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'You're playing with a loaded gun:' NC heroin use on the rise

Posted February 18, 2014

— Heroin addiction is on the rise across the nation and in North Carolina, according to law enforcement and health experts, who say the recent death of Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is a reminder that the drug knows no age or wealth limits.

From high school students to Hollywood actors, heroin has become a go-to drug for many because it is often cheaper and easier to get than prescription painkillers. In Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State address to drug abuse, saying that, in the past year, heroin overdoses there have almost doubled.

"In every corner of our state, heroin and opiate drug addiction threatens us," Shumlin said. "It threatens the safety that has always blessed our state. It is a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface that may be invisible to many, but is already highly visible to law enforcement, medical personnel, social service and addiction treatment providers, and too many Vermont families."

In North Carolina, especially the eastern part of the state, law enforcement officials say they are experiencing a surge in heroin that hasn't been seen in decades, especially among high school students.

“We’re arresting a lot of people who are 18, 19, 20, 21 years old who are supporting their own addiction by selling heroin,” said Lt. Dennis Wooten, with the Nash County Sheriff’s Office. “We’ve seen a lot of brown powder heroin, and our numbers have grown astronomically over the last four years.”

In 2012, Nash County investigators said they seized 48 grams of heroin. In 2013, that number jumped to 350 grams.

Heroin is a white or brown powder or a black, sticky goo, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It's made from morphine, a natural substance in the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. It can be mixed with water and injected with a needle. It can also be smoked or snorted up the nose.

"At higher doses over time, the body becomes dependent on heroin. If dependent users stop heroin, they have withdrawal symptoms," according to the institute. "These symptoms include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea and vomiting, and cold flashes with goose bumps."

A 20-year-old Nash County woman, who did not want to give her name, said heroin nearly destroyed her life. She is on house arrest at her parents’ home for selling drugs.

“I didn’t want to get in trouble, but I’m kind of glad I did, because all of these young people are dying off of it, and I could have been one of them,” she said.

Most heroin addicts start out using prescription painkillers, but they're more expensive and, due to changes in the law, are harder to come by than heroin. Users say heroin, like prescription painkillers, is a downer that helps them dull pain and relax, but the more they do, the more they need.

“I’ve done prescription pills and stuff like that, and the way they make you feel and the way heroin makes you feel is totally different,” the woman said. “It’s way strong.”

“Don’t do it. Definitely, don’t do it. It’s not worth it,” she added.

Law enforcement officials say one dose of heroin typically sells for about $10 to $20 on the streets, and addicts say they can use up to 50 hits a day. Heroin typically comes from other countries and eventually makes its way into the Northeast. Then, it comes down the Interstate 95 corridor right into Rocky Mount.

Investigators say arresting heroin addicts won't solve the problem.

“Decreasing the demand is probably our biggest hurdle, and the only way to do that is through education, getting people off drugs,” Wooten said.

Tad Clodfelter Jr. runs SouthLight Healthcare, a drug treatment program in Raleigh that offers methadone and counseling to people trying to kick heroin. He says his program has seen about a 30-percent increase in heroin use in the past year, which he calls “significant.”

“Many suburban kids with recreational use, as they got addicted, they couldn’t afford the prescription pain meds’ cost,” Clodfelter said.

Bernie Reardon is a counselor with the Raleigh Methadone Treatment Center, and he knows exactly what his clients are going through. Reardon kicked his heroin addiction 20 years ago, but says it “pretty much took over my life.”

“I’d tell (addicts), ‘You’re playing with a loaded gun, and it will go off. It will go off. Get help,’” he said.


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  • Catherine West Feb 21, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    There are a lot of young people from really good families experimenting with pain pills in the same manner that most of us experimented with alcohol. They don't realize how addictive these drugs can be. Also most young people believe that they are invincible, that it won't happen to them.

  • Matt Price Feb 21, 2014
    user avatar

    "Do any GOLOers here want to put MarysDecor in jail? "

    So did you ever think that the Doctors won't help because there is nothing wrong with her, except psychologically being addicted to the drug.

    It is amazing what your brain thinks when you are addicted. The Withdrawl is severely violent and painful.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 19, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Do any GOLOers here want to put MarysDecor in jail? If so, what lesson would you be teaching her, how would you be rehabilitating her, while she sits in jail in extreme pain for years?

  • marysdecor2004 Feb 19, 2014

    Im at the point I need illegal drugs to control my pain because doctors do not want to help me.the biggest thing they could give me was A oxycontin 15 an I grew immune to it.so they cut me off.so you could say doctors drive people to use illegal drugs because they refuse to help you.I went to my family doctor an he gave me vicoden 5 no help.so I get mine where I can find it.I have A very high pain tolerance an they refuse to listen.I went to have my sciatic nerve cut they worked on it over A hour.he charged like he cut it but Im still having the same problem makes it harder an harder to be able to stand or walk.so it be what it is.Im my doctor now pretty much

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 19, 2014

    View quoted thread

    And, so many folks get their government handout for NC's biggest killer elephant.

    This entire initiative, to stop something that is not even 1% as deadly as cigarettes, makes almost no sense. Ok, 1% sense. 99% non-sense.

  • dwr1964 Feb 19, 2014

    dwntwnboy2....Are you suggesting that our government may be promoting alcohol and drug abuse? Do you mean that finally, there is someone else out there who agrees with me?

  • dwntwnboy2 Feb 19, 2014

    "So, why are we here talking about this “dangerous drug”, but ignoring the elephant in the room?"- because our elected officials are purchased and paid for by the elephant in the room

  • Christopher Byrne Feb 19, 2014
    user avatar

    Opiate and Rx pill abuse is rampant in adjoining Robeson Co. Peoples' brains are literally fried. I am fully convinced the 1-2 episodes of abuse (not prescribed use) alters the firings in the brain and makes one dependent immediately. They must have more and more and will resort to violence and thievery to get it. These people cannot communicate or rationalize. Remember what Obama said "we'll just, uh, give, uh, her a pill.....".

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 19, 2014

    NC deaths per year

    Heroin: 34

    Tobacco: 12,500

    So, why are we here talking about this “dangerous drug”, but ignoring the elephant in the room?




  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 19, 2014

    Heroin *might* be bad stuff...

    "Yet every year tobacco kills more Americans than did World War II — more than AIDS, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, vehicular accidents, homicide and suicide combined."

    Did you see that word at the end? "Combined"?

    Is this initiative based on human deaths or not? Why are we wasting our time with something that addicts and kills 1% of what tobacco does? (4,000 vs. 450,000)