Vicki Allendorf noticed that her oldest son Zachary was losing weight. “Mom, I’ve just been working out,” he’d say. But Allendorf, who is Midwestern-nice with a big pinch of Type A, knew that her skater son was no gym rat. “He looked gaunt,” she said. In the early 2000s, drinking and partying was how kids typically passed the time, especially in small cities on the edge of the Mississippi River. Around 2008, opioids like OxyContin, and eventually heroin, spread across the Midwest. Zachary was one of the tens of thousands of teens who had gone from using OxyContin recreationally to being trapped in a full-blown addiction.
Shortly after Allendorf realized that her oldest son was using opioids, she learned her two other sons were also addicted to heroin. “Eventually, it was their whole friend group,” she said. Terrified, Allendorf sought support from a local Families Anonymous group, which pushed a religious approach to addiction treatment. “Parents were telling me to ‘let go and let god.’ If I ‘let go and let god’ my kids will die tonight,” Allendorf thought to herself. Frustrated by the lack of resources and information, she took matters into her own hands.
In 2012, she filled in the blank fields for a new Facebook group. She called it I Hate Heroin. “The only thing I could feel at that moment was how much I hated this drug,” Allendorf said. “It’s destroying my kids. It’s destroying me.” She loved her sons, who were sensitive and caring boys, whose lives revolved around music and snowboarding. But she hated heroin’s grip on their lives.
Allendorf had unwittingly tapped the internet’s jugular vein. Anger and hatred multiply like bacteria on social media. Add a dose of grief and desperation and I Hate Heroin snowballed from a few dozen parents in Midwestern towns to thousands of struggling families nationwide searching for help on Facebook. Unlike online groups like Fuck Heroin Foundation and The Addict’s Mom, I Hate Heroin was less about posting irreverent memes, selling T-shirts, or driving people to partnered treatment centers. Allendorf’s motivation was to fill a gap in resources for the Midwest. She has no staff, and no ties to treatment facilities looking for patients on the internet.
I Hate Heroin became a thriving online community where parents could procure naloxone, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, and share information about what kind of treatments work and which don’t. Maybe most importantly, parents sought advice in staying sane and maintaining healthy boundaries. I Hate Heroin morphed into a sign-off tag, Allendorf explains, “People were sharing their life story and they’d end a sentence with IHH.”
Anger and hatred multiply like bacteria on social media. Add a dose of grief and desperation and I Hate Heroin snowballed to thousands of struggling families searching for help on Facebook.
As the group grew, Allendorf’s kids continued to struggle with addiction. Her sons stopped and started treatments, going days and weeks off heroin, only to go back to it, a cycle that’s increasingly difficult to survive. On April 9, 2016, Allendorf’s worst nightmare materialized: Two of her sons, 31-year-old Zachary and 27-year-old Terry, overdosed on illicit fentanyl that was sold as heroin. (Illicit fentanyl overdoses jumped a whopping 540 percent that year.) “IHH will be shut down for the next week,” Allendorf posted. “I lost two of my sons to overdose tonight. Pray for our family and for peace for my sons. I will never again be the same. Vicki.”
But Allendorf never shut down IHH, and as she grieved and planned their funerals, her page lit up. The post announcing the overdoses of her sons is still live, and has over 8,000 comments. “My heart hurts for you,” one commenter posted. Another said, “I am so very sorry. We lost our nephew to heroin two years ago. My sister has not recovered.” Thousands of posts echoed a shared grief.
I Hate Heroin today is a community of over 190,000 people and growing, both online and offline. Though most of the group is made up of family members of addicted loved ones, sometimes those who are suffering from addiction show up, too. Allendorf is grateful to everyone involved, but recently something has shifted in her relationship to I Hate Heroin. She no longer believes in the group’s name. Hate and anger are typical — and rational — knee-jerk responses to the damage wrought by addiction. But they’re also dead ends. While it may be painful, Allendorf has recognized that moving beyond hate and abandonment toward love and connection can keep people safe and alive. She’s no longer a fan of the name, but, she says, “It’s too late to change it now.”