Chad Sabora and Robert Riley Are Fighting 'the Perfect Storm' of Opioid Addiction in South City 

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click to enlarge Chad Sabora helped his wife kick heroin. Now she's pregnant with their second child. - STL-PHOTO
  • Chad Sabora helped his wife kick heroin. Now she's pregnant with their second child.

Sabora and his wife, Brittany, live in a house in Lemay, a few miles south of the outreach center.

I am seated on the couch in the front room while Sabora keeps an eye on their one-year-old son Jayce, a black-haired ball of energy who pinballs around the room between taking breaks watching Teletubbies on the big-screen TV.

I can't help myself. I have to ask the obvious question.

"Ten years ago," I say, "when you were still using, did you think you'd have all of this" — meaning the house, the marriage, the son.

"I thought I would be dead," Sabora says.

Sabora recalls how his father, a drug counselor, and his mother died in 2005 and 2006, respectively. His father, a former heroin addict, died after 35 years of sobriety.

His father's biggest fear was that "he would pass that heroin gene onto his kids," Sabora says. "So I did two things after my parents died. I shot every dime they left me into my arm. And two, I made my dad's worst fear come true after death."

Sabora admits it's hard to watch opiate addicts he's helped into recovery go through treatment programs, work hard to stay clean, only to relapse. Optimism can be hard to come by.

"One hundred thousand people died last year, once it's all said and done," he says. "So I don't know how I can be optimistic ... But I'm optimistic that when people come to our offices, they're going to have a better chance."

I glance over at Jayce, who's watching Teletubbies in rapt silence. I ask Sabora if he's worried that Jayce someday might get hooked on drugs. After all, both Sabora and his wife are in recovery for heroin abuse.

"Do you think by the time he's a teenager, we'll have this opioid thing fixed?" I say.

Sabora shakes his head.

"I don't think it'll be opiates anymore," he says. "I think it'll be synthetics."

As for drugs and his son, "I've got to talk to him about it. He's got to make his choices," he says. "It's like a peanut allergy. We won't know he's a drug addict until one day he tries drugs. We know most kids are going to try drugs. If something happens to him, at least I know we'll have the resources to help him."

Brittany Sabora, who got off heroin with her future husband's help, is pregnant with the couple's second child. A Christian, she credits her higher power, God, for helping her stay clean.

Of her children, she says, "Realistically, yeah, they have a great chance of becoming an addict." But, she says, she and her husband both know that doesn't have to be a death sentence. "You have the choice to pick up, and when you do, here's where you can go when you're done," she says, explaining what she'll say to them. "They didn't teach me that when I was growing up.

"I thought I was doomed to be a junkie the rest of my life. Until I learned there is recovery."

About a week after I first meet Evan Reuscher, the Des Peres man who came to the recovery center for Narcan, I give him a call.

When I first met Reuscher, I had only spoken to him for a few minutes, but I took an immediate liking to him. At 28, he was young enough to be my son. He seemed intelligent and thoughtful.

I wanted to see if he was OK.

I call him on the phone. He answers and tells me, yes, he is OK, even though he had overdosed on fentanyl twice in the six days since I had last spoken to him. The last time was just the night before. Fortunately, a friend he was with gave him a dose of Narcan and he survived, he says.

Critics of free Narcan programs argue that the overdose medication instills a sense of recklessness in opiate addicts.

Sabora is acutely aware of those criticisms, but pushes back hard against them. The opiate epidemic is so bad right now that what matters most is survival, he says.

"So we really try to push basic survival principles to people using right now," he says. "Of course if you want to get to treatment, we will help you. But if you're not ready, then carry Narcan, never use alone, split up times of using so you don't overdose at the same time. Those are the principles that keep me alive."

As for Reuscher, I struggle to understand the world from his point of view.

"How do you look at your life right now?" I ask. "Do you think you're on borrowed time?"

"I don't think so," he says. "That's the thing. I was talking to somebody about it, the way it affects people around me, when they see it, and they have to bring me back, and all that kind of stuff. And obviously it scares the shit out of them."

But for some reason he does not share those fears, Reuscher says.

"I don't know why," he says. "I think that in itself scares me."

"How about your parents?" I ask. "Obviously, they got to be scared."

"I mean, scared to death," he says."Scared shitless."

We talk for a few minutes more. I think of my late brother Joe. My brain kicks into dad mode. I have three sons. I'm scared for them, I'm scared for Reuscher. Isn't he afraid of dying?

"Where my thought processes go is a mess," Reuscher says, "'cause it basically makes me not give a fuck as far as being more reckless and things like that."

We end the conversation a few minutes later.

"Stay safe, OK?" I say.

"OK," he says. "I will."


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