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At 21, recovering heroin addict starts over

Thursday - 4/10/2014, 5:26pm  ET

In this Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 photo, Karen Lewis listens to her son, Cody, a recovering heroin addict, talk abut his life and addiction at the Good Samaritan Methodist Church in Addison, Ill. Though she tried different approaches - punishment, lectures, praise when he entered rehab - nothing stuck. About a month after his release from a court-ordered 8½-month residential treatment program, Cody reverted to his old ways. "I just gave in when I got out," he says. "You can learn every trick in the book to prevent you from using, but you have to use what they teach you." (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

SHARON COHEN
AP National Writer

AURORA, Ill. (AP) -- Just out of Cook County Jail after being arrested with 15 bags of heroin, Cody Lewis had all of $11 in his pocket. But not for long.

Almost immediately, he spent $10 on yet another bag of smack, making the buy on the Chicago streets last May as he headed to a police station to retrieve his cellphone. He shot up in a grocery store parking lot, then continued on his way.

By then, Lewis was a $100-a-day addict. Heroin was no longer fun. He needed it to get rid of the sweats and the shakes, the body cramps, the aches in his bones. "I had to use," he says, "to feel normal, like a regular person."

Lewis was consumed by heroin. Every day was the same: Get up sick if he hadn't used in 12 hours. Figure out how to get money. Then drive 35 miles from his suburban home in Aurora to Chicago to score.

"My whole existence," he says, "was just finding ways to get high."

In many ways, Lewis represents the changing face of heroin in America. He is in his 20s, lives in the suburbs -- two traits that fit a growing number of users -- and graduated to heroin after years of getting high with other drugs.

When Lewis snorted his first line at age 18, he'd already used almost every imaginable drug: Marijuana. Cocaine. LSD. Ecstasy. Mushrooms. Pills. Heroin, though, was much more seductive.

"It was just like someone had wrapped me in a blanket," he recalls. "I'd found the drug I was looking for ... all the depression and anxiety and all that stuff that I was going through ... heroin kind of filled the hole. It helped me just completely forget about anything bad. ... I felt like I was king of the world, and this was after doing just one line. It was like, 'This is GREAT. I'm definitely going to do it again.'"

As his habit grew, so did his need for cash.

He shoplifted video games from stores and resold them. He broke into cars, pawning anything he could steal along with his mother's jewelry and laptop. He knew he was living dangerously, but that was part of the allure.

"The whole stealing and robbery and going to the city (to buy drugs) ... it was thrilling," he says. "I just felt like I had a lot more excitement in my life when I was a full-blown drug addict. ... It was just very dumb."

Lewis is blunt and matter-of-fact when describing his addiction. He's quick to offer an unvarnished account of his mistakes and the pain he has caused himself and his family. He speaks slowly and deliberately, stretching out his words, and with his baby face -- shadowed by the hint of a goatee -- he looks much younger than 21.

Lewis' upbringing was distinctly middle class. He played Little League and skateboarded, growing up in suburbs filled with cul-de-sacs and strip malls carved from farm fields. Dad designed computer networks; Mom now works for a shipping company. As a child, Lewis took regular family vacations to Florida to see his grandparents and visit Disney World.

Still, he traces his problems to a troubled childhood: Constant fights between his parents, who later divorced. The death of a beloved grandmother. And harassment from school bullies. He was a C-student at best; his class work started faltering in third grade. A doctor diagnosed attention deficit disorder and prescribed Adderall. A year later, he was put on antidepressants.

At age 12, Lewis started using marijuana. By freshman year, he was smoking weed daily at home -- hiding his stash in a bedroom vent -- or outside school in Batavia, a far western Chicago suburb. "It would bring my mood up," he says. "I felt ... like a normal teenager."

Lewis began abusing other drugs, too, scouring the family medicine cabinet for painkillers and anxiety pills: Vicodin, Darvocet and Xanax, among others. "It made me forget and just not have to deal with real life," he says.

Though his mother tried different approaches -- punishment, lectures, praise when he entered rehab -- nothing stuck. About a month after his release from a court-ordered, 8½-month residential treatment program, Lewis, then 17, reverted to his old ways.

"I just gave in when I got out," he says. "You can learn every trick in the book to prevent you from using, but you have to use what they teach you."

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