Stacy had been living with him, using with him every night, before she had gone to jail.
That left her with enough Roxys to keep her high — and enough money to take her daughter to Disney World.
Afterward, in the hospital hallway, Stacy's mom held her close. "You hear me? This time you have to get better.". "Don't ever do this to me," Sherry cried.
W HEN STACY SAID she wanted to keep trying, the judge sent her straight to jail to get the drugs out of her system.
"All rise!" called the bailiff. Just before 9 a.m., a thin, chestnut-haired woman in a black robe strode through the back door. "The honorable Judge Dee Anna Farnell presiding.".
More than a Year ago.
"And benzos. "Well, I've been smoking and drinking. And maybe …". Stacy shuffled her Air Jordan slides. So marijuana and alcohol." She paused.
"What are you going to test positive for today?" asked the judge.
Richie lived with Stacy's mom now and was learning to color. Stacy knew it would be a while before she would see him again. Next, she pulled out her little boy's frog pillow. It still smelled like him.
They collapsed to the floor, rocking in each other's arms.
For a while, she waited tables at a Greek restaurant. When she couldn't work anymore, she started stealing to buy pills. She took hundreds of dollars from her mom's purse, broke into Sherry's backyard shed and pawned a chain saw.
Her collarbones protruded, her skin went ashen. She lost half her weight, dropping from 180 to 90 pounds.
More than a Year ago.
More than a Year ago.
Hard workers can no longer hold jobs. Getting the next pill becomes more important than work, friends, family, even food. Smart students drop out. For addicts, using quickly becomes a necessity, not a choice. Good moms neglect their kids, drain their bank accounts, steal from family members. The addict's values shift to justify whatever it takes to get more oxys.
They followed addicts as they bounced between jail and treatment, stayed in abandoned houses, looked for jobs and stumbled toward recovery or relapse. Petersburg Times journalists attended week after week. About 500 defendants came to court on Ladies' Days this year. St. They interviewed dozens of women.
Nurses kept checking on her, bringing her Gatorade. Her back hurt from lying on the floor. Stacy spent 10 days in the medical wing, aching, shivering and nauseous.
If she gets a bad vibe about a boyfriend, she'll order a woman to steer clear of him. She creates incentives for them: Do yoga, run a 5K, quit smoking, and we'll waive your $52 monthly probation fee. She makes sure they know how to get a bus pass. Instead of punishing the women, the judge offers them a chance to start over. They come to court once a month.
Sherry asked the judge to let Stacy go to the hospital so she could watch him die. Frankie Herrera had been like Stacy's big brother. He taught her to swim and ride a bike and play Nintendo.
S IMPLY HOPE PROVIDES "transitional housing" for recovering addicts in 14 homes in Pinellas Park. Most come from drug court. The houses are grouped by gender, each with about five residents. Its clients are too deep into their addictions for outpatient treatment, but not so far gone that they need full-time residential facilities.
But the pursuit of the oxy buzz erased any chance of a productive life.
I feel guilty.". "But I don't feel good. "After the dreams I feel like I've used," Stacy said.
"You have to want this," Ray, 56, told Stacy the day she moved in. "You can't just fake it to make it here.".
When Stacy got pregnant again, she kept using. Three hours after her C-section, she snorted Roxys in the hospital.
Others use drugs for the opposite reason — to amplify the reality they're in. "People who are reckless and outgoing, gregarious and sensation-seeking will try drugs, at first, because they're fun," said Marlowe, who also teaches psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Stacy's parents say she doesn't have addicts in her family. Stacy herself leans toward emotional trauma as the reason for her drug abuse. Her parents split up when she was little and she rarely saw her father.
One woman let the journalists follow her all year.
I kept trying to find them.". "She kept calling, so messed up she couldn't talk, and I could hear the baby screaming in the background," Stacy's mom said. "I kept begging her to give him to me.
That's how Tuesdays became "Ladies' Day."
Stacy was 10 when her mom married another man. She said she had a difficult relationship with her stepfather.
After Stacy got hooked, she lost her personality, spark, motivation. She dragged her kids from bad apartments to cheap mo rooms, and finally gave them up. Every new boyfriend was a red flag, but she never saw it.
