El Paso

Only on ABC-7: Fighting stigma of being 'born addicted'

Fighting the stigma of being born addicted

EL PASO, Texas - As the opioid crisis continues to grip the nation, it's becoming more common for children to be born with drugs in their system.

But it's not a new phenomenon. El Pasoan Andrew Correa has been fighting the stigma his whole life.

"Sometimes that term is very condemning: Born addicted. They're like, 'No, that's it. He was born addicted. He's going to be a drug addict. He's going to have issues and that's that. There's nothing we can do about it,'" Correa said. "And that's not true at all."

Correa's mother was on heroin while pregnant. When asked when he learned that he was born with drugs in his system, Correa said, in a way, he always knew.

"I've known my mom was an addict since I was little," he replied. "By four years old I'd already experienced it. By six, I'd been to a jail facility and visited my mom. By eight years old I'd seen withdrawals."

At 27, Andrew is coping with asthma, depression, anxiety and ADHD -- the affects of what is now known as neonatal abstinence syndrome.

"I didn't choose this. This isn't what I wanted," Correa said. "Maybe I wanted a better life for myself. But this is what I was dealt."

Correa tried to play himself a new hand and moved to Phoenix, only to return to El Paso in 2016. His mother had been shot in the head by a house guest. He said the pain medication she was given in the hospital fueled her addiction.

"My whole family said, 'We never thought we'd lose her to that. We thought we'd lose her to the streets,'" Correa said. 

Her relapse has stirred up a mix of emotions.

"When she's here, I'm like, 'God, I'm happy she's here. I know she's safe. I know she's alive,'" Correa said. "But what comes with her, I'm like, 'If she could just leave already. If we could just give her the money.' But giving her money doesn't help."

Correa's mother had dropped by unexpectedly at his grandparents' home the night before he was scheduled to speak to ABC-7, which led to an uncomfortable confrontation when the reporter and photographer arrived the following morning. Despite threats to harm him as she stormed out of the room, Correa insisted on talking about his mother and how she and her drug abuse affected his life.

"It's hard," Correa started to say, then paused as he fought back tears. At that moment, Correa's mother began playing music loudly upstairs. Strains of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" made its way down the staircase. 

Correa continued, recounting a childhood memory. "When I was seven, she'd come home at night and I would run and would hug her, and I'd make her cereal at 10, 11 at night and I'd watch TV (with her)," he said. His voice cracked. "And I'd wake up and she'd be gone like a ghost in the night."

Correa, however, doesn't want to leave. He's choosing to stay in El Paso and live with his grandparents while he fights for his family, telling ABC-7, "It's my mom. And I love her no matter what. I love my mom."

Correa is also fighting for his own future. He's seeing a psychiatrist to overcome the emotional scarring that has come with his family's situation. He's also headed back to school to become a emergency medical technician. He wants to help people, he said.

"Being born addicted is just a medical label. It's not something that is tattooed or written in stone," he said. "Don't let it follow you your whole life."

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