Ramona Osborne often sat on the edge of death and dangled her feet over the side. Her story is one of being at the bottom of an opiate pit and finally clawing her way out.
And now it’s sometimes a couple of months between hearing of a friend or a friend’s child lost to a heroin overdose, sometimes it’s several in a week.
The world of opiate addiction nearly added her name to the list after she got hooked and graduated from prescription pain medication to heroin.
Osborne considers it a miracle that she’s still alive. While surprised that her habit did not kill her, she’s even more amazed that she is not still strung out and instead has some 1,200 sober days in the rearview mirror.
“I never thought that I could recover,” she said. “I didn’t think I was capable of it.”
About three and a half years ago Osborne, a Washington D.C. native, was not only at death’s door. You might say that she was all but inside the room with perhaps a pinkie toenail clinging to the outside.
“What brought me (here), I believe, is divine intervention,” she said. “I woke up in the hospital. I was told I had been on life support for nine days. They told me they did not expect me to wake up. My last rites were read. They (family) were planning the funeral. It’s like you were done.”
Osborne, whose organs were shutting down from a massive overdose that she doesn’t remember the circumstances of, was at the end of her rope.
It was not her first visit to the hospital in her hometown. The staff recognized her from several previous occasions.
“I had been there so many times — for overdoses, for accidents.”
This time was different, however, as one of the nurses suggested leaving her environment and fellow dopers behind.
“She said we don’t know what we’re going to do with you,” she said. “You took so much. You’re literally going to die. Will you go to Georgia? We found a place in Georgia that’s willing to take you.”
While some speculated different, Osborne does not think she was intentionally trying to kill herself on that occasion. She was resigned to dying from the drug or the lifestyle that came along with it — homelessness and doing things to live, along with feeding the omnipresent and unceasing demand of her habit — but not suicidal.
“Living on the streets of D.C. alone was extremely traumatic,” she said. “The things I would do to fund my addiction were very unpleasant. The same dangerous situations I would find myself in over and over. It was always chaotic; it was always disgusting.”
Osborne can’t even count the times she had been in rehab prior to her rock bottom — 28 days here, 90 days there — and the innumerable Narcotics Anonymous meetings she attended.
With that record behind her, she thought nothing would ever change and that no treatment regimen would ever work for her.
But with her family having given up on her, no home to return to, no job and nothing to look forward to but another turn on the wheel of addiction, she mulled over the opportunity with no expectation that it could be life-altering.
“I had no intentions of coming down here and doing anything different,” she said. “I felt I would always fail.”
Osborne, like most people, didn’t plan on a life as a heroin addict; her drug of choice was alcohol. Initially, she said, she would drink only at night and on weekends. Eventually that wasn’t enough. She needed alcohol in her system to function through the day.
Her job performance was great as long as she had a drink, she said, but working as a dental assistant meant she was in close proximity to the patient and the dentist, and hiding the telltale aroma of alcohol became impossible with heavier use.
Having access to prescription pads and Drug Enforcement Administration registration numbers at her office, she started forging them to feed what was to become her new habit — pharmaceutical narcotics.
“I would substitute them (pills) for alcohol,” she said. “I found out if I took pain killers, opioids, I was able to not drink alcohol.”
But from the start, Osborne did not even attempt to use the substances as intended. She started snorting them from the beginning.
Junkies always figure out methods to get around measures taken to alter the pills in ways to make them have a less-immediate high, like time-release features, Osborne said. So sucking or washing off the coating easily allowed users to get to what they wanted, to access the opioid inside and render it into a form that produced the most intense high.
Once they removed the coating, the pills could be snorted into the nose or “cooked” for injection.
Among the circumstances that Osborne credits with her being alive today is her tiny veins that were of no use for injecting. If she had been able to use the drug intravenously, she believes she likely would have had a fatal overdose.
In the early days of using, Osborne figured that the way people get hooked on opiates is to abuse them by taking more than a prescribed amount to get high for three days.
“I used to say I’m going to use two days like that, (and) not the third,” Osborne said.
At some point, when her habit reached the point where five $30 pills were a single dose, she had to find another way to feed the monster.
“To do that three or four times a day is astronomical,” Osborne said. “I resorted to buying it on the street. Heroin is an opiate. It was $10 a bag. It lasts longer. It all becomes way easier to go get heroin than to get pills.”
When Osborne’s theft of prescription pads and forgeries came to light in the mid-1990s, she had her most serious dealings with the legal system. This occurred during the time before opiates had become the scourge they are considered in 2017.
“If it were today, I would be in prison for so long,” she said of the multiple felony counts.
She got no jail time upon that conviction but did rack up arrests when she was on the streets.