Recovering heroin addict Diana Cooper, in her home in Medford. Two years clean, Cooper is working to raise awareness about Southern Oregon's heroin and prescription painkiller addiction epidemic.

Recovering heroin addict Diana Cooper, in her home in Medford. Two years clean, Cooper is working to raise awareness about Southern Oregon’s heroin and prescription painkiller addiction epidemic.

Liam Moriarty/JPR

Diana Cooper said probably the scariest moment during her heroin addiction was the night she was driving her four kids along the Oregon coast, headed toward Gold Beach.

“I had a lot of cocaine but I didn’t have any heroin,” Cooper, 27, said. “And so I was nodding out while I was driving. I kept doing more cocaine, thinking that would keep me awake and I just kept nodding out and I woke up hitting the guardrail on the other side where the cliff is to the ocean.”

Cooper says her 8-year-old daughter still talks about the time “Mommy wrecked the green van.”

Cooper started taking prescription opioid painkillers after getting meningitis when she was 18. She had ongoing migraines and was kept on opioid drugs for the next seven years.

“After a while, I realized that I did not like to function without taking my medication,” Cooper said, adding that she eventually needed the pills just to feel normal. “And you don’t even realize that’s what keeps you normal, that’s what keeps you functioning.”

When she was pregnant with her fourth child, her doctors kept her on the painkillers, but on lower doses. So she supplemented her prescriptions with pills from the street.

Her son was born prematurely, with a low birth weight. But Cooper said her doctors didn’t seem concerned. At the time, she wasn’t either.

“Now, I can’t even look at his baby pictures,” Cooper said. “He didn’t look normal. He was very gray, he had dark eyes, and he was very skinny.”

Cooper’s life spiraled downward. For a while she was homeless. She, her husband – also an addict – and the kids lived for several months in their van in a Wal-Mart parking lot.

Then, shortly after her youngest was born, Cooper tried heroin. She liked it … a lot.

“Your heart is racing. You get a rush. You get a lot of endorphins,” Cooper said. “You feel invincible to the point where, ‘I can do everything I need to do. Nothing’s going to hold me back, no little pain, no illness, no nothing.’ “

From then on, heroin was her drug of choice. Soon, though, Diana’s husband had had enough. He insisted they both get treatment and reluctantly, she agreed. Cooper and her family got into a residential treatment facility where they could all stay together.

She says at first, all she could think about was getting a fix. But she knew if she left, she’d lose custody of her children.

“That really says something to the pull of addiction, when you’re considering, ‘Do I stay here and get clean, or do I leave them all here and I go use?’ ” Cooper said. “You know, when you’re even contemplating that … I love my kids, and I would die for my kids. But at the time I wouldn’t give up heroin for my kids.”

On her third day in treatment, Cooper met a recovering addict who told how her newborn baby had been taken from her for several days when she entered treatment.

“And she said the day they gave her her baby back, the want to use immediately was lifted. And as soon as she said that, mine was lifted. I realized I didn’t have to want to use.”

Cooper and her husband have been clean for about two years now. Both are working and she’s going to school to study early childhood education. She wants to be a clinical social worker.

She still struggles with her addiction. And she said it takes day-by-day discipline to keep her dealings honest and above board.

“I have to keep myself in check about everything. I can’t lie for people. I have to be totally up front and honest about everything in my life,” Cooper said. “Or else, yes, I will go back out.”

Cooper is grateful for the help and support she and her family have been given to get their lives back on track. She urges people to get educated about their addiction problem and get involved in solutions, because, she says, addiction isn’t something that happens just to other people’s families.

This story is a part of Jefferson Public Radio’s series on heroin addiction in Southern Oregon, “Silent Epidemic: Addiction In Southern Oregon.” Read more at IJPR.org.