Heroin in Will County: ‘We never worried about the consequences’
By Brian Stanley firstname.lastname@example.org April 11, 2012 11:10PM
Clinical Director Paul Lauridsen (left) and Executive Director Peter McLenighan of Stepping Stones Recovery Center stand in front of a client room at their facility in Joliet, Illinois, Friday, April 6, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Homer Glen man goes from drug addict to HERO
HOMER GLEN — A student earns mostly A’s in high school, he wants to be a doctor, and he has been accepted into two universities in Chicago. He will attend one in the fall, after taking a summer math class at the other.
Someone like this would not develop a heroin problem, right? Think again.
After years of hard work in school — years of staying clean and on the right path — Bill Patrianakos watched his college career dissolve. It dissolved in marijuana smoke and cocaine powder. And then it was ripped away entirely by the demanding tyrant that is heroin.
Today, Patrianakos has been on the right track for several years. He is a Web developer with professional training, and he uses his talent for the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization.
He is helping spread the word that the heroin epidemic is in Will County.
Heroin destroys young people’s goals, and replaces them with one thing: Heroin.
Patrianakos grew up in Oak Forest. After fifth grade, his family moved to Homer Glen, and he went on to excel at Homer Junior High School and Lockport Township High School.
He got A’s with the occasional B. He participated in track. He took honors and advanced placement classes. When it came time for standardized testing, he scored a 28 on the ACT. He had an average social life and got along well with girls.
“I wasn’t one of those kids who got into trouble either. I didn’t go out and party a lot. It was a really wholesome childhood,” Patrianakos said.
He wanted to be a doctor. He knew medicine was a highly respected profession, and he knew that he had the talent to pursue it. He applied to two universities in Chicago, and both accepted him.
By the last semester of his high school career, everything was in place. That’s when he started to loosen up.
“Everybody was excited about college, and I joined in on that,” Patrianakos said. “And that senior year was the year that I really got very social.”
During the end of his senior year, he tried alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana.
“I went to one of my first parties where there was lots of alcohol. I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed making a fool of myself. People thought I was funny. I thought I was funny. Looking back, that’s debatable. But at the time, it was a really fun thing for me,” he said.
Patrianakos found a friend who was into marijuana, but Patrianakos himself started off more slowly.
“We’d sit in the basement, and they’d pass around the bowl, and we would just get high,” he said. “I felt like I was part of this elite underground group. ‘We’re smoking weed, we’re so cool now.’ ”
At the end of high school, Patrianakos started to experiment with harder drugs, but he did not consider himself an addict.
In college, the trouble intensified. He skipped “tons” of classes and failed many along the way.
“For some reason, I wasn’t able to control myself, and I just did a lot of partying,” he said.
“There are no parents checking up on you. You can do whatever you want. And I sure did do whatever I wanted to, and had no concern for the consequences,” he said.
Patrianakos began using cocaine during his first year in college.
He remembers: “As you go, and as you meet these new people, you make these connections. One guy you meet will have some coke on him, and you walk into one room of the party upstairs, where everybody has kind of secluded themselves. And you walk in, and there’s all this white powder around. And you go, ‘What’s that?’ And they’re like, ‘Want some coke?’”
His drug use progressed, but he did not realize how bad it was.
“We were in my dorm room, on the first floor. There’s got to be like 12 people in this tiny little dorm room. And we’re all smoking weed. We had a mirror with coke on it. And the entire hallway, the whole dorm outside of our room, is smelling of pot. Everyone knows what we’re doing in there,” he said.
Residential assistants and college officials knew as well.
“We have RA’s knocking at the door. We have people from the school itself. I don’t know who they are. They’re knocking at the door, saying: ‘Guys, let us in now. We know something’s going on.’
“What do we do? We ditch the weed. We ditch the coke. They come in, they look around, they can’t find anything.”
At that time in his life, it was the closest he ever had come to getting caught. And school officials stayed on his case.
Patrianakos maintained good grades in a certain class. When his performance started to decline there, the instructor took notice.
“She noticed, and she asked me: ‘What’s going on? Do you need help?’ And I was in denial at that point. I said: ‘No, everything’s fine. I can handle it. No big deal.’”
