Haunted by a decade of heroin abuse, Lawrenceburg man shares the pain on social media

Dustin Cinnamon, 29, has battled heroin addiction for more than a decade.
Dustin Cinnamon, 29, has battled heroin addiction for more than a decade. Dustin Cinnamon

Two of the most important things in Dustin Cinnamon’s life are social media and heroin.

Cinnamon, 29, is homeless, roaming the streets of his hometown of Lawrenceburg while he awaits a court appearance in Jessamine County next month stemming from a 2013 felony drug possession charge.

Cinnamon is a serial heroin-possession offender. If he is convicted of his latest charge, he will have spent six of the past 12 years in jail for arrests related to addiction.

This chilling reality, and a desire to fix his life, led Cinnamon to Reddit and Facebook. The Central Kentucky father of four — three daughters and a son — used both platforms to provide a glimpse into a decade spent shooting heroin into his body. Cinnamon agreed to speak on the record about the details of his addiction, hoping that his story can inspire addicts to seek help at a time when Central Kentucky faces a spike in overdoses of heroin and the painkiller fentanyl.

Reddit is a link-sharing community that is the ninth most visited website in the United States and has more than 919,000 subject-specific forums. Facebook is second on that list with about 191 million American users alone.

Cinnamon frequented Reddit’s r/opiates forum in the past two months, drawing on the collective knowledge of fellow addicts to cope with crippling heroin-induced headaches and to ask people to mail him letters while he’s in prison. On Facebook, Cinnamon was more personal. A May 24 post was shared more than 5,000 times.

“You are going to wake up every single day with one mission. Get high,” Cinnamon wrote. “Nothing else is going to matter. Family, your own children, your own personal health. None of that will compare with the urge to not be sick.”

Social media was a way for Cinnamon to be honest without having to physically face judgment from people who cared about him. These sorts of social media posts can help someone cope, said Tracey Helton, a former heroin addict and author who is a volunteer Reddit moderator for r/opiates.

“Some people are choosing to be their authentic selves through the internet as a way of receiving social support and recognition, because there is so much inauthentic stories and experiences,” Helton said. “If people see a (online) community as being a form of social support, they want that to actually be social support in real life and take that to the next level.”

In the past month, opiate overdoses have claimed 36 lives in Kentucky, 200 in Cincinnati and 27 in Huntington, W.Va., according to the New York Times and CNN.

Over the Labor Day weekend, heroin and fentanyl were responsible for 12 fatal overdoses in Kentucky, according to the Associated Press.

Cinnamon’s descent into opiate addiction began when he was 16. He dropped out of Anderson County High School to take up with a group of Louisville 20-year-olds who were into rave and party drugs. Cinnamon regularly used cocaine through age 18, when he was arrested for trafficking ecstasy in Indiana.

Cinnamon spent the next two years in Indiana’s Vanderburgh County jail and Branchville Correctional Facility.

Cinnamon was released in 2006, when he was 20. To celebrate his freedom, a friend provided Cinnamon a half tablet of methadone. It made him sick. A week later, Cinnamon lodged a piece of glass in his finger while working as a waiter in Frankfort. He went to the hospital and was prescribed 10mg of Lortab, an opiate.

Cinnamon traveled to Baltimore to visit a friend; the addiction to pain medicine followed. He tried to find a pill dealer, but all the dealer had was heroin packaged in a small balloon. Cinnamon snorted it. About a month later, he was injecting heroin through a needle.

Over the next decade, Cinnamon’s life spiraled.

His habit of a tenth of a gram of heroin a day evolved into a half-gram three times a day.

“It’s the most cunning drug there is,” Cinnamon said. “With heroin, it slowly creeps up on you; you have no idea you’re becoming addicted until it’s too late. You work harder, you’re more sociable, everything seems OK, but you don’t realize the sacrifice you’re making. You’re sacrificing everything.”

He traveled to Chicago and Akron, Ohio, to score a gram of heroin for $60, as opposed to the going rate of $200 in Kentucky. He has overdosed two times. The second time required a dose of Narcan to keep him alive. Narcan is the brand name for naloxone, a medication that can be injected or administered as a nasal spray to reverse the effects of heroin overdoses. Officials at more than 100 school districts in Kentucky, including Fayette, Madison and Woodford, will be trained this month by the drug company Adapt Pharma on administering Narcan in exchange for two free doses.

By his count, Cinnamon was arrested three more times for felony heroin possession, once for marijuana possession and trafficking, and a “whole bunch” of drug paraphernalia charges. He was convicted in all cases.

He has never been charged with a robbery or violent crime, according to his public defender in Franklin County.

Jail time accompanied most of these charges. Every time he was released, Cinnamon would find blue-collar work and an affordable place to live — until he found himself back in jail. The monotony of this pattern was temporarily interrupted at least twice when he got clean; the first for seven months and the next for 14.

“I made my life so miserable, when things are going good, it’s abnormal to me,” Cinnamon said. “Suffering is part of my everyday life. You live in this hole. Heroin makes me into a monster.”

Cinnamon’s pattern is common, said Carrie Thayer, the director of development at the Hope Center, an organization that serves the homeless and at-risk populations. It helps 800 people a day.

Addiction is the number one reason for homelessness in Lexington, Thayer said.

“The trend you’re seeing with him is a very common trend among addicts,” said Thayer, who has worked for the Hope Center more than five years. “They struggle daily with staying in recovery. Addiction can be so strong that unless they have the proper tools and learned a new way to live, the chances of falling back into the lifestyle of a hardcore addict are much more likely.”

One of Cinnamon’s lowest moments was shooting up with a needle he found on the ground near a subway station in Philadelphia in 2010.

This cycle of addiction eroded the trust that his family, particularly his brother Michael, 36, once had in Cinnamon. Michael has battled alcohol and prescription drug addiction. He has been clean for a few years now.

“I’m sure it’s affected our mom worse than me,” Michael said. “But she doesn’t talk about it much. It’s hard to watch. Really hard to watch. I wait every single day for the phone call that tells me he’s died. We try to help with small things as much as possible, but we just want him to be able to do for himself. We want to see him do better so bad.”

Aside from heroin, the one constant in Cinnamon’s life during this time was the love for his children. Cinnamon said he has never shot up in front of them, and he fears that his son might slip into addiction as he grows up.

“People will say that I must not love my kids enough because I don’t quit doing what I’m doing. I love my kids as much as I can possibly love them,” Cinnamon said. “If Daddy wants to be OK today, Daddy has to do drugs. I can’t be Super Daddy without drugs.”

He reached a breaking point in May, when his friends started overdosing around him at a faster rate. Four people close to him have died since then.

Cinnamon said the recent wave of overdoses will only grow over the next five years unless education around drug use and harm reduction can improve.

“In the last 11 years, I’ve lost everything,” he said. “I’ve lost everything meaningful.”

Fernando Alfonso III: 859-231-1324, @fernalfonso