Written by Theresa Katalinas
Jodi Pollock should be knee-deep in preparations for her son JR’s 24th birthday on Thursday.
Instead, Pollock is grieving for her only child, who died on July 8 of a heroin overdose.
And while his mother found him in their Horsham home, called 911 and made the ultimate decision to pull JR off of life support and preserve his organs for the Gift of Life Donor Program, the finality of his death has not yet settled in.
JR had just returned from California on July 6 after a 30-day stint in rehab.
“It’s like he hasn’t come back yet,” she said. “I still don’t think it’s real.”
But, what was real was JR’s battle with drugs and the hold heroin had on him. His most recent trip to rehab had been his third since January 2012, soon after his mother discovered he was snorting the drug.
“I couldn’t tell you how many funerals he went to for friends that overdosed before his own,” Pollock said. “You always think it’s not going to happen to you.”
According to a 2011 National Institute on Drug Abuse report, 4.2 million Americans aged 12 or older had used heroin at least oncein their lives. An estimated 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it, according to the organization.
Drug use is highest among people in their late teens and 20s, according to the organization. In 2011, 23.8 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds reported using an illicit drug in the past month.
At the school level, Hatboro-Horsham School District recognized the need to increase substance abuse awareness and prevention and two years ago launched Be A Part of the Conversation. Through it, the district hosts programs focused on drug prevention. An offshoot is the district’s Parent Partnership, which began in the fall of 2011 and includes weekly meetings where parents can go for support, ask questions or lean on each other.
In January, the high school hosted former NBA player and recovering heroin addict Chris Herren as a way to “help people to understand that much more that it can be anyone," Kim Rubenstein, the parent liaison for Be A Part of the Conversation, said prior to the event.
Rubenstein said she was not working on any programs specifically geared to help the community address recent local heroin deaths, including JR's.
“Self-medicating” with drugs
Pollock said her son, Samuel “JR” Pollock III, who had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and a mood disorder during his childhood, always had a difficult time in school.
The learning support student quit school six weeks before he would have graduated from Hatboro-Horsham High School, Pollock said.
Part of his problems stemmed from his father’s death at age 44 when JR was only 15, his mother said.
“He never really got over his father’s death,” she said. “He’d always say, ‘I want to be with my dad.’ ”
By the time JR turned 18, Pollock said he had stopped taking the medication prescribed to treat his ADHD and mood disorder and instead began to “self-medicate” with marijuana.
“He smoked pot for quite a few years,” she said.
She believed that his use of heroin began about a year and a half before his death, but said his friends told her it had started before that.
“I don’t think he looked any different,” she said. “When he did it he was normal.”
And when he didn’t?
“He was completely off the wall,” Pollock said.
Recognizing the signs
JR’s increasing need for money was what made it clear that he was on drugs, according to his mother.
“His drug use killed us,” said Pollock, who works in a full-time manufacturing job by day and a part-time retail position by night. “He sold everything he could.”
Lisa Waller, a long-time friend of JR and a recovering heroin addict, said she was able to deceive her parents about her addiction.
“They said they had absolutely no idea because they didn’t know what to look for,” Waller said of her parents. “Addicts, because they’re addicts, can be very sneaky.”
Once Waller started injecting heroin, she said she’d wear long sleeves or hoodies every day–regardless of the weather–to hide the needle marks on her arms.
The perpetual look of being tired, falling asleep while sitting up, or any kind of “erratic behavior,” particularly spending large amounts of money, or constantly asking for extra money are other signs, Waller said.
“(Addicts) will do anything and everything possible to get the next high,” she said.
“He hated to be alone.”
For JR, Pollock said using heroin seemed to be more about fitting in. At least three of his friends also used the drug and JR, according to his mother, was a “follower.”
“You’ve got to be very strong to not fall into it,” she said. “He liked to go out with friends. He hated to be alone.”
It was his friends, she said, who taught him how to inject heroin into his veins.
When he had used previously, she said JR always snorted it. But, on her birthday on May 22, Pollock said she walked past his bedroom door and saw him injecting it.
Pollock said she told JR, “I know what you’re doing” and suggested that he, again, go to rehab.
Because of her insurance and $1,500 deductibles for local facilities, Pollock said JR went to rehab twice in Florida and most recently in California. Pollock said she simply could not afford the expense of sending him somewhere nearby.
