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WUWM NEWS SERIESResources:- Wisconsin Department of Justice's Anti-Heroin Campaign- Informational Brochure from State Justice Department- Presentation by Department of Justice- Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locatorfrom Substance & Mental Health Services Administration,U.S. Department of Health & Human Services- Narcotics AnonymousPlaces to Return Unused Medications:- National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, Saturday, October 26, 2013- Local Police Stations Collect Unused Medications Year-Round

What Its Like To Have A Brother Addicted To Heroin

Michelle Maternowski
Jessica at a coffee shop on Milwaukee’s west side talks about her brother's addiction.";

Living with a family member addicted to drugs can devastate loved ones. They can struggle to set boundaries and be overwhelmed by anger, resentment and fear. All the while, more and more families are dealing with the problem. The number of people in Milwaukee County alone dying of drug overdoses is in the hundreds and continues to increase.

WUWM's LaToya Dennis met a woman by the name of Jessica at a coffee shop on Milwaukee’s west side. She spoke about her brother’s heroin addiction and how it has touched her life.

WUWM isn’t using the sister's entire name to protect the identity of her brother.

Jessica clearly remembers the day she found out that her brother was addicted to heroin. "I was just dumbfounded that he would even turn to that. I was also told that he was shooting up," she said. "...It was like a ton of bricks hit me."

"I was sitting on the floor in the living room [of my boyfriend's house]. I got a call from my mom and I started crying. My boyfriend's mom had asked if everything was ok and I just said no. I explained it and she reassured me that everything was going to be ok. And, here I am ...six, seven, eight years later and a month ago he was back in rehab for heroin addiction," Jessica explained.

Like many people, her brother's addiction didn't begin with heroin.

"What he told us, when he was in high school, he had ACL surgery and during that time, he was given a lot of pain pills, which looking back... it was never really monitored," she said. "...That's when he claims the addiction started. He craved that high from those pills. I think that was his freshman year in high school."

Her brother has also used cocaine and it's all complicated by the fact that he is schizophrenic. 

Jessica said for years, her brother's addiction impacted her relationship with her mother, because she allowed him to stay at home.

"When we were in high school, [my sisters and I] were really mad at my mom. We could never understand why she could let somebody who was doing drugs into our house." She explained that her relationship with her mom was very chaotic and stressful. "Finally, when [my mom] took the approach that she was going to let go and stop enabling him, [our relationship] got better."

As far as Jessica's relationship with her brother is concerned, it's difficult. During the interview, she sounded detached a times. Jessica said it is because she is, it is her way of coping.

"I only allow myself little glimpses into his life so that I can still be there as a support for him when he needs me and I'm not completely broken down by everything he's done," she explained. "Because in the past, I've given so much. I've given him money when he needed it, which I learned not to do because that's enabling an addict. When he'd call because he'd been in a fight, I'd go get him because I didn't want him to go to jail."

"I just remember... being there and trying to help him and whatnot. But, ultimately, when someone is an addicted to drugs, your presence is just enabling them," Jessica explained.

Jessica's biggest fear is getting a call that her brother has overdosed, yet she holds out hope that her brother might one day kick his addiction and truly begin to live.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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