Over the last year, a number of people in recovery from heroin addiction shared their stories in the Inquirer and Daily News — to inspire others to seek treatment, to push for more options for people in addiction, or to advocate for measures to stem the tide of overdose deaths in Philadelphia, where 1,217 people died of an overdose in 2017. This week, we checked back with three people profiled this year to talk about how their recovery is progressing and what’s worked for them.
After Trish Kinkle and her husband, Bill, spoke up in favor of supervised-injection sites at a Kensington town hall meeting this spring, they agreed to speak to the Inquirer and Daily News for a story about how families navigate addiction and recovery. Bill, a former nurse and paramedic who grew up in Kensington, met Trish when he was a year and a half into recovery from heroin addiction, which had left him homeless for three years. Then, years into recovery, with three young kids, a tight budget, and a demanding work schedule, Bill relapsed in 2016. He and Trish spoke about how they made it through, and how Trish made the decision to stay with her husband as he fought to get clean again. Bill’s been in recovery for more than a year now.
For the first 12 months, Bill took the addiction-treatment drug Vivitrol, which blocks the brain’s opioid receptors, as much to bolster his recovery as it was to assure his family he wouldn’t relapse. Familial support was key, he said. So was getting a job at an auto-parts store, which helped with everything from self-esteem to establishing a new daily routine to providing for his family again.
Other aspects of recovery have proved more challenging: The week after the article was published, Bill said, a job offer was rescinded after he disclosed to his potential employers that he had struggled with addiction. Multiple friends have died of overdoses, and his oldest son’s biological father was killed in a bus crash in Kensington. Still, his and Trish’s advocacy work around supervised-injection sites and against stigma has been an outlet. So has his young family.
“At the point I’m in now, drugs aren’t something I worry about every day — I don’t need to be on the alert every day,” Bill said. “My life — being in recovery — is being with my kids and family and enjoying them. What life looked like a year and a half ago is just kind of a fading memory.”
When Emmett Paige was featured in a video and article in May in the Inquirer and Daily News, he had just finished his first year in an apartment provided by the innovative program Pathways to Housing, which doesn’t require that participants get sober before they are given a home. Once inside, participants are connected with treatment, social services, and recovery specialists who can help them adjust to their new life.
It’s a program unlike any other in the country, and one that’s drawn the attention of federal officials as they search for solutions to the opioid crisis. Paige, who struggled with addiction and homelessness for years before entering the program, was one of its first participants.
This month, Paige is celebrating years in recovery and his second winter inside. He’s working on setting goals for the new year, and on taking his new life slowly: “There’s a lot of things I want to get done, but if you don’t give them more thought, they never come out right.” He’s grateful to have reconnected with his children and other loved ones; his only wish, he said, was that his mother could have lived to see him in his new home.
One outlet is Paige’s volunteer work at Prevention Point, the needle exchange in Kensington, where Paige helps with whatever’s needed, including handing out the “works” — the street term for clean needles — that help prevent the spread of disease. He also goes to support group meetings. Being around drug use while volunteering in Kensington doesn’t bother him, he said — he wants to help others still struggling with addiction and homelessness.
And, afterward, he returns to the apartment that has become his pride.
“It’s nice, it’s warm, it’s comfortable — it’s the place you want to be at,” he said of his apartment, which he has decorated with photos of Rocky Balboa. “It feels real great.”
Justine O’Driscoll, another Pathways to Housing participant, was featured in an Inquirer and Daily News article in May. She’s more than a year into recovery now, and, like Paige, taking things slow.
O’Driscoll wasn’t sober when she moved into her Pathways apartment: It took a few months before she decided she wanted to enter treatment. She started with opioid-based medication-assisted treatments and now attends a number of support groups. She said she wants people thinking about entering treatment to know that “no matter what, it is possible. Even though it seems like you could never smile or be happy without having to put something in your arm, it’s possible. It just takes one thing to hold on to."
O’Driscoll, who is transgender, said beginning her transition — and having a safe place to do so — is what’s kept her going this year.
She saw her mother for the first time since 2012 recently: “It’s the first time she’s not only seen me sober but also since starting my transition,” she said. “And I got to show her my apartment, which is really cool. It was very, very emotional."
And this Christmas, for the first time in five years, O’Driscoll is sending her family Christmas gifts.
The hardest part of recovery is dealing with cravings, she said. The easy part?
“Every day I take the subway into Kensington, and I see" the homeless encampments, she said. “I’m walking past them while they’re still sleeping -- and you’ll see a guy with his girl, cuddled up. The easy part is, like, all right, I don’t want to go back to that. To know I was doing the same thing, and now I get to go home and into an actual bed -- that kind of life is the one I want.”