For 15 years, Jimmy Frazier filled the void in his life with heroin.
One of nine children, each with a different father, Frazier grew up in Gaithersburg, never fitting in and always looking to belong.
"I used to medicate my feelings," Frazier said. "Something was missing in my life."
Frazier's words, reflecting the very private pain of drug addiction and recovery, are not spoken in embarrassed or hushed tones. Instead, they are among the public revelations in a new anti-drug video funded by the Gaithersburg city government.
The latest effort from a city that prides itself on its novel programs for drug abusers and the homeless, the documentary brings four recovering addicts together to talk plainly and candidly about their old habits. They don't speak in catchy slogans and there are no urgent pleas or promises. And that is exactly what Gaithersburg officials believe will be the power behind the video they hope will be used by schools, churches and community groups.
"These are people who are part of our community," said Mayor W. Edward Bohrer Jr. ". . . It shows what can happen to people around us and like us."
Along with Frazier, the film features three other county residents, each using only their first names.
Lee, 17, attends school in Montgomery County and speaks regularly to students on his struggle with an addiction that began at age 4 or 5 with sips of vanilla extract and his parents' liquor. Judy is a nurse who, after 3 1/2 years in recovery, tells of the low self-esteem that led her to steal codeine-laden Tylenol 3 from the hospital. Hank, who had a 44-year history of drug abuse, proclaims his hardships, details his prison record and warns, "What happened to me will happen to anyone who uses drugs." Hank died in July from drug-use complications.
The 30-minute video, which the city paid Montgomery Community Television $7,000 to produce, is among the anti-drug and anti-alcohol programs that have become standards in the city's government.
The city is attempting to lure some of its homeless alcoholics into treatment by banning the sale of certain cheap, fortified wines. The most ambitious effort, led by advocate for the homeless Lamont Lawson, is the Wells-Robertson House behind City Hall. It has served as a temporary home to 65 people who have come through treatment -- often at the urging of Lawson. "It's not easy to go on film and talk, so if the words appear to come easy, they're not," said Lawson, who selected the video's four participants. "But being open is a part of one's recovery program."
Lawson said no one expects the video to "get somebody to say, 'Hey, that's it. I'm going to stop doing drugs.' But it might get them to think about starting or it might help them recognize what can happen."
Frazier, 36, said his 20 "straight" months have been the best time of his life. After 13 arrests and facing another jail term, he went into treatment. While his climb into a drug-free life has been difficult, he feels compelled to share his triumphs, he said, "because just maybe there's a chance I can help somebody."