Cleveland Tough: Tales of Survival and Perseverance Episode 1 - Heroin And Opiates

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Today ideastream launches a new, weekly five-part series – “Cleveland Tough: Tales of Survival and Perseverance.” 

This week, we look at opiate and heroin use which has surged across Ohio.  The Ohio Department of Health says from 2000-2012, overdose deaths increased 366 percent in the state. 

In the first part of our month-long series, we hear the story of 37-year-old Dean Curran, a former addict and father of two, who talks of his struggle with drug abuse.


My name is Dean Curran, and I survived opiate and heroin addiction.

My first experience for the opiates would have been popping a pill with a beer and then enjoying the opiate buzz.

The addiction started progressing, you need more milligrams -- pill-wise in your system -- to get the same feeling that you’ve got when you first started, so you spend more money to get the same high.

The pills started becoming very expensive. I got into OxyContin, anywhere from $30 to $50 a pill. 1 to 2 to 3 pills a day, so you’re talking a $50 to $150 a day habit.

Once that got out of hand, somebody introduced me to heroin. And that would’ve been at about age 30. 

I was a mortgage consultant and it was right during the re-fi (refinancing) boom.  They say, “More money, more problems”. Well (laughs), definitely made a lot of money and had nothing to show for it.

Photo from's CGehlen

On Suppliers 

I got my heroin from Cleveland, East Cleveland , and then I’d drive back to suburbia.  I lived in Twinsburg.  There was even a point where my “resources” ran out and I actually drove to Columbus many times to buy heroin and drive back.

My kids knew there was something going on with me. I always told them, “Dad’s going to pick up groceries, I’m gonna be right back.” “Dad’s gotta go to the gas station, I’m gonna be right back.”  

That would turn into hours on end before I got back, without groceries.

And I remember my daughter looking up, “Dad…please don’t go to the gas station. Dad, please don’t go to the gas station.”

And I would look at her and say, “I need to go to the gas station, I’ll be right back.”

On the personal and financial toll

The consequences got worse. DUIs, a lot of traffic violations, unable to pay tickets, a drug possession charge in January 2011. 

You could see my tailbone poking out, my face was sunk in. I literally looked like a demon.

That’s when I had a moment of clarity that “I cannot do this”. And I actually detoxed in Cleveland City Jail. On my knees, truly praying to God that he helps me, and to have faith that I could do this.

In the meantime, my wife’s already wanting a divorce, has kicked me out numerous times.  Could not see the kids…

On Getting and Staying Clean

In the rehab facility, they taught me to get a routine down.  House job, clean, meetings, and that kept me busy to stay out of my head.  Because in my head, I could find any excuse to go relapse.

I ended up getting a job a car wash.  I was living off tips, and that was a blessing in early sobriety, because one major thing that would maybe prompt a thought to want to go get high is having money in your pocket.  And having a lot of it. I’ve seen guys sober up, get a job, make a lot of money fast, and then they relapse.

Photo by ideastream's Brian Bull

If I hadn’t gone through detox and sobered up, all of the criminal offenses, consequences, at best, I’d still be using heroin. Otherwise I’d be dead or in prison. 

I survived.

There has been five funerals that I’ve been to in the last couple years, where obviously that was not the case. It’s a horrible, horrible, epidemic, this heroin. 

Any chance I get, I spend time with my kids.  Whatever they want to do. Because I’ve taken away more than a few of those moments from them with my addiction.  So I’m going to enjoy every, every single moment I have with them.  

This story was produced by ideastream's Brian Bull.  Next week we'll hear from a former United States Air Force chaplain about PTSD and transitioning to civilian life. 



Curran on heroin's ravages on the body, and withdrawal:

"There was a point where I actually….asked myself many times during addiction, am I really going to do this the rest of my life?  I could not go without it.  Otherwise you get sick, from the heroin withdrawal, and you’ll do anything to not feel sick and not go through withdrawal.  At a point once where I did heroin, I yelled, “I love this stuff!” The anticipation of going to get it, and getting it, having it, the adrenaline rush in hour or two later, you’re stuck with no money and you need another fix.  It’s a horrible carousel, a horrible cycle.  Every time I actually started questioning myself, "Why am I doing this? I’m ruining myself…this cannot keep going on.  But I couldn’t stop it."

Curran on what helped him break the habit for good:

"Alcoholics Anonymous is essential for me beating drug addiction.  They accept you and welcome you.  You don’t have to be a 'liquid-only' alcoholic.  And it’s been huge.  My family has also helped me to beat this addiction.  I already lost my wife, and the fact was that I knew if I did not do this 100 percent, stay sober, I knew next step would be that I would not see my kids. That was a driving factor.

"I’ve been in and out of rehab several times, since 2011, 2012, multiple attempts.  And my last time going in…those that loved me and were around me, didn’t really make a big deal over Dean getting sober this time.  Because they’ve seen this movie before. I felt that no one cares about me getting sober this time.  That was different.  The fact that I wasn’t getting my wife back was different. The look on my mom’s face was an emotional bottom for me, with tears coming down her face.  And finally in Cleveland County jail, on my knees, truly praying to God, that he helps me and  I do this for real this time."

Curran reflects on what's changed since going clean and sober more than three years ago:

"I've peace of mind from my program because of spirituality and helping others, it's the biggest gift I’ve received from the program.  The relationships mended with my family, my kids… parents. And yes, my ex-wife.  It’s been a blessing.  I’ve been able to make amends, those are gifts.  Maybe recoup some friendships.  I've many financial amends to make.  I'm able to have my health back, I'm no longer 120 lbs,  I'm at 170 lbs.  I enjoy fitness and staying healthy, I'm blessed to have that. Peace of mind also encompasses my perception around me.  My thinking has changed.  To positive instead of negative, to generalize it.

Photo from Dean Curran.

"Those are all gifts, I don’t think I’ve mentioned one material thing.  Yes, I have one vehicle today, it runs good.  But relationships, I'm being present in my kids lives, and I'm able to help another alcoholic where I was at.  I sponsor two guys right now. And I have a sponsor that I talk to four to five times a week.  And, the euphoric rush you get from helping somebody else is like none other. That’s another gift.

"I’ve had some laughs.  And some spiritual moments....that I never had in drug and alcohol use.  They’re true, they’re real feelings, and I've also had all of my emotions come back!  I was no longer numbing myself for years. So yes, the body’s a really resilient thing, my emotions have come back as well.  Good ones, and bad ones. I’m able to feel today."  


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