May 27, 2020
Tracey Helton Mitchell got her first taste of opioids after wisdom teeth removal surgery at age 17. She would spend the next eight years of her life chasing that euphoric feeling on a daily basis.
In 1999, she was the face of heroin addiction in the documentary Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street. For three years, director Steven Okazaki followed Mitchell and four other youth as they committed drug-related crimes, worked as prostitutes and came close to lethal overdoses.
But Mitchell didn't die. Instead, she earned a master's degree, became a full-time drug counselor, married and become a mother to three kids. Now 16 years sober, Mitchell has written a memoir, The Big Fix: Hope After Heroin.
Here is an excerpt from The Big Fix:
Like many Americans, my long road to addiction started with a trip to a medical professional. At 17 years old, I got my first taste of opioids after the extraction of my wisdom teeth. As a talkative yet very shy teenager, my exposure to drugs had been limited to the closed world around me. Witnessing my older siblings in their drug experimentation phase had made me keenly aware of how silly a person could become on weed or alcohol. I had tried them both a few times. I found neither to be all that appealing. But those white pills, they seemed like magic. I remember all the troubles of the world slowly melting away into a pool of euphoria. Little did I know, I would spend eight years of my life chasing that feeling on a daily basis.
Fast forward a few years later. I had been imagining a way to have a return to that feeling. How could I get access to those magical pills? I wondered about acquiring some as I entered the hurried world of University life. It did not take long. My solution was easily obtained by friends. Their parents had pills on hand- from injuries, from surgeries, and from medical procedures that had healed long ago. They had forgotten about those bottles in their medicine cabinets. When you moved aside the cough medicine and the q-tips, what remained was these glorious substances.
The pills seemed the perfect enhancement to any night out. A few drinks, some pills, I was a happy woman. Sure, I lost some friends. That hardly mattered to me. I made new ones! I made better ones! I made friends that were not only accepting of my changing lifestyle, they encouraged it. They asked me if I wanted to try the needle. Injecting pills would be the best use of my limited resources, they told me. As I held out my arm, I barely felt a thing. The first time wasn’t much, nor the second. What was I missing? I tried a few other times, I began to see the appeal. Pins and needles in my extremities. A numbness in my core. My appetite only increased with time until I graduated to lady H.
“I am willing to come out of the shadows and give a lot of really embarrassing details about myself and hope it’s going to help someone else,” Mitchell told the South Bend Tribune. “That is really the book is helping other people realize there is a life without drugs — particularly heroin because there is such a stigma attached to heroin.”