ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When she and her friends started snorting “chiva” in high school, Alma Cortes says they told themselves they weren’t doing heroin.
“It was OK – we weren’t sticking a needle in our arms,” she said in a recent interview. “We were naive that way.”
That was 17 years ago in Grapevine, Texas, and heroin was the drug of choice at her high school.
“The first time I used, I threw up, got sick all the next day,” Cortes said. “But the high was so intense, I kept using it. The stuff was so pure, there were a lot of ODs.”
Since then, it has been 17 years of using heroin, kicking her addiction and using heroin again. She figures she’s kicked her habit 10 times and fallen back into the habit 11 times.
“I’d be clean for years and think, ‘I can get high just this once’, but you don’t, you like it too much,” she says. “I would stop and start. Each time, it was harder to stop.”
Now she’s 6 1/2 months pregnant.
“I’ve taken college biology classes. I know what happens to the babies of addicts. I didn’t want that to happen. I tried never to get pregnant.”
But about five months ago she realized she was pregnant.
“I started to try and kick on my own. Not use for three or four days, or just enough to keep from getting sick.
“I knew what it was going to do to a baby. I didn’t want to have a baby in addiction.”
Living in Roswell, she had to travel to Carlsbad to see a doctor who was approved to use Suboxone, a drug used to help addicts stop using heroin.
“This is how crazy addiction is,” Cortes said. “You know that you can’t get high from heroin when you take Suboxen, but guess what, I had to try it. Tried it twice. Didn’t work. How crazy is that?”
Because she had “dirty” urine tests, her doctor said he couldn’t keep treating her.
“He was very frustrated with me,” she said.
Two months ago, she decided to seek out an inpatient program, and her mother took her to UNM Hospital, where she was examined and evaluated.
She’s now at the Milagro program for pregnant addicts run by Bernalillo County’s Department of Substance Abuse Programs, the state Department of Health and the University of New Mexico.
There are eight beds, and mothers of newborns are allowed to stay in the furnished apartments.
She’s on Methadone, but the doctors tell her they know how to deal with babies born addicted to methadone.
“It wasn’t just luck to get in here; it was a miracle. I’m getting counseling. I’m getting the checkups. I’m in a safe place,” she said. “Now I’ve got to commit to being clean for my baby boy.”
She hasn’t decided on the baby’s name yet.