It’s a mild, late-summer day in downtown Washington Court House where Jamey Wamsley and Lagenna Knight have come together outside of the courthouse. The two drove an hour from Chillicothe and have one thing in mind: to meet up with a Washington Court House resident who is an active heroin addict and help her get into treatment.
Wamsley grew up in Fayette County and spent more than a decade of his life struggling with substance dependency and addiction. After a heroin overdose, he completed a six-month residential treatment for men at Another Chance Ministries, a program started by Zion Baptist Church in Chillicothe.
He later worked as a program coordinator at Another Chance Ministries. In 2016 he met Lagenna Knight, now his fiance, while the two were coordinating efforts to get heroin addicts off the streets and into treatment.
“All it takes is that one shot”
“It’s easier to get heroin than anything,” said Wamsley. He said that drug dealers are known to give away “free trials” of the drugs they have for sale. “Testers is what they call them.”
Knight said that drug dealers will target people who have just gotten out of treatment and are trying to recover from drug abuse.
“That’s when the drug dealer is your best friend. They know all that it takes is that one shot or that one line to get them coming back,” said Knight.
Wamsley, who spent a series of stints in jail for possession and trafficking in drugs, said it’s part of the plan dealers have: if they know how many people they are selling to who are addicted, they can calculate how much money they will make off each person daily.
“Every time I would go to jail, any time of day, they knew when I was getting out and they would call me and give me whatever I wanted for free to get me started again,” Wamsley said.
From prescription pills to heroin
Knight said she had substance abuse issues beginning when she was 12-years-old, but with something like alcohol, she could just stop anytime without becoming addicted. She worked a job, went on to have a son and then a daughter, but was prescribed percocets for a health issue.
That’s when she said things changed. She couldn’t get the percocet prescription refilled and began buying the pills on the street from dealers. She quit her job and couldn’t afford to buy the percocets anymore.
“And then one of my friends said, ‘You know this [heroin] is just a cheaper version of that, right?’” Knight said.
Getting a hit
Wamsley and Knight said the price of heroin depends on what’s in it and where it’s coming from. In Dayton, the average price for “one hit” of heroin is $10. In Washington C.H., it could be $20 a hit. A hit is one-10th of a gram of heroin. It’s usually sold inside of a clear gel capsule.
If the heroin is “good” the person will feel the effects for three to four hours, said Wamsley, but if it’s “not good,” the person will be back on streets for more. Or, said Knight, a “bad” hit could cause a person to go into withdrawal.
When Knight started using a little heroin here and there in 2014, snorting it got her high. She began to drive dealers north of Columbus twice a week from Chillicothe. The dealers would pick up bulk amounts of heroin – sometimes six ounces or more – and pay Knight $250-300 for driving.
Eventually snorting the heroin was making her sick and she wasn’t getting high.
“I started shooting [heroin] and then I got high—ooooh, this is what I had been looking for—did that until I OD’d,” said Knight, who has been clean since completing a treatment program in early 2016.
On the street
J.L. lives in Washington C.H. and is active in her heroin addiction. Wamsley said he has known J.L. for 16 years and she’s a person Wamsley had been communicating with on and off for several months to get into treatment.
On that day, J.L. met Wamsley and Knight at the Washington C.H. Municipal Court.
“If she doesn’t get treatment, she’s going to die. I’m serious. People around here are dropping like flies and dying,” Wamsley said.
Hitting rock bottom
J.L. said her mental issues began before her addiction issues: she was diagnosed with depression, borderline schizophrenia and split personality disease. She said her addiction began when she started buying percocets on the street and since 2012 has used heroin.
“In four years I have hit rock bottom,” said J.L. She overdosed once on heroin.
“My boyfriend heard me hit the bathroom floor, poured salt water down my throat to get me to come back and gave me mouth to mouth, because down here, you call the squad, you get an OD charge,” said J.L.
She said in the last 13 years she has not been in trouble until recently, when she was charged with coin machine tampering and was released from jail a few days ago. That’s when she called Wamsley, asking him to help her get into treatment.
“You have to do you”
Wamsley made a series of phone calls and within an hour, he had J.L. approved for a residential treatment program in Dayton.
“There’s a waiting list, so you will have to wait a couple of weeks before they can get you in,” Wamsley said.
J.L. sat silently for a few minutes and then started to cry.
“I really don’t know how I feel,” J.L. said. “When I’m having my old man out here on the streets. I’m not leaving him when we did this together and we said we’d get clean together. I want him to get help. I want him to get clean.”
“I understand that,” said Wamsley, “but you have to get clean, you have to do you. You can’t do both of you.”
“I understand that,” said J.L.
“You have to do you.”
Fear of getting clean
J.L. said her fear is leaving her boyfriend, whom she has been with for 20 years.
“That’s my fear—just up and leaving him,” said J.L.
J.L. said she felt like Wamsley and Knight were pressuring her into going to rehab.
“Not like, ‘You should be happy you’re getting into rehab’—it’s not, it’s like, all anxiety for me right now.”
She said she had been to a suboxone clinic, had gotten clean and felt irritated that she was being told to go into residential treatment. And again, J.L. said the thought of leaving her boyfriend is heartbreaking.
“Yeah I relapsed, but isn’t that part of recovery? I went to my sister’s house and got clean on my own. Sometimes I feel like you ain’t got to go to no damn rehab to get clean.”
J.L. said she had been clean for two days.
“I’m trying not to use.”
Jail or death
“The options when you’re getting high and shooting dope everyday, the reality of it is, you’re going to end up in jail, an institution, or you’re going to die. If you fight treatment and don’t go, your only two options are jail and death. So if you run and don’t go to to jail, you’re left with death,” said Wamsley.
“I don’t know any drug addict that’s been shooting heroin, say, 20 or 30 years that can say they’re living happy and they’ve got a productive life because actually, I don’t know of any heroin addict that’s been shooting dope for that long that’s still alive.”
After two weeks, J.L. decided not to go into the residential treatment program in Dayton.
Wamsley and Knight are still working with active addicts across southern Ohio to get them off the streets and into treatment and recovery.
Check the www.recordherald.com for a link to the video from this story filmed in Washington C.H.
Reach Ashley at the Record-Herald (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton