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Heroin in Southern Maryland: The brief life of an addict

Dunkirk, MD - When describing her son, Jacob “Jake” Paddy, Ginger Rosela of Owings fondly recalled his compassion for animals and love of bicycles and four-wheelers. “He was the most sensitive kid I had,” said Rosela.

The picture of Jake she has in a journal of his life is the same image that was used for his obituary. The 23 year-old St. Leonard resident died July 19. While the obituary posted by Rausch Funeral Home stated he died “unexpectedly,” there were clear signs Jake’s life was imperiled.

Rosela, along with her mother, Charlotte Moreland, spoke recently with The Bay Net about the young man’s brief life and the struggles that led to its abrupt end.

“When Jake was in high school he wrecked on his bicycle,” said Rosela. “He had major surgery at Washington Hospital Center and was homeschooled for a while.”

Rosela said doctors treating her son during his recovery from surgery prescribed pain medicine. “I think that was the beginning of Jake liking the feel of prescribed pain medicine,” she said. “We’d talk about it, like ‘Jake, are you alright?’ We didn’t know what was going on until it started to get a little out of control.”

With her son becoming moody and over-sleeping, and showing other signs of a dependence on the painkillers, Jake’s family decided to put him in rehab.

“He went willingly,” said Rosela, who explained the rehab facility was in Baltimore. “He came out of rehab and was really doing well. I think it helped. It gave him a way to cope with things.”

Realizing the rehabilitation process was still ongoing, Rosela quit her job with an Annapolis-based defense contractor “so I could totally focus on him and give him strength. I would take him to meetings and monitor him. And he was doing really well.”

Still there were lapses, Rosela indicated, and her son would still seek the high a pill would provide. “Jake’s drug of choice was Oxycontin,” she said. The opiod pain reliever is similar to morphine.

Moreland said Jake sent her a letter admitting to visiting crack houses and stopping people on the street for money to buy drugs. In that same letter, Moreland said her grandson assured her he had never used heroin.

Rosela described her son as “a hard-working young man.” He worked with his father as a tire technician at McCarthy Tire in Hughesville.

May 11, 2010 was not a good day for Jake. According to information available online by the Maryland judicial system, Jake was involved in an accident at the northbound Route 2/4 – Dares Beach Road intersection. Instead of stopping he drove on, but was subsequently apprehended in the Owings area. Court records show several charges filed against him that day, including failure to stop after an accident involving damage, attempt to elude police by failing to stop, attempt to elude by fleeing on foot and driving while impaired.

Rosela said her son went to jail as a result of the incident. When he came out of jail and was placed on probation and Rosela said Jake looked great. “He was totally clean,” she said, adding that Jake had to check in with his probation officer and submit to urine tests.

This past spring, Jake was injured in another cycle accident. “We went to Calvert [Memorial] Hospital to meet him and his girlfriend,” Rosela recalled. “They put him in a sling. I don’t know if they gave him any pain medicine. We made an appointment with a doctor in Annapolis.” That physician recommended Jake undergo surgery and prescribed Oxycontin to kill the pain. Rosela recalled her son telling the doctor “I’m in recovery. I don’t think I should take these.” Rosela recalled the doctor advising that for the short amount of time he would be on the drug, “you’ll be fine.” Jake then filled out the prescription. “We were all very concerned that this would be a trigger.”

Rosela said her son continued to work and was subsequently given a non-narcotic called Tramadol.

Sometime around June Rosela received a phone call from an acquaintance who said, “Ginger, Jake is shooting dope.”

“And I said ‘no way.’ I didn’t believe it was true,” Rosela recalled. “But I immediately called Jake and said ‘I just got a call that you were shooting dope. What is going on?’ He said ‘oh, Mom, that’s ridiculous. That’s not true I would never do that.’ I said, ‘Jake, c’mon, if this is happening we’ll get you some help.’ He said ‘Mom, I’m not doing it [shooting up],’ so I let it go.”

Jake soon had to go to court for violating the terms of his probation. “He didn’t finish his drug class and he came up ‘dirty,’ positive with morphine,” Rosela recalled. “I said ‘it’s right here in black and white,’ and he’s still denying it. He said ‘OK Mom, I just tried it once or twice. I didn’t like it. It’s not a problem. I got this.’ ”

Rosela said she learned later that three of Jake’s friends knew he was using heroin.

