The strong grip of addiction - Albuquerque Journal

The strong grip of addiction

He had the biggest smile, the greenest eyes and he was the nicest kid out of all the students in my son’s middle school class.

Ronnie indeed had an almost Eddie Haskell-like deference that likely allowed him to charm his way out of almost anything. But to me he was nicest because he was my son Devin’s only friend at a time when a cruel health condition made him the target of bullies.

Ronnie didn’t care what other kids said.

“You know, Ms. Joline,” he said. “I think Devin is pretty cool.”

I was always grateful for that, so much so that I could forgive any trouble the two of them got into together later.

Devin grew out of the ailment and came into his own in high school. He made many friends, but Ronnie remained his best friend. Trouble also remained, even into their early 20s.

I didn’t know how deep that trouble was until too late.

They were both 23 in late 2016 and their dabbling with heroin, first smoking then shooting, had blown up into addiction. I learned later that Ronnie tried to make sure someone supplied with Narcan was around Devin in case he overdosed.

Devin did March 8, 2017, and no amount of Narcan could save him.

So far, nothing has been able to save Ronnie from his own addiction.

Ronald Lopez, 28, is in jail, charged in a bank robbery late last month at the Rio Grande Credit Union on Rio Bravo SE. It’s not his first arrest, not his first bank robbery charge, not the first time his addiction has led to heartbreak. His is an all too common story of how opioids kill in many ways, sometimes taking a life, sometimes just destroying it.

On March 25, a masked suspect, his features concealed by a woman’s fur-trimmed hooded coat, presented the teller with a note demanding money. The note was written on an old envelope with a postal bar code that identified Lopez and led FBI agents straight to him.

Security surveillance video released by the FBI from the Rio Grande Credit Union on 301 Rio Bravo SE shows a suspected bank robber dressed in a fur-trimmed coat and mask on March 25. (Source: FBI)

According to a federal criminal complaint, agents found a silver van parked behind Lopez’s house that matched the vehicle seen in bank surveillance video. Inside the van was a fur-trimmed coat and mask.

Lopez, according to the complaint, admitted he had gone to the credit union to “get money that he thought belonged to him,” though he did not have an account there.

Lopez told the agents he got about $300 and used it to buy fentanyl – a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin.

Lopez’s “very serious addiction to opioids, heroin and methamphetamines” was also listed by his public defender as an explanation for a February 2018 bank robbery. He pleaded guilty to that and was sentenced to federal prison for two years plus three years of supervised release in which he was to undergo mental health and substance abuse treatment.

Court documents show that U.S. District Judge Martha Vázquez asked that Lopez be placed on a waiting list for the Four Winds Recovery Center in Farmington so that he could transfer directly from prison to the center.

That didn’t happen.

After leaving prison, Lopez violated his release restrictions, testing positive for opiates twice and possessing a firearm and syringes used for injecting heroin. Reports also indicate that he was seen selling heroin outside an addiction recovery center in Albuquerque, advertising his business venture on Facebook.

“I’m mobile and reliable,” the Facebook post read, according to testimony in a February 2020 revocation hearing.

At the hearing, Lopez was ordered back to prison for five months.

In August 2020, his attorney petitioned the court again to send him to Four Winds for up to six months. This time, she succeeded.

But it’s unclear whether Lopez did. Court records indicate that a month later he absconded. The records end there.

Some time later, he returned to Facebook and seemed to be doing well.

“100 days clean! I am grateful, never thought I could do it. It may not seem like a big accomplishment to most but it’s huge for me,” he wrote in a May 2021 post. “I’ve never been more thankful for this wonderful life I’m living.”

In September 2021, he wrote: “7 months strong. I’ve got this! It’s been such an amazing journey.”

I last heard from Ronnie in November 2021.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve last spoken and I would really like to have a talk with you sometime,” he wrote.

We never had that talk.

This January, his supervised release expired. He was free.

But he wasn’t really.

On Feb. 28, eight days before the fifth anniversary of Devin’s death, Ronnie texted my daughter: “I’m having a very hard time today. I miss your brother so much. The date is coming up soon and it never gets easier.”

According to the criminal complaint, this was about the time his girlfriend reported that he had lost his job and was acting “differently.”

I have tried to understand the power of addiction, how even the nicest people can fall prey to it, how its grip remains so strong even when one sees a loved one die from it.

Ronnie, I know, has tried to escape it.

“It’s just so hard to take that first step,” he wrote days after Devin’s death. “I want to get through this, Joline. In memory of my beloved friend but for myself as well.”

On Friday, his attorney requested that he be held in a halfway house pending trial. That request was denied.

I tell his story not for shame or scorn but as a reminder that addiction takes its prisoners from all walks, that many are struggling like Ronnie to overcome it, that prison without treatment is no answer, that we can’t give up on their recovery, that I still believe in that nice boy with the biggest smile and the greenest eyes, that I care.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at (505) 730-2793, jkrueger@abqjournal.com.

 

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