Carson's heroin connection: Addiction snuck up and grabbed hold of teen

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

In a filthy studio apartment littered with hypodermic needles, Millisa Kephart was faced with the truth of her young life 15 months ago.

As her toddler son reached out to deputies from a playpen stained with urine, the 18-year-old mother could not avoid, deny or disengage herself from the facts. She was a heroin addict.

Her parents, siblings and friends would know her secret. Her relationship would be over with the man who introduced her to the drug and became an addict alongside her.

Ten years her senior, Scott had treated her better than any boyfriend she'd had. But now he was going to jail, and so was she.

The daily trips to Reno to get the drug were over. The days of finagling cash out of whomever only to spend it on dope were over, too.

And she was relieved.

Getting hooked

Millisa was 17 and pregnant when she met Scott through a friend in Stagecoach. They became friends and eventually a couple. Scott was there when Payton was born and took on the father role, she said.

Her mother Raelda Kephart said she was uncertain about the 26-year-old man her daughter had hooked up with. She had heard through friends that Scott abused pain pills prescribed for a back injury.

"I didn't know what Oxycontin was," Millisa said of the prescription painkiller. "Sometimes he would go in the bathroom and when he'd come out, he'd be happy. But I was really naive."

When Payton was about a month old, Millisa, who suffers from hereditary decaying and brittle teeth, was laid up with a toothache. Scott showed her how he would grind up the Oxycontin and smoke it off a piece of aluminum foil. She tried it.

"My tooth stopped hurting instantly and I was able to eat," she said. "I didn't know we were doing anything wrong at the time."

The Oxycontin smoking became a daily habit, with Scott using up his pain prescriptions then paying anywhere from $10 to $30 to buy a pill off the street.

Pretty soon, however, the Oxycontin wouldn't take away the pain.

"I can remember when it stopped working. I didn't get the same high and my tooth still hurt," she said.

That's when a friend gave Scott something he said was better than Oxycontin. He said it was opium.

The first time Millisa smoked it, Scott found her unconscious on the living room floor. He doused her with water and shook her awake. After that, she said, Scott would watch her closely so that she didn't overdose.

One day when they couldn't find their regular supplier, Scott said he knew the guy in Reno where the opium came from.

When they found the dealer, Scott sidled up to him.

"He said, Hey, let me get some of that opium from you," Millisa recalled.

The dealer scoffed. "Opium? I don't know who's telling you its opium. It's heroin."

Millisa said the news was stunning.

"We would never have done something like that," Millisa said.

But she did, and she was hooked.

Eye of the needle

Smoking heroin is nasty, said Millisa. The smell is atrocious and the taste is worse.

So when she was told there was a method that was odorless and tasteless, it seemed like the perfect solution for a drug-addled mind " she could just inject it.

The first time was difficult, she said. Scott had to do it for her and the needle was bent.

But the couple easily slipped into a new habit of injecting the Mexican black tar heroin that they were driving into Reno daily to get. Then she would spend her days locked in a windowless bathroom playing video games on a television they'd set up in there.

The first time she quit happened without her consent when Scott was jailed on a probation violation for a DUI charge.

"I didn't know how to get it," she said of the drug. "I tried once to (inject) myself and couldn't."

Millisa suffered through the painful withdrawals alone.

"There'd be times I'd come home to my mom and cry on my couch cause I hurt so bad. I couldn't sleep and then Payton would cry and I'd feel like the (worst) mom ever."

Millisa's mother said she had no idea that her daughter was doing heroin. She though she might be abusing Oxycontin.

With Scott in jail, Raelda hatched a plan to get Millisa out of Nevada.

"I thought if I get her to her sister in Montana, get her away from Scott for a while, maybe she would be OK," Raelda said.

The visit was short lived. Scott brought her back to Nevada and four days later police found her in the Roop Street apartment.

On Dec. 20, 2007, deputies went to the apartment with a warrant for Scott's arrest on a probation violation. With a glance they saw the empty heroin balloons. They found nine syringes in the bathroom and on the floor.

"I remember my son reached up from the playpen and he touched one of the cops. The cop turned around really quickly. They didn't know he was even there," said Millisa.

When Raelda arrived at the apartment to pick up her grandson, an officer told her that her daughter was a heroin addict.

"My heart just sank," Raelda said. "When you think of heroin you think of New York. All these junkies on the street using heroin. That to me is a junkie."

Genuine tears come when Millisa recalls the neglect her son must have endured. And how he learned to walk while she was in rehab. And how he didn't know her when she got out.

The regret is real. It's the kind that boils over silently causing the bearer to hang her head in shame. The sort of regret that generally takes a lifetime to gather and seems an unfair burden for a girl from Stagecoach.

One year clean

Fifteen months ago, when Millisa first went to the Carson Detoxification Center, she was the only person there addicted to heroin.

"Everyone was all shocked that a little 18-year-old girl was doing heroin. It was hard being the only one in there," she said.

A year into her recovery now, Millisa has slowly realized that she was on the front end of a trend that has swept through Carson City in the last 12 months.

"I was about three months into (counseling) when another girl came in and she was a heroin addict as well. Then all these kids under the age of 18 would tell me they are heroin addicts.

"It rapidly grew over a year and that scares the crap out of me," she said. "I've been told that it's easier to get heroin than to get meth now. It's cheaper and more people want it.

"Its awful. It sickens me actually how easy it is to get addicted."

Millisa is attending the beauty college and holding down a job. She no longer has contact with Scott.

While both Raelda and her husband lost their jobs recently to the recession, their daughter's progress is cause for celebration.

"She's doing really good and she's working really hard doing all the steps (for her recovery.) This beauty college thing is giving herself a career. We're real proud of her," said Raelda.

Millisa said her experience has given her insight to the struggles that an increasing number of young people in Carson are facing.

She hopes by telling her story, people will understand that heroin addiction is a possibility not only in big cities, but in places like Carson City.

Now 19, Millisa said her story is proof that you can be beat addiction if you find the right support and take it one step at a time.

"I didn't know there was a way to quit," she said recently as she prepared to pick her son up from daycare and attend a 12-step meeting that night. "I thought you had to do it cold turkey. I didn't know there were resources to help. But there is help."

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