Heroin epidemic close to home

Before he became an addict, Upper Sandusky resident Jarod Voorhees had it all.

With five children, a good-paying job and a wife he loved dearly, Voorhees, 40, owned his own home and vehicles. Some would say Voorhees had it made with a seemingly perfect life.

But underneath his perfect life, Voorhees, a man born and raised in Upper Sandusky, began his long, silent struggle with addiction.

Voorhees’ life changed dramatically after he became addicted first to prescription painkillers, like many people who eventually turn to heroin, he told sixth-graders at Union Middle School during a life skills class in cooperation with the Wyandot County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday afternoon.

Coming from the Crosswaeh community-based correctional facility in Tiffin, where he is undergoing rehabilitation for his addiction, Voorhees spent the afternoon sharing his story with Upper Sandusky youth while encouraging them to make better choices than he did.

In visiting the school, he also shared hope for all of the local addicts who need to know someone else in their community is recovering from heroin addiction, said Detective Sgt. Kerwin Wisely and Deputy Ed Gottfried of the WCSO.

It was the first time Voorhees spoke about his experience to a crowd, he said. Health teacher Beth Richman and Wyandot County Health Department Nursing Director Darlene Steward, who runs the life skills program in the county, praised him for having the courage to share his story.

On June 18, 2014, law enforcement officials from the METRICH Enforcement Unit, including Wisely and Gottfried, knocked down Voorhees’ front door with a search warrant. He had been under surveillance for possession of and trafficking in heroin, crimes for which he later was convicted.

But that, Voorhees said, was the day his life was saved by the drug enforcement unit. Voorhees said, in retrospect, it was the best day of his life because being caught saved him from the grip of addiction.

Voorhees’ story, however, starts several years before that fateful day.

Falling into the grip

Voorhees told the students he had experimented with some drugs in the past. Because he could walk away from any drug — including nicotine when he “put down” cigarettes after 20 years of smoking — he began to feel invincible.

“I can tell you guys, I remember back when I was your age. I was around some older kids and they did some drugs, mostly marijuana,” Voorhees said. “I had no desire to get into that. … But the older I got, and the more people I knew who were using, it was harder and harder to say no because you just want to fit in. Some pressure you, and even the ones who don’t, they’re doing it and you want to be cool like everybody else. Nobody wants to be the loner over here in the corner. People can make you feel that way.”

Still, Voorhees said he never became “hooked” on any drug when he was younger.

“Later on, (that) made it a lot easier for me to try more and more and bigger things, harder drugs. Because to me … I felt untouchable,” he said. “I was definitely wrong about that. I’m not indestructible — nobody is.”

At age 32, Voorhees had a job working on the road in construction. A back injury in his job led Voorhees where most other people would go — he sought medical care.

Voorhees went to a chiropractor and then a medical doctor, who wrote him a prescription for painkillers — first Vicodin, and when that stopped working due to an increasing tolerance, the stronger drug Percocet, a name-brand type of oxycodone.

Voorhees took the medication so he could continue working and bringing home his income to support his family, he said. But without his knowledge, he was becoming addicted.

“That was going real well for while. Eventually, being on these, my body got used to it and they weren’t helping anymore,” Voorhees said. “I’d take more and more of them, and they just weren’t helping.

“Pretty soon I was taking (Percocets) just like I was taking the Vicodin — more and more, all the time. It was a pattern anywhere from two months to six months, whatever I was taking, it wasn’t working anymore. … Pretty soon, I ran out of medications to take that were helping me. There just wasn’t anything strong enough to help me anymore.”

At that point, Voorhees turned to heroin. He had been buying pills illegally.

“Before I went to heroin, I was addicted to pain pills. I didn’t realize it,” he said. “Here’s the thing — I think back now, I should have picked up on it or somebody should have told me I should have asked for some help. … When you wake up in the morning and you’ve got to take painkiller and you can’t go four hours after that without having to take another one, then you’ve got a problem.

“Now I know — I was completely and totally addicted to pain pills. … It could have been rat poison and I wouldn’t have cared. My body needed it.”

But even with heroin, Voorhees’ usage continued its uphill climb. He started by snorting the drug, but eventually began injecting it. His use escalated from one or two bags to a gram a day equal to 10 bags, then 2 1⁄2 to 3 grams every day and eventually to as much as 6 grams per day, he said.