Friday, December 16, 2011 11:54am ST. PETERSBURG.
"Okay," she said. "What do you want to do? Do you want to opt out? Or keep trying?". The judge shook her head.
"I love you!" Frankie's mom kept moaning. "I'll see you on the other side.".
She could get better, or she could become one of Florida's seven a day. In Judge Farnell's court in February, Stacy entered what everyone agreed was a fight for her life.
A treatment program backed by almost $1 million in taxpayer money. Two children who desperay needed her love and attention. Other recovering addicts eager to share their experiences at 12-step meetings. Drug counselors who wanted her to succeed. She had a lot going for her: a mother who supported her even after all the times Stacy had broken her heart. An empathetic judge who was willing to give Stacy chance after chance, if only she would try.
In the back bedroom of the halfway house, Stacy spread a plaid blanket across the single bed. Stacy felt she had done the right thing by leaving Jade with her grandparents, but that didn't erase her shame at other things she had done — snorting pills in front of her daughter, locking her in her room, neglecting her. On the dresser she placed a photo of herself and her daughter. Stacy hadn't seen her in two months. Stacy knew Jade was still angry. Jade was doing gymnastics, getting good grades. She didn't plan to contact her.
"Please, I feel my daughter needs to witness this," Sherry said.
They worked as emarketers, rented an apartment, paid their bills, took care of their daughter. Stacy moved in with Jade's dad, who was 18. Most nights they partied: Bud Light and pot.
The judge had offered a deal: Plead guilty and go on probation. If you go through rehab, if you go to 12-step meetings and get a job and stay sober, you can stay out of jail — and have your felony record wiped clean.
Of all the oxycodone prescribed in America in the first half of last year, 98 percent was dispensed in Florida. According to the state medical examiner's office, an average of seven Floridians die from prescription drug overdoses every day — more than from car accidents.
Used syringes littered an end table. Stacy and two of her cousins had been holed up for months in this rundown house, shooting crushed-up pain pills. Stacy's mom had kept ling her: Someone in this house is going to die.
Above Frankie, a breathing machine puffed, lights flashed, a monitor beeped. Tubes trailed out of his nose, from beneath his arms, between his legs. Stacy reached out to stroke his forehead. His eyes were open, rolled back in his head. His skin was hot and slick with sweat.
"Okay," Stacy said. "Let's go.".
Her history of drug use and dysfunction stretches back to puberty. She tried marijuana at 13 and alcohol at 14, had her first baby at 16 and her second, with a different man, at 27.
The director of a halfway house had agreed to take her into his six-month program. Stacy was going to get another chance at rehab.
The program is run by Ray Harris, a Vietnam vet who sounds a little like Robert De Niro. He shot heroin for 31 years. He has been clean for eight.
Others take it just for the high. It doesn't make the pain go away, but prevents people from feeling it, creating a sense of euphoria. Soon, they need to take more to get the same pleasurable escape. The drug works by blocking the spinal cord's pain receptors.
She wiped her nose on her shoulder, looked up and said, "I want to keep trying."
People use drugs to dampen their negative feelings," said Dr. Douglas Marlowe, senior scientist at the Treatment Research Institute in Pennsylvania. "Trauma, abuse, depression, anxiety, emotional discomfort.
The charge carried a possible five-year prison sentence. Eighteen months earlier, she had been arrested for using a fake prescription to buy oxycodone, the painkiller she had been snorting or shooting for four years.
Stacy wanted what a lot of addicts want: to get clean, but also to get high. She wanted to have her kids back, but also to have no responsibility. She wanted to feel better, and to feel nothing.
The judge raised her arms and smiled. America's first all-female drug court was in session. "Welcome to Ladies' Day," she said.
When her mom came to pick her up for drug court that morning, Stacy Nicholson was still high.
After Richie was born, Stacy and her boyfriend fell behind on rent and got evicted. She and her boyfriend turned to battered mos, dragging the baby with them. Jade was 10 and starting to talk back, so Stacy sent her to live with her dad's parents.
But why do people take drugs to begin with?
At 13, Stacy was with a group of boys who threw a Molotov cocktail at their school. She started sneaking out of her bedroom window at night. Then came the dope smoking and drinking. She got kicked out of Riviera Middle and sent to counseling.
