December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Residents affected by heroin tell their stories at rally to combat epidemic

Aliviah Williams of Vermillion stands with the support of members of Recovering Souls Barb Szekely and John Szekely of Lorain, Rocky Williamson of Elyria, and Michael Shelton of Elyria at Saturday's Drug Task Force Rally at Lakeview Park. AMANDA K. RUNDLE/CHRONICLE

Aliviah Williams of Vermillion stands with Barb Szekely and John Szekely, of Lorain, Rocky Williamson of Elyria, and Michael Shelton, of Elyria, who attended Saturday’s Drug Task Force Rally at Lakeview Park to support those who are trying to overcome heroin addiction. AMANDA K. RUNDLE/CHRONICLE

Correction: Rocky Williamson and Michael Shelton, both of Elyria, said they and Barb and John Szekely, of Lorain, are not ex-heroin users. They said the quartet attended Saturday’s Drug Task Force rally in Lorain to support those who are trying to overcome addiction to the drug. A headline and photo caption in the print edition of Sunday’s paper may not have made that clear.

LORAIN — To stop heroin’s destruction of lives, the drug’s ugliness must be brought out into the open.

That was the message at Saturday night’s Hope Not Dope Rally Against Heroin at Lakeview Park, where more than 100 people gathered to share stories in an effort to combat the heroin epidemic.

Lori Pinero, whose 24-year-old daughter, Tera Guest, died after overdosing on heroin in January, led the rally with pleas for the community to get involved.

Pinero said she will never forget the cold, snowy night when she got a call at 4 a.m. that her daughter died.

“The heartache doesn’t stop, it doesn’t end. I have another daughter who’s struggling every day to not end up where her sister did,” Pinero said.

Pinero now has custody of Guest’s 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, which she says is an honor, but also a tragedy because a generation of grandparents are finding themselves caring for grandchildren because heroin has taken the parents’ lives or left them incapable of caring about their own children’s welfare.

Fighting back tears, Pinero said she wants those struggling, whether addicts or their family members, to know they are not alone.

“There are plenty of families still in this,” Pinero said. “Whether we close our curtains and shut our doors, it’s still out there, it still exists, and it’s robbing us of our beautiful children every day.

Chelsie Hensley and Josh Wilson stand in the crowd at the rally, where Hensley also shared her story of struggle and survival.

Chelsie Hensley and Josh Wilson stand in the crowd at the rally, where Hensley also shared her story of struggle and survival.

“I don’t know how to stop it. All I know how to do is keep screaming against it.”

Chelsie Hensley, 25, was caught in the crippling grip of a heroin addiction for several years. Hensley was Guest’s best friend, had overdosed once in Guest’s bed and was charged with child endangering and possession of heroin in 2012 when police found her unconscious in her car with her 3-year-old daughter after shooting up heroin.

Sober for more than a year, she said heroin will make anyone who uses it into a deplorable human being with no regard for anything other than their next fix.

“I never thought I would live to see (sobriety),” Hensley said. “I overdosed and was hospitalized four times. Heroin is the worst drug you could ever do, and it makes you do things you would never even imagine you would do.”

Linda Gradisek, 54, of Vermilion, has custody of her four grandchildren because their mother is still on the streets using. She said children of heroin addicts are brought up in a world of misery. When she took custody of her grandchildren they were malnourished, underdeveloped and one had permanent scarring from untreated scabies.

“The horrors these children lived through is a travesty,” Gradisek said. “No child should have to witness such things. They witnessed pill parties, sex parties, pistol whipping, crime, violence and abuse that will stay with them forever.”

Anthony Villa, 56, started shooting heroin at 15. Today he’s been sober for 28 years and serves as the executive director of Fortaleza, an agency providing opiate addiction and recovery services.

“People need to start by reaching out and asking somebody for help,” Villa said.

Lorain County Coroner Stephen Evans said there were 61 fatal heroin overdoses in 2012 and 67 in 2013. So far in 2014, there have been more than 30, Evans said, and police have saved an additional 42 lives since October by administering Narcan.

Evans said prescription pill addiction needs to be addressed as well, because addicts don’t start down their self-destructive path with heroin.

“Once people can’t get pills, they move on to heroin because it is readily available and it’s cheap,” Evans said. “Pills on the street cost $50, but you can get a hit of heroin for $5.”

Raising awareness and bringing the community together also are vital to stemming the tide of tragedies caused by heroin, Evans said.

“The key to the whole problem is education,” Evans said. “People need to know opiates and heroin kill, so maybe they will avoid even getting on it. And for those who have started, they need to get help to get off of it, because otherwise they’ll die.”

Contact Jon Wysochanski at 329-7123 or jwysochanski@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonWysochanski. 

Resources for those seeking help

Lorain Intergroup Office

  • 710 Broadway, Lorain, (440) 246-1800. Information on local meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Heroin Anonymous.

Arid Fellowship Center

  • 1741 North Ridge Road, Lorain. Holds meetings daily and is a clean and sober place for people to gather.

Recovering Souls

  • (440) 341-2975. A local motorcycle club of recovering addicts and alcoholics.

Let’s Get Real Inc.

  • 5541 Liberty Ave., (440) 963-0147. Provides information and resources to families and their loved ones in their journey to recovery and also has lists of Heroin Anonymous meetings.

Fortaleza

  • 41641 North Ridge Road, Suite B, Elyria, (440) 752-1766. A resource center for addicts and their families.