Heroin addiction and its personal toll


by Anna Akins

Twenty-five-year-old Katya Totty was brought into the Rockbridge Regional Jail early one Wednesday morning in May. She had just violated her probation for heroin use, again.

Rewinding nearly five years, Katya was dating an older guy whom she was really smitten by. He had been using heroin for a while and one day he offered some to her.

“When he introduced it to me it was kind of just like, ‘Oh, I got this stuff, you want to try it and see how we feel?’ It was…like an experimental type thing.”

She later broke up with the guy and kept using heroin as a “social thing” until her supply ran out. She didn’t use it again for nearly two years but resumed because her sister’s boyfriend was a dealer. Soon after, she realized that something was wrong.

“I woke up one morning and my whole body hurt me and it felt like I had the flu or something,” she said. “And the dealer was like, ‘yeah, you’re dope sick.’”

She likened her withdrawal symptoms to the flu—feeling achy, hot and cold, and uncomfortable—and said that heroin was her quick relief.

At the Rockbridge Regional Jail, doctors usually prescribe Buprenorphine or Methadone to help inmates with withdrawal symptoms similar to Totty’s.

From then, she described herself as being “on and off” addicted, but was still able to hold a job and complete everyday activities. It wasn’t until about a year and a half ago that heroin really got a grip on her life.

Last January, she was put on probation after getting caught with heroin. That offense put her on first offender probation, which is a way for a defendant to avoid the full effects of criminal prosecution. After being put on probation, she kept doing heroin anyway.

And a couple of weeks ago, she overdosed in Baltimore.

“My sister said that I died in her arms,” she said. “My lips turned blue, my face turned white, then my breathing stopped and she was trying to revive me.”

Totty was given Narcan at the hospital, a medicine that reversed the effects of the overdose and revived her.

Just this week, her probation officer found out about her overdose and now she is back in jail for the time being.

If she could do it all over again, she said that she would have never let herself get pressured into trying heroin.

“If someone ever tries to offer you something, just say ‘no,’ just don’t do it, I mean… I wish I had,” she said. “[You’re] not missing out on anything…[your] life is fine without it, and there’s no reason to try it.”

She said that people  “just have to be aware” about heroin’s dangers and potentially devastating effects.

“I was a nice girl [and] I came from a nice family,” she said tearfully. “I still have a family that really loves me but I’ve made some really bad choices.”