She bought somebody else's MRI and carried it with her to pain management clinics. When she got her prescription — she always got one — she would pay a dollar or two for pills at the pharmacy and sell them for $15 on the street. By the time she was 26, she had figured out she didn't have to steal. She told the doctors her pain was an 8 on a scale of 10.
They need to stay high so they don't crash. If addicts stop using, they suffer horrible symptoms: vomiting, headaches, intense bone pain. That's why many are afraid to even try to get sober.
"You ready?" asked her mom.
Stacy stood at the head of the bed, crying over her cousin, until the beeping of the monitor melted into one long, low tone.
When the sickness subsided, the doctor sent Stacy into the general population. She lay on her bunk hour after hour, listening to country radio and wishing she could l her son she was sorry.
For the first few weeks at Simply Hope, Stacy kept having nightmares. In them, she was always shooting Roxys. She could feel the needle sliding into her arm.
Of his 181 clients this year, 86 graduated and 56 are still clean.
She kept doing whatever pills she could find, anything to blur the sharp edges. "But that didn't scare me," Stacy said.
Working against her: a little blue pill and Stacy's need to numb herself with it.
He prescribed diazepam for alcohol withdrawal, Tegretol to stop seizures, Valium "to keep them a wee bit high while they're here.". Bernard Yukna, the jail's medical director. "If you don't give them anything to help, a lot of people will have really bad seizures," said Dr.
He agreed to let Stacy out of jail. Dee Anna Farnell had that day off. Her husband, Crockett Farnell, a retired judge, was presiding over Courtroom 10. She could check into the halfway house later.
Two days ago, Frankie's brother had found him snoring on the floor. Puncture marks dotted his thick forearms. On the table nearby stood vials of painkillers: Dilaudids and Roxicodones.
All 50 beds in the infirmary were full, so a guard gave her a blowup "boat" and a blanket, which she tossed on the floor.
P RESCRIPTION DRUG abuse kills 40 Americans every day. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's more than a threefold increase in the last decade, according to the U.S.
All she and her friends talked about was their next high. They would shoot Roxys, pass out, wake up, start again.
Soon the judge called Stacy's name. Stacy slouched down the aisle, clasped her hands behind her back and hung her head.
That's an increase of 60 over the year before. In recent years, Pinellas has lost more people to prescription drugs than any other county in the state — 249 just last year.
So if you come from a family of alcoholics and addicts, you're more likely to become one yourself. R ESEARCHERS SAY about 50 percent of addiction is genetic.
Stacy's boyfriend gave her one, and she felt herself melt away. "The high was so much stronger, it was amazing," she remembered.
Guards took Stacy's clothes — all those bras, all that underwear — and strip-searched her. She pulled on gray jail scrubs and followed a guard to the medical wing on the fourth floor.
Stacy's mom, Sherry, had visited him in the hospital. Now Frankie was on life support.
Now, after failing at her first try there, Stacy was getting another chance, this time at a halfway house with an optimistic name: Simply Hope.
That year, Pinellas County received a $900,000, three-year federal grant to fund substance abuse treatment for women in drug court.
More than 100 women, most 20 to 40 years old, filled the wooden benches. Many of the women struggled to hold up their heads. Others trailed toddlers. Some were visibly pregnant.
But it will be worth it.". It's going to be hard. She ls defendants, "You can do this.
Stacy had detoxed before, and she dreaded going through the ordeal again. It was one of the reasons she had kept using — she was afraid of how sick she would get when she stopped.
She staggered to the door, fumbled with the bungee cord that kept it closed, blinked back the sunlight.
Days before, she had told her mom she was tired of stealing and doctor shopping to get pills. She was in trouble for skipping her last court date, so today, she planned to turn herself in. Stacy, then 28, knew she was right.
"These aren't Dumpster-diving drug addicts," she said. It's the person in line beside you at Publix, the woman next to you in the pew at church.". "These people are getting their pills from doctors.
She twisted her long, honey-colored hair into a knot. Zipped her sweatshirt. Underneath, she was wearing two bras, a tank top, two white T-shirts and three pairs of panties.
He told the women in drug court, "Every one of you should see this."
