By Colton Madore
In a bedroom scattered in used needles, a young man rummages through the mess trying to find heroin, anxious for another high. He’s out of money to buy more.
He finds an old needle he’s used in the past with a little bit of heroin left in it. Weeks earlier, when he was using this needle, it clogged. He threw the needle aside and left it on the ground. Now desperate, he busts the needle and syringe apart, finding that not only heroin is left inside but also his blood. The two substances congealed, creating a jelly-like matter. He takes the mixture, mixes it with water, puts it on a spoon, and melts it. He then shoots up with a new needle.
“I was out of money and desperate,” said Jordan Eubanks, describing the time he was in his early twenties and made use of a concoction to give him another high. “I found that f****** needle with the clogged s***. I needed it. It’s so gross to look back now.”
Today, Eubanks is 29 years old and living in Syracuse. He has been in recovery for more than six years and works as a lead peer specialist at Helio Health, a nonprofit dedicated to helping those who struggle with substance use and mental health disorders. As a teenager, Eubanks started experimenting with alcohol, pain relievers, Xanax, and cocaine. In his early twenties, he was introduced to heroin shortly after moving to his grandmother’s house in Colorado from his parents’ house in Florida.
He was experimenting and became dependent on whatever he could get his hands on. Desperate for money, he scammed ATMs. He stole clothes and returned them for gift cards, selling the gift cards for half their value. He even scammed his parents and brother out of money several times, telling his parents his car had flat tires and selling his brother’s guitars.
Then six years ago an old friend reached out offering help, and Eubanks decided he needed to make a change in his life. Months before, weighing only 100 pounds, he’d had a near death experience, shooting up heroin, passing out, waking up and repeating the process.
More than 115 people in the United States die every day after overdosing on opioids. These include prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In Onondaga County, there have been 43 opioid related deaths alone in 2018, according to the Onondaga County Opioid Epidemic Data Report. Recent celebrity overdoses have flooded the media, including Demi Lovato, Mac Miller, and Jackson Odell, all under the age of 30.
Today, no one would know Eubanks once had a problem with drugs, even though he is open about it. His mother, Kim, still lives in Florida and remembers her son being bright, gifted, and outgoing at an early age. These are traits she can still see today, she said.
During the time Eubanks was involved in drugs and scamming people out of money, Kim was upset and horrified, she said. “Those years were dark. As a parent you just feel like, ‘What in the world is happening?’” she said.
Today, Eubanks’ mother said he is devoted to his work and helping others. “He’s back to being that little boy with all the promise. He’s fulfilling anybody’s expectations at this point,” she said.
His younger brother, Justus, barely remembers the years his brother was abusing substances. He was a preteen when Eubanks started using. While he’s not very willing to speak about his brother, Justus said is glad Jordan has overcome his addiction and is in recovery. Having recently left Florida himself, Justus Eubanks lives with his brother for a while to get his feet on the ground in a new state.
In a two-bedroom apartment, along with the Eubanks brothers, is Rylan Bolin. Bolin moved in with Eubanks four months ago when he was released from jail in Florida. Eubanks has helped him more than he will ever know, said Bolin. The two have known each other for several years, but Bolin often drifted in and out of Eubanks’ life due to his own problems with addiction. Now in recovery himself, he said he enjoys the laughter Eubanks adds to his life. “He’s very random, funny and caring,” said Bolin. “There’s never a dull moment.”
Eubanks’ best friend, Ashley Dimento, has been in his life for several years. The two lean on each other. She believes he should receive a “Medal of Honor,” she said jokingly. Eubanks helped change Dimento’s life when she was involved with substances and helped her get into the health services field, she said. The pair resemble two giddy childhood friends, Eubanks said.
As lead peer specialist at Helio Health, Eubanks oversees a staff of peer specialists, who work to support those seeking recovery. Peer specialists provide the ability for patients to meet and learn from those who have gone down a similar life path. Eubanks not only meets with patients one on one as a lead peer, but also handles administrative work, he said.
For Eubanks, work is something he is proud of. He likes having people with lived experience helping others rather than a medical approach, he said. Even though patients do get medical expertise at some point during treatment at Helio Health, a peer specialist helps through a more personal level.
Months earlier on a random weekday, a peer specialist calls Eubanks in a hurry. There is a young man outside a church passed out on the steps. The peer specialist is uncertain what to do. Eubanks takes initiative, shows up and attempts to help the man.
Eubanks doesn’t identify what his title is or where he works but tells the young man his name. The young man is drunk and tells Eubanks he knows he has a problem with alcohol. The two talk casually.
Finally, Eubanks tells him how he was once in his shoes. Eubanks offers help and mentions the basic options of medically managed detox for those who drink alcohol, saying it can be a difficult but manageable transition. He then guides him through other options. The two brainstorm; the man is receptive. Eubanks gives him a ride home, meets with him the next day with a counselor, and takes him to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The man has been sober ever since, Eubanks said.
Monica Perdew, one of Eubanks’ co-workers, has loved working with Eubanks since joining the Helio Health staff a year ago. She began to understand her role better under his supervision and guidance. “Definitely one of the things that is rare to find is that he’s compassionate and understanding, but at the same time he will give you constructive criticism,” she said.
Eubanks is optimistic. He said he knows he will remain in the human services field. “I’ve been involved in a lot of s***,” he said. “The past is behind me and I’ll tell my story to as many people as I need to. There is help out there. I’m living proof.”