, Patrianakos was with a friend who overdosed on drugs.
“She downed a bottle of cough medicine, took some Oxycontin, fell asleep. Meanwhile, I had already gone to sleep,” he said.
When he woke up, his friend was lying on the couch, and he tried to wake her up.
“But she didn’t move. She had overdosed. I called the paramedics,” he said.
The paramedics were able to save her life. But shortly afterward, Patrianakos himself overdosed after being evicted from his apartment and moving in with a relative.
“The entire day, I was like a zombie. I was walking and sleeping at the same time. And that night, the drugs pretty much overcame me,” he said.
The relative took him to the hospital. Even at this point, Patrianakos was still in denial.
After treatment, Patrianakos began a series of recovery efforts, followed by relapses, followed by more recovery efforts. Every time he tried to break free, the tyrant came back with a vengeance.
“It changes your personality,” he said. “It’s like either having a parasite or being possessed.”
Switching to heroin
Patrianakos moved in with another relative during his recovery effort.
“There was lots of cash lying around, lots of valuables. I was pawning things, doing whatever I could,” he said.
For a while, he again got clean of drugs, and had lost all the phone numbers that connected him to his drug sources. This did not stop his urges.
So he found a heroin dealer in Chicago in early 2008, and began to counterfeit money to pay for his habit. Using his computer skills, he created fake $100 bills.
“Never took it to dealers, though — because I could have been killed,” he said.
Instead, he would go to stores and exchange the large fake bills for smaller, authentic bills. This paid for fuel to get to Chicago and then the heroin that he would buy there.
He tried to exchange a bill at a drugstore: “They remembered that someone had given them a fake before. They refused me, and I walked out and went to my car. As I’m about to pull in reverse, this lady comes out, and says, ‘I’ve got you.’ She wrote down my license plate number.”
“As I drove away, I’m like, ‘They’ve recognized me.’ I thought the cops were coming after me, and I destroyed my printer. But nothing happened. No one came after me. No cops at the door. It was a scary couple days there,” he said.
Patrianakos took a trip to Greece to see relatives.
He returned to O’Hare International Airport. There, he was met by authorities, either customs officials or the Transportation Security Administration.
“They’re checking everyone’s passports as they’re getting off the plane,” he said. “I got there, and they checked mine, and they said: ‘Random screening. Come with us.’
“They told me, ‘There’s a warrant out for your arrest.’ ”
The counterfeiting incident at the drugstore had caught up with him.
Authorities placed him in a holding cell at the airport, and then transferred him to the Cook County Jail. A relative spent $3,000 to bail him out.
“It was a federal offense. I could have been in jail for like 20-something years,” he said.
Patrianakos was able to avoid that stiff sentence and continue his recovery, through participation in the Will County drug court program.
“I was outstanding in the program,” he said. “I never once got in trouble. I passed all the drug tests. They asked me to get a job, got the job. They asked me to go to school, I went to school. Community service, got it. Just did everything right, I passed the drug court.”
“That year and a half, almost two years, that I was in drug court — that’s what turned things around for me,” he said.
“But that’s not quite the end of the story,” Patrianakos said.
Patrianakos realized that, even though he was clean, he was going through the motions.
“About a year after drug court, I had a job — it was a decent job, working as a manager — but I had no goals in life. I was going to school, but for what?” he said.
“I relapsed again for three months. After those three months, I realized that the reason why I keep on going back is because I have no goals in life. I didn’t have a future laid out for myself.”
Patrianakos started to get serious about school, about a degree. He started his own business as a Web developer. Today, he is in his second year as an entrepreneur.
He is using his computer talents, not to make a buy, not to get by, but to get ahead in life.