vermont newspaper

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Inside Vermont’s “full-blown heroin crisis”

Ten years ago, Raina Lowell (far right) was 27 years old and living a wholesome life many only dream of. She owned her own business, was married, had a toddler son and a baby girl on the way. The 5-foot-10-inch blue-eyed blond, who previously worked as a model, was a “girl about town,” she said. She knew everyone and everyone knew her; she had “a million” friends. She frequented parties and events, her picture often gracing local Vermont newspapers — the Times Argus, the Bridge, Seven Days.

Unexpectedly, she faced heart-wrenching tragedy. She did have the baby girl, but the baby died upon birth. Lowell refused an autopsy. To this day, she does not know why her baby died. “Nobody should have to survive the loss of a child,” she said. 

In the aftermath, Lowell grew increasingly angry, even towards her husband, whom she felt was not suffering as deeply. She’d always suffered from terrible anxiety, but the death triggered a much more intense pain. “I wasn’t equipped to deal with that grief. I thought it was going to kill me.” She insisted they get pregnant again right away, which they did, and their daughter was born the next year. 

She doesn’t remember exactly when or how — a doctor possibly prescribed it, she thinks — but she took a Vicodin, a narcotic painkiller, for back pain. The calming euphoria washed over her; it was an escape, a dangerous savior. “It was like I could breathe for the first time. I felt warm and safe. It became my survival.” She easily assured herself that since it was coming from a doctor, it was legal and safe.

But, she said, “The first time I felt that high, I was done for.”

Six years later, she sat in a friend’s trailer, “a sad place, dark and depressing.” The curtains were drawn, as they always were; no natural light ever shone in. She couldn’t do it herself. Her stomach was in knots. She turned away as her friend inserted a needle near her elbow, first extracting blood to establish connection with a vein, and then injecting the heroin. “I was plowed over by the euphoria of it hitting my blood stream all at once, and I immediately knew I would never take drugs any other way again,” she said.

Her life had deteriorated completely. The once-successful businesswoman, town darling, beautiful blond and loving mother had become a crack addict and heroin junky. Jobless and divorced, she was living with her two children in a house with no heat in the middle of a Vermont winter. She lit furniture on fire for warmth.

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