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Heroin detox process: The scariest movie you've seen

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Updated: 5/01 8:48 am
LAS VEGAS (KSNV -- Some heroin addicts have described the detoxification process as having a front row seat to the scariest movie of their life that keeps repeating.

It's unnerving, and they just want it to stop.

Detoxing from heroin is not the most difficult task, but breaking up with the drug for good is.

“James,” a patient in the detox process, shares what he is experiencing.

“It’s not painful; it’s just the most uncomfortable feeling you’ve ever felt,” he said. “Your skin is crawling. You’re pouring sweat. You’re hot. You’re cold.”

James, a former heroin dealer, has been clean for only two weeks.

“What I’ve learned most is I am absolutely powerless over drugs and alcohol,” he said.

James is being treated at Montevista Hospital in Las Vegas. Before coming here, he had detoxed more than a dozen times by himself.

“Heroin controlled my life 100 percent; my life revolved around heroin,” he said. “I’d wake up in the morning — first thing I’d do is call my drug dealer — make sure I’m not sick.”

Larry Espadero is the director of chemical dependency at Montevista. He said he has had to detox children as young as 11 years old.

“The pain drives them here … it could be, ‘I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.’

“I don’t want these patients twisting, turning throwing up (during the process) because what’s going to happen? They’re going to leave and go use.”

Espadero and his staff make patients such as James comfortable. Getting heroin out of the system takes only a matter of days, but it's the residual effects of heroin use and addiction that take longer to overcome.

Sometimes it takes a lifetime.

Heroin “stripped me of everything, of all my values,” James said. “Everything I wanted to do in life, it just took it all.”

In all of Las Vegas, there are only 150 beds for heroin addicts looking to detox. The need, according to Espadero, is easily double that. But more beds alone will not solve the problem.

Espadero says it's what comes after the physical detox — the counseling and real healing — that matters most.

“We look at these people with a lack of will power, and that’s not true,” Espadero said. “It takes a lot of will power to survive as an addict.”

James, who only a few weeks ago was a slave to heroin, is now in a different stage of his detoxification.

“I thought for a long time I was losing a big group of friends,” he said. “But as I realized from being in here is that none of those people are my friends. Not one has called to check on me.”

What James has gained is the realization of the power Las Vegas and heroin holds over him.

“It’s very easy (to regress) because I was born and raised here,” he said. “To fall back in with those people … I don’t want to say Las Vegas being a black hole but when I leave town, I’m OK.”
Anyone who is having problems with substance abuse is encouraged to contact Narcotics Anonymous at 1-888-495-3222 or visit their website at

You can also call the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit For more information on Heroin, check the National Institute of Drug Abuse website,


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