Dead Man Walking

By Thomas Verschelde and Dave Gong

Editor’s note: Due to the sensitive nature of this material, the subject’s name has been changed at his request to protect his privacy.

At age 21, Adam Larson died for the first time.

Larson, a Rockford resident, began using drugs at age 16.

“I smoked weed for the first time the summer between my sophomore and junior year,” Larson said. “I took Vicodin for the first time my junior year [of high school] and by the end of my senior year, I was doing cocaine pretty regularly.”

Larson said he was eventually addicted to substances like Oxycontin, Methadone, Hydrocodone and Fentanyl, all of which are high controlled opiate pain killers.

“I took the opiates to kill the pain, and I became numb to the world,” Larson said. “Lying, cheating and stealing became second nature. My ego completely took over my life.”

Eventually, Larson’s pill source ran out.

“Once the pills ran out, I remember sitting there for an hour thinking, ‘Alright, I either go home and get clean or I go out and get heroin and become a junkie,'” Larson said. “I called a friend and got some heroin … I knew there was no turning back.”

Controlled substance abuse is a growing problem in several towns in northern Illinois, including DeKalb.

Although Rockford and Genoa reported decreases in controlled substance arrests from 2007 to 2010, DeKalb, Belvidere and Sycamore Police Departments all reported increases in controlled substance arrests from 2007 to 2010. Belvidere reported a 38 percent increase in controlled substance arrests, with 213 arrests in 2007, 290 in 2008, 272 in 2009 and 295 in 2010.

While Sycamore had no controlled substance arrests in 2007, the Sycamore Police Department reported a 600 percent increase in controlled substance arrests from 2008 to 2010. There were five arrests in 2008, six in 2009 and 11 in 2010.

According to the 2010 DeKalb Police annual report, controlled substance-related arrests in the city more than doubled from 2009 to 2010. There were 30 controlled substance-related arrests in 2009 and 83 in 2010. According to annual police reports, the number of arrests under the Controlled Substance Act in 2010 were the highest they have been since 2004. There was one arrest for possession of a hypodermic needle in 2010 and none in 2009, the report states.

According to the Illinois General Assembly’s website, a controlled substance is defined as a drug or substance that has been designated as a controlled substance through administrative rule. Alcohol and tobacco are not considered controlled substances, as they are regulated under the Liquor Control Act and the Tobacco Products Tax Act.

Controlled substances are regulated due to their addictive nature.

Not long after Larson’s first heroin use, he was hooked. He overdosed and died for the first time in 2010. He was revived by doctors at a Rockford-area hospital.

Lacey Wright, Psy.D, Psychologist at Dallas County Juvenile Department said the main reason overdoses happen is because the drug user has developed a tolerance to the drug.

“Addictive medications can cause a tolerance to the drug, which requires higher dosages for the same effect,” Wright said. “Tolerance also leads to withdrawal, which can result in continuing to use the drug to avoid the unpleasant effects of withdrawal. As this cycle continues, the individual begins to need more of the drug to control pain, which can also lead to overdose.”

Six months later, Larson overdosed for a second time inside a “dope house” he frequented. This time, he was revived by his heroin dealer through the use of a substance known as Narcan or Naloxone.

Larson said Narcan is a non-addictive substance that can be used to treat overdoses caused by drugs such as heroin. It is used to stop the effects of opiate drugs and can be used to treat recovering drug addicts.

DeKalb County coroner Dennis Miller said in DeKalb County, there were nine total deaths caused by drug overdoses in 2011, six deaths in 2010, and four deaths in 2009. Miller said the overdoses were cause by many different drugs, including heroin, cocaine, Oxycontin and Fentanyl.

Larson was arrested twice for possession of drug paraphernalia, a Class A misdemeanor, in 2010. However, Larson said his life hit a brick wall months later when he was arrested with $3,000 worth of cocaine.

“My life was bedlam,” Larson said. “It was chaos beyond everything I have ever known. I knew that I had a problem, I knew I needed to stop. I just didn’t know how.”

Larson said he was held in a Madison, Wisc. jail for two weeks on a $50,000 bail until his parents paid his $5,000 bond.

“I realize now that my spirit was dead,” Larson said. “I had hit rock bottom and there was nowhere to go but up from there.”

Larson said he then checked himself into an outpatient rehab facility where he received treatment for a month. He has since been put on a maintenance drug called Suboxone, a drug used to help heroin addicts assimilate back into society.

Wright said depending on how severe, frequent and intense an individual’s heroin use is, various levels of treatment may be required.

“From outpatient counseling to residential drug treatment, there are many options out there for anyone struggling with an addiction to any drug,” Wright said. “Withdrawing from some substances can be deadly, so it is important to seek the proper resources before trying to withdraw from a substance.”

Larson said he has been drug free for over a year now, attends Narcotic Anonymous meetings several times a week, and he has rebuilt his relationship with his family.

“Your bottom is where you stop digging,” Larson said. “You just have to be sick and tired of being sick and tired. If you have gone through enough pain there are people out there that would love to help.”

Larson said he now has a job, is attending college classes, rediscovered his passion for music through joining a band and has a new perspective on his life.

“I choose not to be fearful anymore,” Larson said. “I choose to love, or at least try to. I choose to live in the moment, not see life through the eyes of the past, not to worry about what tomorrow holds. Today I just am…and it is working pretty good so far.”