Lauren Waldemar began a slide into addiction with one pill at a party. Heroin was cheaper than prescription drugs; it nearly killed her.
At a Super 8 motel room just off I-494, Lauren Waldemar held out her arm for her dealer.
Just 18, she was too scared to inject the heroin herself.
The dealer cooked the drug in a spoon, filled a syringe and stuck a needle in her arm.
“I just kind of sat back and let it hit me,” she said, recalling the numbing, good feeling that triggered a two-year addiction spiral that landed her in jail three times and nearly killed her.
A onetime athlete who grew up in Bloomington, Waldemar is the face of the growing heroin epidemic: young, middle-class and seemingly removed from the hard edges of the drug world. Many got their start at the family medicine cabinet with prescription opiates like Vicodin, OxyContin or Percocet.
Cities flooded with inexpensive Mexican heroin have seen overdoses skyrocket in the past few years. Some of the users survive with the help of quick-thinking paramedics, but fatalities have climbed, too. Of the record 54 heroin deaths in Hennepin County last year, half were in their 20s.
Now 21 and five months sober, Waldemar recently told her story in front of 1,500 people at Grace Church in Eden Prairie for a drug awareness campaign.
“I’m just learning a lot about myself and how to live a normal life,” she said.
A blue pill changed everything
Waldemar grew up in Bloomington with her mom, dad and an older brother. She played basketball and lacrosse. She liked school.
But her world upended when her parents divorced. She rebelled. A short time after the divorce, when she was 12, she took her mom’s car out for a joy ride one winter night. Her mom picked her up at the police station. It would not be the last time.
Using the e-mail handle “leftbrokenhearted,” she turned her life upside down, using booze and weed and hanging around older kids. By the time she was 14 she had stopped going to school. Her drug use was a steady progression, a search for something new, she says now.
“I was willing to go further and further each time to find out what drug would make me feel the best,” she said.
At 17, she found herself at the Chanhassen home of a friend. A boy there had a blue pill, OxyContin. He showed her how to burn it and suck up the smoke through a straw. “When I tried it I fell in love with it. Just the way it made me feel. It made me feel numb. It was the best feeling I had ever felt in my life,” she said.
At $75 to $80 for an 80-milligram pill, OxyContin was an expensive habit. She stole from her parents or pawned their belongings, doing anything to get one more blue pill. After a year, a heroin dealer told her she was paying too much to get high.
It’s common to hear today’s heroin addicts talk about earlier addictions to prescription opiates. Brian Bennett, 23, said he first tried an opiate medication after having his wisdom teeth taken out. The Vicodin was a revelation for Bennett, who had used marijuana as a teenager. He soon graduated to OxyContin and became a daily user.
“Right when I woke up, it was the first thing I thought about,” said Bennett, now in treatment at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.