By Reporter Rebecca Granet

NEW YORK — Maria is five months pregnant with her second child, but this time it’s different. This time, she’s a recovering heroin addict.

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“I want my baby to be perfect,” Maria said between sobs. “Everybody wants a perfect baby, and I’m hurting the chances, I feel like.”

Every morning the 29-year-old is reminded of her recovery efforts when she takes a drug called Subutex.

Subutex Hand

A Subutex pill. (credit 1010 WINS)

The prescription pill can be taken during pregnancy, and helps people like Maria stay off of heroin. But her baby will likely experience withdrawal symptoms at birth.

“We have a different connection than I do with my son because I’m going through everything with this baby,” she said.

Maria is no stranger to heroin. As a child, she watched her uncle inject the drug and vowed she would never go down that path. But, after the birth of her first child, she was given a prescription for OxyContin to relieve her severe back pain. It’s a drug that doctors often refer to as a gateway to heroin.

“At the hospital my family came to visit me and they had given me the medication in the beginning,” she said. “As soon as the medication started wearing off, I wanted everyone out of my room. I turned into a different person, but it took my pain away.”

While still taking pain medications prescribed by her doctors, Maria reconnected with her ex-boyfriend, a drug dealing ex-con.

“I didn’t care about his background, it was just somebody who was caring for me,” Maria said. “He was someone who was giving me strength to get away from my old relationship.”

The rekindled relationship outlasted the pain medication and when withdrawals set in, her boyfriend stepped in.

Fear is reflected in Maria’s eyes as she thinks about that day. She cries as she recalls the paper with the powder on it and her boyfriend telling her that she would feel better if she sniffed it. She remembers the day of her first heroin high as if it was yesterday.

“It cleared everything,” she sobbed. “My problems just went away.”

Maria, who lives in Suffolk County on Long Island, says she never associated the powder with heroin because heroin required a needle or, at least, that’s the way she remembered it when she watched her uncle getting high.

“Why wouldn’t I just be like, ‘no I’m not taking that,’” she questions now. “But at that point, my whole body, I just felt like I could die, and I had responsibilities that I had to take care of.”

Maria’s boyfriend gave her more powder. It helped ease the pain. More powder followed. Over the next nine months she worked her way up to 30 bags a day.  Then her boyfriend was arrested after borrowing her car.

“I get a phone call [from him] to come pick up my car and the stuff that was in my car before the police take it,” Maria said. “So I go with his sister, and I find everything that was in his pockets.”

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She pulled bags of the powder out, held them up, and asked his sister what they were. Surprised at Maria’s naiveté, she told her. The powder she had been snorting for months was heroin.

“He [her boyfriend] left me with a problem that I had no idea how to control,” Maria said.

Maria tried to stop taking the drug completely but withdrawal symptoms made it hard to take care of her son. She got heroin from her boyfriend’s friend, and tried to use a needle at one point.

“I tried to shoot up one time,” she said. “I missed. I blew up my arm, it just bubbled up.”

Maria snorted heroin for two more years, until her new boyfriend insisted she get help. She says she was worried to talk about her addiction.

“I didn’t want my family to know, and my mother, I shouldn’t be this way,” she said. “All these things go through your head –who’s going to look at you differently?”

She went to Employee Assistance Resource Services, Inc., an outpatient chemical dependency program in Smithtown, New York. Several months into treatment, Maria found out she was pregnant. She says going through pregnancy while in recovery is harder, especially because she depends on the Subutex to curb her withdrawal symptoms.

“I’ve taken [the Subutex] before and thrown up, because the nausea — me being pregnant — overcame it,” Maria said.

According to Dr. Simon Zysman, Executive Director of Employee Assistance Resources Services, Inc., the Subutex “helps keep the patient stable and functional so she basically has more energy and stability with the pregnancy. As a result…the fetus is able to develop more normally.”

Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, President of Family & Children’s Association in Mineola, New York says pregnant women are also more susceptible to a relapse during pregnancy, and specifically right after delivery because they can experience serious anxiety and depression. They also have many new responsibilities that can cause further stress, leading them to use heroin again.  But Maria knows that she wants her baby, even if it’s a difficult journey.

“I’m going to struggle, but everything happens for a reason in my eyes,” she said.

When her children are old enough to ask “those” questions about what she’s been through, Maria says she will be completely honest with them.

“I want my kids to always come to me for anything, I never want them to be scared,” she said. “I don’t want to ever lie to them and I want them to be the same way with me.”

And she has some advice for those addicted to heroin.

“Open up,” she said. “If you need that help, you’ll know you need that help. There are people out there that will help you. You have to be open to it though.”

Maria is expected to give birth on June 24.

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