Technically, Patrianakos could have continued at this university after his rough first semester. He left.
He went to another college, and switched his major to music composition — a subject that inspired him more than studies in the medical field.
“The first semester, very well: A’s and B’s. The second semester started off strong, but then the addiction kind of took over, and I was more focused on using than I was on getting good grades,” he said.
Once again, he had a chance to continue. But he left.
In the next few years, Patrianakos would float from junior college to junior college. Academic troubles became far more common. He knew he had to turn his life around. However, in reflecting on that time, he says he did not have the maturity to accomplish that.
One night in Homer Glen, he was introduced to opiates.
Coming Friday: A destructive progression
Updated: May 13, 2012 10:29AM
JOLIET — Ricky Weese and Lauren Norberg used to date — and they used to steal to support their heroin habits.
“We robbed his parents. We manipulated everybody. Took out (multiple vehicle) title loans, intentionally bounced checks from my account,” the 24-year-old Norberg said. “Nothing mattered. We never worried about the consequences.”
While he was growing up on the East Side, Weese, 27, saw his father regularly drink and smoke marijuana, he says. So,the people he felt more comfortable around by the time he was in junior high were those doing drugs.
“I was 12 when I started smoking weed, 15 when I started drinking and 18 when I first did heroin,” Weese said.
But the drug really didn’t have any appeal until he got into a car crash shortly before he turned 21 and a friend told him the drug would get rid of his pain. A settlement from the accident and work at a machine shop let him afford the habit. He started buying in Chicago, but was eventually able to find local dealers.
“It became my drug of choice and then the only one ... every day, as much and as often as I could,” he said. “I felt like my heart would explode and I’d die without it.”
Norberg began drinking alcohol before she met Weese. Since he didn’t drink, she tried heroin.
“Once I tried that, it cured all ... made everything go away,” she said.
Norberg had gone for treatment several times before receiving TASC, which stands for Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities, probation, but “just wanted the consequences to go away. I didn’t really want to give up using.”
Those consquences included watching Weese O.D. twice in front of her and learning her brother had died from a heroin overdose seven days after getting out of prison.
“A girl was with him and could’ve called 911, but she just watched him die and waited four days to call me,” she said. “I had a friend break in to find him.”
Supporting the habit
Weese believes he was able to hide his addiction for the first few years. When he lost his job, Weese lived off Norberg and kept using because he was the only one of his friends “with a good local hookup.”
“I’d buy for everybody and just take off that,” he said. “But I couldn’t get a job. I couldn’t work to keep a job so I asked a buddy how he got money and he turned me on to stealing (to support the habit). $200 for 10 minutes of work wasn’t bad.”
Weese would shoplift videogames and movies from big-box stores and sell them for cash at a used CD store. He was sometimes successful, but seemed to have bad luck at Wal-Mart — where he was arrested at stores in Lockport, New Lenox and twice in Joliet.
Weese was in jail when his attorney suggested drug court. He was interested and applied because he “knew he needed help,” but kept using when he got out. “Dropping dirty,” a failed drug test, meant more jail time and rehab.
Life after heroin
Besides staying sober and attending support meetings, Weese works in a warehouse and is expected to steer clear of drug users, which includes most of his former friends. Weese would like to begin attending college, but for right now, he’s focusing on the drug court program.
“The longer I’m taking drug tests the more likely I am to not go back, the more chances I have to like being sober,” Weese said. “I’m not worried (about a relapse), but it crosses my mind.”
Weese currently is participating in Drug Court, while Norberg is enrolled in the similar TASC probation.
Norberg works in a warehouse and lives in a halfway house where she submits to regular drug tests. She wants to to go back to school eventually to pursue nursing.
“It’s hard to see old friends (for fear they’re using). I’ve been going to a lot of meetings and have a sponsor family that’s helping me and a doctor who really cares. Knowing people can understand what you’re going through does help,” she said.
As Norberg and Weese entered their treatment programs, they agreed they would best help each other by ending their relationship. They still exchange an ocassional text message to check in, but worry being together would risk their sobriety.
“It’s getting bad out there. People are dying,” Lauren said. “Once you try it, it’s over and it’s not worth it. You don’t see the progression of it.”