About a week before her son died, Rosela was at the home of her former husband, where Jake was living. “I saw the bruises on his arm. I said ‘what is this?’ His excuse was that his girlfriend was pinching him. I really didn’t think anything more of it because he looked fine. I said to him ‘Jake are you sure?’ His dad checked his room looking for evidence of anything. [He] couldn’t find anything. I said ‘are you sure because we can go and get some help.’ I will tell you addicts don’t like to disappoint. They don’t want to disappoint you again and again. I think that’s why Jake didn’t ask for our help again. Because they feel so guilty about what they’re doing that they can’t help it. Because addiction is a disease. Until people understand that and believe that they’ll keep on thinking addicts are trolls underneath the bridge shooting up. No! They are your sons and daughters and neighbors.”

Rosela was out of the area when her son passed away. She recounted the details she learned of his final hours. “One Thursday night after Jake had been swimming with his friends, he cooked dinner and they were heading out and he had a few beers,” she said. “I don’t think people understand this—alcohol and heroin are extremely lethal. If he had just had the heroin and not three or four beers he might not have died. You cannot mix the two. He went into the bathroom and did his thing. By his autopsy report it went straight to his heart and pretty much killed him instantly. His father and his younger brother found him the next morning.”

Rosela said the officer who investigated the unattended death indicated Jake didn’t appear to know what he was doing. She said as friends and family gathered to grieve, some of her sons friends told her they believe Jake had been “experimenting” with heroin for a month and half. This was likely a result of the fact that pills such as Oxycontin have become more expensive in the drug market than heroin, which is now relatively cheap.

Rosela relayed that the word on the street was that the dealer who sold her son his fatal dose lives in Calvert County, was arrested the day after Jake died and was subsequently bailed out by his supplier. She had also learned through the grapevine that the dealer had advised her son the quantity of heroin was quite potent and to “be careful.”

“He didn’t think it would take his life,” said Rosela. “He just had a problem.”

Her son’s funeral service lasted nearly three hours, with several friends and family members standing to eulogize “a good kid.” Rosela admits she gets angry when she sees the posts on The Bay Net that disparage drug users as “losers. My son’s not a loser. My son had a problem. My son was an addict.”

The grieving mother also lamented the lack of affordable health for drug addicts in the region. “There’s not enough facilities in the area,” Rosela said.

Moreland said her grandson’s rehab treatment “was $8,000 for 30 days.”

“Not everyone can afford that,” said Rosela. “There needs to be more help out there. What’s Calvert and St. Mary’s doing? I don’t think they’re doing much of anything.”

Last month, both Rosela and Moreland attended a rally in Washington, DC for “Fed Up,” an organization seeking a federal response to the nation’s opiod epidemic. Rosela said she is hoping to start a support group for families who have been touched by drugs.

According to Calvert County Health Officer Dr. Laurence Polsky, the county has indeed seen a significant increase in heroin use, as individuals craving their prescription opiate of choice transition to a substance that is now available at a cheaper price. Polsky explained the potency of the illegal drug “is very dramatic,” and heroin is sold on the streets in differing levels of potency. He added that very often the street drugs “are cut with other substances.”

While the service offered to addicts at Calvert Substance Abuse Services comes with a cost, Polsky said the rates are on a “sliding scale,” determined by an individual’s income. No one who seeks help is turned away.

Polsky admitted the recidivism rate for individuals hooked on opiates is high. “The greatest problem is they go back to the same environment and the same temptations are there again. They are welcome to come back in.” Polsky said the Substance Abuse Services staff members “know the realities” of fighting addictions and often it takes several efforts at rehab to finally break free of the habit.

“Every six minutes, somebody overdoses,” said Rosela, a staggering statistic she learned from speaking with other grief-stricken family members and advocates at the Fed Up rally.

Despite losing her son in a battle with addiction, Rosela indicated she was ready to go to war to eradicate the nation’s prescription drug scourge.

“He had a disease and the disease won,” she said. “I don’t feel guilty because our family tried everything.”

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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