TIME

THE LIFE OF AN ADDICT

After a video of their overdose went viral, a couple got a chance at redemption
Ron Hiers, who was addicted to opioids and heroin for nearly 50 years, stands in his home in Southaven, Miss.

THE VIDEO IS HARD TO WATCH. A MIDDLE-AGED man is bent backward over a bus-stop bench, eyes closed, head brushing the ground, with a cell phone in his outstretched hand. It rings, but the man doesn’t move. A few feet away, dangerously close to the road, a woman lies facedown on the sidewalk, her legs buckled under her. She tries to get up but can’t make it, and collapses back down in a heap.

The pair are in what’s known as the medical district of Memphis, near a major academic hospital, but people walk by without a second glance. Others take out their phones and start recording. “Look, they on the good gas, man,” says one of the people who streamed the scene to Facebook Live. Another starts an impromptu rap: “Percocet, she pop a Percocet, she on the Xanax.”

The footage quickly went viral and was viewed millions of times.

The man in the video is Ron Hiers, and the woman is his wife, Carla. They had just picked up heroin and, too impatient to wait until they got home, walked into the bathroom of a nearby Walgreens and shot up. Then they headed for the bus stop, where they passed out.

It took a dose of naloxone—a drug that paramedics, emergency medical technicians and law-enforcement officers have started carrying because of the ballooning number of narcotic overdoses they see—to revive Ron and Carla. They were taken to the hospital, and then police took Carla to jail for outstanding charges of petty theft. Ron found his way back home.

“I felt sorry for her,” Ron says in his first extended interview, almost one year after the video was shot. “But I also thought, There’s more for me.” Ron says he injected Carla’s portion of the heroin and then took what was left of his monthly prescription of Xanax pills, about four dozen of them, hoping they would put an end to more than four decades of pain and addiction. They almost did.

THE VIDEO OF RON AND CARLA’S OVERDOSE IS PART of a grim genre that has emerged alongside the deadliest drug crisis in American history. Every day across the country, nearly 100 people die from overdoses of opioids, powerful narcotic painkillers that attach to cells and dull pain, slow breathing and bring on an overall sense of calm and satisfaction. Since 1999, the rate of fatal prescription opioid overdoses in the U.S. has quadrupled. In 2015, drug overdoses claimed more lives than car accidents and gun violence and rivaled the HIV/AIDS crisis at its peak. The toll, as the White House commission on the crisis put it, is the equivalent of a new 9/11 attack every three weeks.

It is an epidemic without boundaries, touching every corner of the nation, every income group and virtually every age, including a baby born in opioid withdrawal every 25 minutes. In a September study on mortality in the U.S., researchers at

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