After Voorhees lost his job, he started selling heroin to support his habit.

“Eventually, I gave up on life. I knew my kids needed me, but I put my addiction ahead of them,” he said. “I hated life. I was too proud and scared to ask for help. But you’d be surprised how many people are willing to help. I went from having everything to nothing because I didn’t want anyone to know.”

A fateful day
But someone did know.

Law enforcement officials had been conducting surveillance on Voorhees’ residence without his knowledge. He said his addiction kept him from noticing police sitting outside his home.

And on June 18, 2014 — a day stitched into Voorhees’ mind forever — Wisely, Gottfried and other law enforcement officials from the METRICH Enforcement Unit busted down his door with automatic rifles and pistols pointed at him.

Later, a student asked if Voorhees tried to put up a fight.

“The fight was gone from me,” he responded. “I wanted help, but I didn’t know who to ask. … These guys saved my life. Shortly after my arrest, I came to realize that it was time to face my problems and my addiction. I felt — excuse me for saying this — I did feel like living hell for a very long time. But I fought through it in the jail, in prison. It was a challenge every day.

“I survived every challenge that I took on. So far, I’ve conquered them all. It’s not over — I know this will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

Voorhees was convicted of four charges, including trafficking in and possession of heroin, in Wyandot County Common Pleas Court in January 2015. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but was released after 11 months.

Voorhees credited his early release with good behavior while in prison. He said rehabilitation was not part of his prison sentence, so Voorhees was released to a CBCF for treatment.
Voorhees said he was present when each of his five children were born. He would not give up those days for anything, but still must admit the best day of his life came when he was arrested.

A new chapter
Voorhees told the students that he was not required to share his story with them. In fact, he approached the Wyandot County Sheriff’s Office about doing so in the hopes that youth — including his own children — will stand firm in their opposition to trying illegal drugs.

Voorhees’ first grandchild was born in October, he said, but he has yet to meet his grandbaby. His children range in age from 21 to 4 years old, including a 12-year-old daughter who previously attended East School and is a former classmate of the sixth-graders Voorhees visited Wednesday.

After the presentation, Voorhees said it was therapeutic for him to stand in front of the class and warn them about the dangers of using heroin. He learned more about himself in prison, he said, and is starting to see his former self again.

“My life is not worthless like I used to think. … I realize now that people do care,” he said, pointing to the students’ teachers and law enforcement officials from the sheriff’s office. “Everyone in this room cares.

“I owe these guys (Wisely and Gottfried) everything. The day they kicked my door in — I thought it was the worst day of my life. But once I got over being sick, I knew it was the best thing. … I would not be here today if it were not for these guys.”

Voorhees could go home as soon as March 28, he said. He first plans to live with his mother, using his family and true friends for support as he attempts to stay clean without any prescribed drug. Some people in recovery use Vivitrol, an opiate antagonist, including select prisoners in the Seneca County Jail who qualify to get the shot treatment in a medical setting.

Vivitrol blocks cravings and the pleasurable effects of opioids and alcohol. It does not, however, keep someone who uses from overdosing. The drug’s website says people should not take it if they have any withdrawal symptoms.

“Do not take large amounts of opioids to try to overcome the opioid-blocking effects of Vivitrol,” the website says. “… You may be more sensitive to lower amounts of opioids.”

Voorhees said he does plan to live the rest of his life sober and healthy. He is looking into employment and community service opportunities.

“(Law enforcement officials) are not here to put you in jail,” he said. “They want to help. I’m standing in front of you today because I put in the work.”

Wisely noted Voorhees is on the right path to recovery.

In their presentation on drugs, Wisely and Gottfried told the students several local youth have overdosed on K2 or spice — a synthetic form of marijuana — while in school. They showed students a video of a local woman in the back of a police car who was high on bath salts and methamphetamines, and as she wriggled, scratched and yelled out in the back of the vehicle, Wisely noted, “She’s seeing only the stuff in her head right now.”

Gottfried told the students his job is never done.

“There’s not a person in this room who is exempt from making wrong decisions and being in the same boat,” he said. “You’ll never understand (why someone would use drugs) until you’re that far in it. The mindset is that it couldn’t happen to me. Understand, it can happen to anyone.

“I’m not going to solve the problem. You guys are the ones who can solve the problem.”

Originally published in the Daily Chief Union on February 25, 2016.

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