• Ex-heroin addict says key to solving region's epidemic is stopping today's stigma


    PITTSBURGH - The heroin epidemic has turned into a daily fight in Western Pennsylvania. Fifty years ago, the average user was a young man in a low-income area, but that’s all changed, according to experts.

    “When we're growing up, we're not thinking, ‘I want to become a heroin addict,” Amanda Marks, a former heroin user, said.


    Amanda Marks said people need to understand who is taking heroin before they can understand the region’s epidemic.

    “They think of these horrible lowlife people and that's not what we are,” she said.

    Amanda said she grew up like any other girl in Ross Township with a close-knit family and group of friends.

    Her father, Dominic Marks, said he felt just as content as his daughter.

    “The house with the white picket fence, dog, children,” he said. “You don't see it going any other way.”

    But their lives changed when Amanda Marks turned 14.

    Amanda Marks said she started drinking and smoking marijuana. Two years later, she had her wisdom teeth removed – a day she said she regrets the most. 

    “Once I got those pain pills, I should have taken them as prescribed and stopped at that point. But I had no idea this was going to happen,” she said. “By the time I was like 19, I was injecting heroin.”

    A recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association said that today’s addicts start using in their early 20s, are more likely to live in affluent suburbs and get hooked on heroin through painkillers prescribed by doctors.

    “I would like hide it like underneath the drawers, hide it all over the place,” Amanda Marks said while standing in her childhood bedroom. “I would go right in front of my parents and think that they had no clue what was going on.”

    About two years ago, she received lifesaving help and has now been clean for 18 months. She’s on a mission to steer the conversation toward rehab.

    “All we want to do is throw people in jail or get them out of society and that's not the solution,” she said.

    Medical experts said addicts need three to six months of inpatient and outpatient care. However, most insurance plans in the Pittsburgh area currently cover 14 to 28 days of inpatient treatment.

    Anyone seeking resources on drug use can visit the links below: 

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