“We used to say, ‘I wish he’d get caught and go to jail,’ ” Pollock said of her and her mother, whom she lives with. “30 days is not long enough. If we could’ve kept him somewhere longer …”
Still, she was “absolutely shocked” that JR, on his first day home from rehab on July 6, started up again.
Kicking the heroin habit
Yet, even in the throes of drug addiction, Waller said JR acknowledged the toll heroin had taken on his life.
“He always wanted to get away from it,” Waller said, likening heroin addiction to a “demon” taking over your entire being. “He made comments to me several times, ‘I hate the fact that I have to do this.’ ”
Waller, a 2006 Hatboro-Horsham High School graduate, said she met JR after moving to Horsham from Warminster right before the start of her freshman year in high school.
The instant friends frequently rode bikes together, she said.
“He almost took me under his wing and introduced me to the people in the neighborhood and stuff like that,” Waller said.
Following high school, Waller said her use of prescription drugs led to her trying heroin in March 2011–and getting hooked. Soon after, Waller said she found out that JR too, was using heroin.
“Even when I was in high school, heroin was unheard of. I didn’t know of one person,” Waller said. “There was nobody around here that was addicted to heroin or anything.”
For Waller, that changed when, in search of the high from opiate-based prescription drugs, she found a cheaper alternative.
“Oxycontin would cost $60 a pill,” she said. “A bag of heroin was only $10.”
Like JR, Waller said she started snorting heroin and fooled herself into believing that because she was not injecting it, she was not the typical heroin addict.
Regardless of the drug’s entry into her body, Waller, who has been clean for 14 months, said she knows now how addicted she was and the price she paid as a result of that addiction.
“Before I knew it, my entire life is basically in shambles,” Waller said. “I had a full-time job. I had my own car. I still have nothing.”
Waller’s now 4-year-old daughter gave her the strength to get sober.
“It’s something that I never thought I’d be able to do,” Waller said of sobriety. “I had been really bad into it for a while and she was my motivation. (My daughter), honestly was the only reason that I stopped.”
Waller kicked her habit with Suboxone, a medication used to treat opiate addiction. She began with a 16 MG dose and is “weaning” off of the drug gradually. Currently, her dosage is 4 MG, she said.
Even with Suboxone, Waller said she “still battled a lot with cravings.” But, that changed when a close friend died of a heroin overdose in March. Since JR’s death in July, Waller said, “I know for a fact 100 percent without a doubt in my mind” that heroin use is out.
The thought that keeps her focused on sobriety is “JR is no longer here.”
In the last month, Waller said she knows of six other heroin overdose deaths in Montgomery and Bucks counties.
“I don’t want to bury any more of my friends.”
Waller said she saw JR about two weeks before he left for his last rehab. He came to her for help and shared that he had begun injecting–instead of snorting–heroin.
“I remember begging him in tears, ‘please, you have no idea how fast your life’s going to spiral out of control,’ ” Waller recalled.
Soon after, Waller said she heard through friends that JR had gone to rehab.
But, the first day home, JR returned to his habit and paid the ultimate price.
“I’ll never see him again and it’s because of addiction,” Waller said. “I think about him every day all day and I always will.”
While attending her friend’s funeral in March, Waller said the young man’s mother pulled her aside and begged her to stay clean from drugs “and never do to your parents what (he) has done to me.”
Because the “reality” of using, according to Waller, is that each high could be the last.
“At any point in time they could be the next one that their family and their friends have to bury and say goodbye to forever,” Waller said. “I don’t want to bury any more of my friends.”
Saying good-bye to JR
Pollock said she’s planning on joining some of JR’s friends Thursday at Horsham Bible Church, 220 Upland Ave., at 7 p.m. as the friends assemble to release balloons to remember him on what would have been his 24th birthday.
Two of JR’s friends sold plastic bracelets with his name, birth date and the date he died as a fundraiser of sorts for Pollock, to help cover the costs of his funeral. JR, if he were here to realize the good being done in his name, would be happy to know that, she said.
“He didn’t think he had any true friends,” Pollock said. “He thought that all he had were his drug friends.”
A few days before his birthday, instead of a present picked out for the son who wanted to know a month ahead of time what his birthday plans entailed, Pollock said she purchased a final gift: A double urn to hold his and his father’s ashes.
“He’s with his dad,” Pollock said.