Mother hopes to save her son by telling of her own lifelong addiction

"I am a heroin addict to the core," said Robbin Muninger, speaking to a room full of people — a group in a church basement gathered to talk about the drug crisis.

"I have to have pain medication, but I cannot be trusted with a bottle of Vicodin," she said. "For me, I would do almost anything to stop someone else from going down the road I went down."

She said she is clean of drugs, thanks largely to Suboxone, a medication that can take away the high of opioids. She has been out of prison almost a year.

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Muninger said she believes being honest about the degrading life of her addiction will help her stay clean and warn others against drugs. Mostly, she wants to help her son, 22, who she said is also an addict.

Earlier this month, she called his parole officer in Indiana to get him arrested.

"I didn't want him to die, and he's very thin and sick," Muninger said. "I had to step in as a mom."

Muninger looks like a mom. She delivers pizzas part time and collects disability checks. She suffers severe, lifelong back pain.

Last week she bought a car, a 2007 Audi, and signed a car loan on her own for the first time in her life. I met her afterward in a coffee shop. She was proud. She had called her parents to tell them. At 47, she feels like she is growing up.

For me, the interview was an opportunity to see into the depth of addiction, a parallel world of crime, despair and humiliation.

Muninger grew up in a solid family in Oklahoma, her father a firefighter and her mother a psychologist. She went to college to study social work.

But she began abusing pain medication as a young woman. Pills came with her medical treatments, especially the back problems. Metal rods were installed to deal with a spine curvature. When one of the rods broke, causing horrific pain, she got lots of pills.

"I was off to the races," Muninger said. "I could go to any emergency room or any doctor. I didn't have to make anything up. I didn't have to lie. They could see the rods."

Soon she was dedicating much of her life to getting drugs. She learned to forge prescriptions. She explained one of her scams to me, but asked me not to repeat it because it worked.

Except sometimes she got too desperate and cut corners. Then she would get caught. Her criminal record covers three states.

Muninger said her addiction didn't feel like a drive for pleasure. She was avoiding feeling bad. Without drugs, she fell back to depression and the sickness of not being high. Her brain became unbearably noisy with her obsession.

"The pills made me feel normal," she said.

Beside stints in jail, she also got treatment. She met her son's father in a program. They left early, "a Bonnie and Clyde type of thing," she said. She got pregnant while doing meth. But after they split, she got off drugs for three years.

And then she started again.

"You get comfortable and somehow your brain forgets and you pick up again," she said. "And that's when the choice happens. That's the choice. Once you do that, all choices are taken from you."

Muninger left for Alaska to get away from warrants for her arrest. She worked in fast food. She still suffered terrible back pain and migraine headaches. She got into an abusive relationship and spent time in the AWAIC shelter in Anchorage.

A woman she met there introduced her to a new group of friends. They moved into her place. One day, out of pain pills, she walked into a bedroom where they were injecting drugs.

"I went in there and stuck my arm out. And that's how I started heroin," she said. "It was the best feeling I've ever felt in my life. The most amazing, cozy, warm feeling. Better than anything I've ever felt."

She was hooked immediately. "It is awful. It's a trickster," she said.

The need for heroin drove her life into an abyss. Her friends taught her to be a prostitute. She advertised on Craigslist, meeting strange men in hotels, at their homes, or at her place.

"It was disgusting," she said.

The group planned a crime that, Muninger admits, made no sense except to a drug-bent mind. They would rob a house of drug dealers who supposedly wanted to be robbed as part of a scam.

But when Muninger entered the house with a gun, it was obvious there was no scam.

"They were scared to death. It was horrifying. She was screaming. The guy was begging us not to shoot them. There was a little child in the room," Muninger said.

The police arrived before the robbers left the house. Muninger detoxified in jail and pleaded guilty to armed robbery. She is close to finishing the sentence she received for the 2010 crime.

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Muninger's mother, Nancy Bolding, raised her grandson. She lives in Indiana and recently retired from working in a maximum-security prison, where she ran an addiction program.

"I can tell when she's using, and she's not using. I'm real proud of her," Bolding said. "Sometimes you just get tired of it. You're tired of being in jail, you're tired of being in prison, you're tired of the bull—-."

Muninger actively fights addition. Suboxone is her ally — although she admits she tried to abuse it too. But her parents' support and thoughts of her son are her strength.

"When I found out my son was on heroin, I knew I could never do this again. He needed to see I could do without drugs. He needed to see it was possible. Because his whole life, I've always been on drugs," Muninger said.

"I just want to be the adult I've never been before. I don't want to suck off society anymore. I guess I've grown a conscience," she said.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

Charles Wohlforth

Charles Wohlforth was an Anchorage Daily News reporter from 1988 to 1992 and wrote a regular opinion column from 2015 until 2019. He served two terms on the Anchorage Assembly. He is the author of a dozen books about Alaska, science, history and the environment. More at wohlforth.com.