A few years ago, drug court Judge Farnell started seeing more and more women charged with prescription drug abuse. By 2009, almost half of her drug court defendants were women.
She wanted to be sure she would have a change of underwear in jail.
Stacy dropped out of the PACE school for girls at 16 to be with the baby daughter she named Jade.
Pee in a cup whenever Ray asks. Pay $125 a week in rent and utilities. Go to counseling and to Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Get a job. Test dirty and you go back to jail. Get home by 10 p.m. Rules at Simply Hope are strict: Get up by 8 a.m., make your bed, clean the house.
"I've seen all these movies before," Stacy said. It's like they're all new to me now.". "But I was high all the time, so I really don't remember. By the end of March, Stacy was bonding with her roommates, making coffee every morning, watching TV with them most nights. Her mom brought over a bag of DVDs: Road Trip, Castaway, Meet the Parents.
"His liver is shot. "He looks terrible," she said in court. He had a heart attack at 32. He's bleeding bags and bags of blood.".
An opiate found in such painkillers as OxyContin and Percocet, it's prescribed after surgeries and car wrecks, and to people in chronic pain. Oxycodone is the deadliest drug of all.
But then she failed a drug test, stopped going to counseling, started skipping court. For a while, Stacy had tried. Now she faced a sentence of 10 years instead of five.
C OURTROOM 10 WAS PACKED when Stacy and her mom, Sherry Alkire, slid into the back row. It was Feb. 1, a Tuesday.
Nothing. Frankie's brother tried to wake him. When the snoring stopped, Frankie's brother dialed 911. He threw water on him. No response.
"She'd be sitting at the window, holding her Barbie suitcase, waiting for him." Stacy's dad, Mark Nicholson, said that may have happened "once or twice. Things come up. But I didn't do that repeatedly.". "The saddest image I have of her is when she was little, 5 or 6," Sherry said.
She checked in the night her cousin died.
Snorting turned into shooting. "I had times when I was real bad, shooting 30, 40 pills a day," Stacy said. Someone told Stacy the buzz was better if you crushed and snorted the pills. Needle tracks scarred the insides of her arms; her veins turned into rivers of dark bruises.
26, 2009, Pinellas deputies arrested Stacy and 20 other people in a drug sweep dubbed Operation Oxy-Con. On Aug. She was charged with obtaining oxycodone by fraud and trafficking. She had tried to buy oxys with a fake prescription at Seminole Pharmacy. That was when she landed in drug court.
Stacy gagged at the smells of blood and bowels and death. When they arrived, Stacy heard her aunt wailing in Frankie's room. Stacy and her mom sped to Northside Hospital.
In one year, Stacy lost 10 friends who overdosed. Another was a 19-year-old who did oxys and died with her baby sleeping on her chest. One cut up Fentanyl patches for cancer patients, chewed on them and died.
Stacy, still in jail scrubs, began to sob.
It is everyman's high, heroin in a pill. Oxy makes junkies out of people who would never buy from a street dealer.
Ray warned Stacy: "I'll be watching you."
When it comes to men, she likes the smell of trouble. She believes in dream catchers and her Gemini horoscope, craves Cocoa Puffs and smokes Newports. Petersburg. A streetwise, Southern-fried tomboy, she loves the Florida Gators, Chevy pickups, Lil Wayne and Toby Keith. She never wears makeup, always spritzes on Victoria's Secret body spray. Stacy Nicholson grew up in St.
"She's always been balls to the wall," Sherry said. "Whatever she did, she did it big.". Stacy's mom says her daughter has a reckless streak.
Her mom stood beside her. O N FEB. 25, SHE WAS brought back into drug court.
But first, Stacy's mom had a request for the judge. It was about Stacy's cousin Frankie.
Or she could put her in prison for violating her probation. The judge could send her to a long-term treatment facility or halfway house.
Stacy said her 12-year-old daughter had been staying with her paternal grandparents for almost a year. Her mom was taking care of her 2-year-old son. Farnell asked Stacy about her children.
It's a horrible, vicious disease," said Pinellas County sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha. "Everyone knows someone who has gone through this addiction and you just feel so helpless.
Then she offers another chance. When a woman slips, the judge scolds her and sends her back to jail to detox.Oxy addiction