Recovering heroin addict: ‘You can have your life back. You just have to earn it back.’

If there is a silver lining from the opioid crisis, it is that more money and programs are now in place to deal with the underlying problem of addiction.

Throughout the past month, the Journal-News has brought you closer looks at the way Butler County is changing the narrative around addiction.

MORE: Pace of overdose deaths has slowed this year in Butler County

In Sunday’s newspaper, we brought you the stories of two people who illustrate the continuing challenges addicts face.

Here is the story of Crystal Howard, one of those women.


Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Crystal Howard said heroin was an instant addiction.

She was introduced to the drug by the father of one of her daughters. The Middletown woman said she started snorting it, then shooting it into her arm.

“It was on from there,” the 37-year-old said. “I couldn’t shake it. I got to the point where I wanted to die. And I didn’t care. When I put that drug in my arm, I didn’t care.”

MORE: Rolling meth labs hitting the streets ‘like ice cream trucks,’ Butler County coroner says

She was addicted to heroin for several years, and since getting clean, the father of her daughter has apologized numerous times. It’s not his fault, she said.

“He showed me what it was, but I’m the one who kept sticking a needle in my arm,” said Howard, who attended Middletown High School and Garfield Alternative School but never graduated.

Howard eventually lost custody of her children when Butler County Children Services placed them with her mother.

MORE: Work still to be done in addressing opioid crisis, lawmakers say

In February 2016, after she was charged with child endangering because she was using heroin in the home where her three children lived, a Middletown Municipal Court caseworker delivered this somber message: “Let them kids go. Don’t drag them in and out of court. Be a good person and let them go.”

When Howard was led back to her jail cell, she made a promise to her daughters, her parents, her friends and herself: “I will never put another needle in my arm.”

The advice from the social worker “sunk in,” Howard said.

“I was fed up,” she said, fighting back tears. “I didn’t like the way I was living. I was sick every day. It wears you out. It tore me apart.”

She was clean for eight months, then one day “with a pocket full of money,” she returned to heroin.

In February 2019, she will celebrate her third year of being clean, she said.

She likes this Crystal Lynn Howard more than the one addicted to drugs.

“That’s not the person I am,” she said of her former self. “This is truly who I am.”

MORE: Butler County overdose epidemic traced to 1990s medical practices

She works full-time and when she gets home after her third-shift job, she helps her three daughters get ready for school. She loves spending time with her children, listening to music and drawing.

But Howard said even after three years of sobriety, “it’s still hard, but it’s worth it.”

Howard had tried about everything to rid herself of her pain pill and heroin addiction.

“You have to want it from your own heart. You can’t say you want it and pretend. You have to put in the work to do it,” she said. “Three years later, it’s still hard. But it’s worth it. I fight every day. You can have your life back. You just have to earn it back.”

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