Local people recovering from opioid addiction address the national epidemic after years of struggling

 Angela Bogota, 30, of Garden City, committed armed robbery to help feed her opioid addiction. That led to her spending 21 months in a correctional facility, and she has been sober for five years.

Angela Bogota, 30, of Garden City, committed armed robbery to help feed her opioid addiction. That led to her spending 21 months in a correctional facility, and she has been sober for five years.

Photo by Sean Work


By: Joshua Gordon | C&G Newspapers | Published November 10, 2017

 Stacie Burns, 38, of Pontiac, said she thought she would die on a bathroom floor after using heroin in 2009. She has now been sober for eight years and advocates for others facing addiction.

Stacie Burns, 38, of Pontiac, said she thought she would die on a bathroom floor after using heroin in 2009. She has now been sober for eight years and advocates for others facing addiction.

Photo by Donna Agusti

METRO DETROIT — In high school, Angela Bogota was your typical teenager, participating in cheerleading and track and field. After graduation, she quickly learned that college wasn’t for her and still landed a job at a Fortune 500 company.

She had a child shortly after, and on the surface, she looked to be doing well for herself. But a party habit that started during high school had slowly developed into something more dangerous.

What started as alcohol and marijuana use escalated following a sexual assault, Bogota, 30, said. She used those two substances more and more, and started experimenting with ecstasy and cocaine.

Eventually, Bogota, of Garden City, lost her job and started robbing stores to pay for her drug habit, which included opioid painkillers and benzodiazepines. About six months after she started stealing for drugs, she committed an armed robbery that landed her behind bars.

“When my drug use escalated, I became less and less involved and more focused on partying,” Bogota said. “I barely graduated high school and got a good job selling mortgages, but I didn’t realize using Adderall and opioids would take me to a point where I would eventually escalate out of control.”

Around 3,900 people start misusing prescription opioids every day in the United States, according to a recent report by the Macomb County Office of Substance Abuse. More than 90 people die every day across the country due to opioid overdose.

In 2016, the Macomb County Medical Examiner’s Office said there were 74 deaths related to prescription drug overdose in the county and 124 heroin-related deaths. According to the Oakland County Health Division, there were 165 opioid-related deaths in the county in 2015.

The number of deaths related to opioids increased by 267 percent from 2009 to 2015 at the state level, according to the Oakland County Health Division. In Oakland County alone, there were enough opioid pills prescribed in 2015 for every county resident to have 48 pills.

Stephen Wiland, director of Foundations Detroit, an outpatient addiction treatment facility in Royal Oak, said he has been working around opioids for 30 years, and the growing epidemic isn’t due to any single factor.

On his end, at the treatment facility, Wiland said there are two trends that stick out above others: As the number of opioid-addicted individuals has risen, the number of people the facility treats between 18 and 20 years old has also gone up, while prescription painkillers have overtaken heroin as the most frequently misused opioid substance.

“Alcohol is still No. 1 in substances people abuse, and marijuana is No. 2, but as opioids have advanced to an epidemic, it has become the third most, and that has borne out locally too,” Wiland said. “Back in the ’70s, people who ended up heroin addicts, for many that was the first (opioid) they used. As of 2015, about 80 percent of the heroin-addicted population say prescription pain medication was their first.”

Bogota grew up with addiction a part of her family — her mom was an alcoholic, she said. But she said she didn’t realize she was an addict even when she lost her job because she nodded off at her desk due to being on multiple drugs.

Without a job, Bogota relied on a man she’d met who introduced her to stealing to provide for their drug habit. Eventually, they got caught, and while Bogota was let go, she couldn’t wrap her head around not having access to her partner in crime and his connection to drugs.

So she committed an armed robbery to bail him out, and the very next day ended up in handcuffs. 

Bogota credits having a judge who understood drug problems for helping her on her path to being five years sober. The judge sentenced her to 21 months at the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti.

During the last six months of her sentence, Bogota took part in a substance abuse treatment program. While her son was taken away from her while she was in prison, she has since gained partial custody. She’s also gotten married and is pursuing a degree in social work.

“Within a couple months, I went from working at a Fortune 500 company to committing armed robbery,” Bogota said. “I thought I was a victim of circumstance and that anybody in the same position would do the same thing. Treatment allowed me to think logically about being so deep in the disease.”

While going to prison and getting treatment allowed Bogota to turn her life around, it took more than just landing in front of a judge for Pontiac resident Stacie Burns to become sober.

Burns, 38, had her first experience with drugs at 18, when she broke her tailbone and was prescribed Vicodin. Over the next eight years, a heroin addiction developed, until Burns’ house was raided by police because she was selling drugs to support her own habit.

“The Vicodin sparked something I didn’t even know was there,” Burns said. “It got so bad with heroin that I had no veins left, and I was shooting up into my breasts. I had used all my veins from my arms to my legs to my feet.”

But the raid wasn’t the tipping point for Burns. Like Bogota, Burns had a judge who wanted to see her addiction treated, but during more than three years in a three-quarter-way house, Burns kept using.

It wasn’t until 2009, as Burns sat on the bathroom floor of a Detroit Burger King using toilet water to shoot heroin, that she knew she needed help or she was going to die.

“I had a moment of clarity where I called Access Oakland from that bathroom floor and told them what was going on and that I was going to die,” Burns said. “I said that was it for me.”

For the next 18 months, Burns underwent treatment using methadone, which allows people with addiction to avoid withdrawal symptoms while undergoing treatment. The next six to eight months were spent detoxing from the methadone, and Burns has now been sober from heroin for eight years and methadone for six years.

Clean for the first time in about 12 years, Burns started to advocate for medical treatment for people with addiction. She has since started Drug Free All Stars, a nonprofit group of people recovering from addiction who offer help to others through resources and a hotline. The group placed nearly 400 people in treatment facilities last year.

The opioid epidemic has received national coverage from coast to coast over the past few years, but Burns sees people talking to other people who know there is an issue and not to the people who most need the information.

“We need to talk to the people who don’t think it can happen in their community or in their family,” she said. “We need to get into the schools, and we need more money not for jails and prisons, but treatment facilities. I was locked up 12 times, and every time I got out I started using again.”

Bogota said more people in recovery need to get involved with peer-to-peer support if they can. She said she wouldn’t have been able to get through getting out of jail and having the “deck stacked against me” without the help of others.

She also feels schools should be a starting point for education on the subject, saying that at that time in her life, she had not believed it possible for her to go through what happened to her. 

“I speak to students and I tell them what really happens and the process of addiction,” Bogota said. “Decisions that you think are not big decisions when you are young, like experimenting with drugs and alcohol, I tell them about how quickly the cycle takes ahold of us.

“Students think there is a lot that will not happen to them. I am a real-life example of how it can impact your life.”