It often takes hitting rock bottom for addicts to turn their lives around. That was the case for one Marshfield woman, who nearly lost everything before she found the strength to get clean.
Lisa McKenzie has tried just about everything, from marijuana, to cocaine, to meth, acid, speed, and oxycontin. But it wasn't until she started using heroin, that she realized she needed help.
It was February of 2012 and McKenzie was deep in a drug-induced haze.
"You feel nothing. It's euphoric. Everything is gone," she said.
The single mom says she got high all day, every day for nearly a year on while on the drug. But this wasn't the first time drugs had consumed her life. McKenzie had lost custody of her two oldest children years ago, and her youngest son, Hunter, 7, had been in and out of foster care until 2010. Yet none of that mattered if she couldn't get her fix.
"I chose just about every single drug over all three of my children," McKenzie said. "And that is one of the most selfish things I have ever done in my entire life."
It seemed like an endless cycle of use and abuse for McKenzie, until one day in February, when someone turned her in to her boss.
"The only time I ever thought, oh my goodness, I'm going to lose my child because of heroin, was when I lost my job and had to put myself into treatment."
A first step toward recovery after 18 years of dependence and self-destruction. But just when McKenzie thought she was getting her life back on track, "The doctor came in, she asked my roommate to leave, she looked at me and she said, Lisa, you have Hepatitis C. And I said, no I don't. And she said, did you share needles? And I said, never."
McKenzie learned that all of the works, like cookers and cotton, can spread disease, not just needles.
"My immune system is wearing down, my liver hurts almost all the time, when I eat, it's like someone is stabbing me," she said. "And I'm tired, a lot."
There is help out there, though. At Lifepoint in Wausau, a clean needle exchange program, staff work to educate and protect drug users in the community before it's too late like McKenzie's case. People can walk in, no questions asked and turn in dirty materials for new ones. Staff also check for Hepatitis C.
"Now we have this test and it's just a finger stick," Scott Stokes said. "It's just a drop of blood and it gives them a result in 20 minutes."
Stokes is the director of prevention services at the AIDS Resource Center of Wis., the organization that overseas Lifepoint. He says so far this year, they've given 55 Hepatitis C tests. Nearly half (22) have come back positive.
"That's a really high positivity rate," Stokes said. "And you know, we feel like we're just scratching the surface."
Heroin has already been linked to an outbreak in Hepatitis C cases in Marathon, Portage and Wood Counties. And with access easier than ever, McKenzie worries it's just a matter of time before that number goes up.
"People think that they're being so safe. There's no safe way to do a drug. I don't care who you are," she said. "Because I was pretty sure I had it all figured out and I'm dying."
It's a heavy burden that also weighs down on the innocent bystanders in her life.
"[Hunter] knows that I have a blood disease," McKenzie said about her son. "He knows that he needs to be tested also because when he first came back from foster care, he played with one of my razor blades before I knew I had it ."
The good news, McKenzie has been sober for seven months and says she has a good support system to make sure she doesn't relapse. She is waiting to get treatment until further blood tests come back.
"I know addiction is classified as a disease, but it's a curable disease," she said. "It will always be within you, but if you have the will power, you can beat it. I don't want people to be as blind as I was."
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