11/16/2017 4:14:00 AM The Brutal, Honest Truth: Erika's story (Part 4)
At top, the photo by the Hope Police Department that made world headlines. At bottom, a recent photo of Erika and her son.
Why we are telling Erika's Story
Never in the three-year history of this publication has a story resonated so strongly.
Something terrible was taking place in Hope, and the story would be written. The picture seen around the world, literally, was shared with us by the local police, and we shared it with the rest of humanity. And within a few days, we found ourselves in the middle of perfect storm that resonated from every corner of our lives.
But this story is not about us.
By Michael Dean Heritage of Hope CEO
Editor's Note: On Oct. 22 of last year, Erika Hurt was found unconscious in her car at the Hope Dollar General store with a hypodermic syringe in her hand and her 10-month-old boy behind her in a car seat.
A photo of Erika, taken and released by the Hope Police Department, spread around the world becoming the face of small-town opioid addiction. A year later, and Erika is in recovery and telling her story.
This story is about a lady, a family, a community, and a nation and their ongoing fight with addiction. Above all, it is about her courageous, constant battle of recovery.
After becoming addicted to prescription pain killers, and then heroin, Erika began criminal behavior to feed her addiction. She fell into trouble with the law, spent time in jail and in rehab. She was sober through her pregnancy and the birth of her son, but then the reason for her sobriety was gone. On Oct. 21, 2016, she made the decision to use heroin again.
"I knew I was making an irrational decision. I knew that it was going to be a very bad decision. So, I purchased it, but I held onto it, trying to talk myself out of it. This whole time I was not reaching out to people who were healthy and who could help talk me out of it. I was trying to do it myself."
As she was driving home from her son's father's house, she had given herself, as she describes it, "permission to use." The only question was where?
"I had already decided that I was going to go ahead and use. Then I was thinking, 'I am not going to be able to use at my mom's house.' I had passed the Dollar General. I looked at it and thought it was the best place for me to do it. That's when I pulled in."
One of the main issues that lead to the overwhelming and very negative response to the story was the presence of her son during this process. While a rationally thinking person would not want to expose a small child to such activities and the dangers that accompany them, an addict's mind is singularly focused on the act of receiving the drugs. The well-being of themselves or others is often negotiated to be deemed acceptable.
"I wanted to make a note that my son was asleep in his car seat, so I gave myself permission to use in front of him. Because I told myself that he was too young to see what was going on or to know what was going on. And that's how I gave myself permission to use in front of him. And I think that's how a lot of addicts give themselves permission to use in front of their kids, because they tell themselves that their kids are too young to really know what's going on, which is not the case at all. Children are very smart."
Her memory of the time spent in the parking lot is very vague. She can remember putting the needle in her arm and the feeling that came with it, but not much else.
"I don't even remember finishing the shot because it was that quick. I remember getting into the ambulance and looking over at my mom who was holding my son. She was saying something along the lines of 'don't look at him.' She was very angry and hollering something at me."
She described issues with her memory and hearing loss while in the ambulance as it was driving away. She is not sure if it was the effects of the Narcan. She received two injections from the emergency responders in the parking lot. She does remember a brief conversation with the paramedic while riding in the ambulance, however.
"The paramedic asked me, 'What were you thinking to do it in the car with your son?' And she said that if I was going to get high, please don't do it in front of my child."
After she got to the hospital, her family arrived. Her memory was very vivid from that point on. The police had contacted Department of Child Services, and they met her at the hospital and took a drug screen. She was told that she was not going to be able to live in the same residence as her son while the case was open. Background checks were initiated for two family members to take temporary custody.
"I had a lot of family members who were willing to help out. I think they were going to discharge me and do all their paperwork. That's when the police came back and decided to arrest me because of the previous charges and the probation that I was on."