‘Heroin heroine’ saves lives from her living room

 In Health

On social media, Tracey Helton is known as the “heroine of heroin,” as she mails out doses of the generic version of Narcan, the drug that revives people after an overdose, to those who ask for it.

Helton knows that what she’s doing is illegal, since she’s shipping a prescription drug through the US Postal Service.

She doesn’t care.

“I feel like the law is wrong, so it’s an act of civil disobedience,” she said. “Plus, I’m sort of an old punk rocker who doesn’t like to follow the rules.”

‘Tracey saved my life’

If Helton did follow the rules, Ryan Coleman would be dead.

US heroin deaths jump 533% since 2002, report says

Coleman and Helton met in 2013 on a subreddit for opioid users. She mailed naloxone to his home in Augusta, Georgia.

Coleman put the drug in his sock drawer and told his roommate, Brian Hamilton, where it was and how to use it. Less than a year later, he collapsed on the living room floor after shooting up heroin.

Hamilton slapped him in the face, which had turned a bluish gray. Coleman didn’t react.

Remembering his friend’s instructions, Hamilton ran to the bedroom, grabbed the naloxone and injected Coleman in the hip. Within seconds, he turned pink and was conscious again.

An EMT's view from the front lines of America's heroin crisis 

“It scared the hell out of me, man,” Hamilton told Coleman recently as they recounted the story. “You’re like a brother to me.”

A few months later, Coleman and his friend Ryan Gillian were driving around Atlanta, looking to buy some heroin. They found some — and it was particularly potent.

Gillian passed out in the back seat of the car, and his lips turned blue. Coleman gave him a shot of naloxone, but it didn’t work, and neither did a second one. Finally, after a third dose of the drug, Gillian was revived.

All three doses came from Helton.

Today, both men say they’ve stopped using drugs.

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Coleman, 36, says his life has turned around. He’s in a 12-step program, has a full-time job and hopes to train next year to become a certified addiction recovery empowerment specialist. He’s reached out to the community, recently teaching a group of Georgia correction officers about drug addiction.

“Tracey saved my life,” he said. “And I’m doing pretty awesome right now.”

On August 21, the day of the total solar eclipse, Coleman proposed to his girlfriend, Brittany Hokrein. They met on the streets and went through recovery together.

“I was in serious, active addiction for 15 years. Everyone thought I was beyond hope for a long time,” Coleman said. “I want everyone to know that if I can recover, anyone — as long as they’re still breathing — can find recovery, too.”

Coleman said he wished he could share his success with Helton in person. That happened in August, when CNN flew Helton to Georgia.

It was an emotional meeting.

Coleman told Helton how much she had given him, how October 10 will mark one year of sobriety.

“I’m assistant manager at my job, which is pretty crazy for me, because I was pretty unemployable for most of my life,” Coleman told her.

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