Before the story airs: Heroin making a comeback in NC
Posted February 18, 2014
I spend every weekday morning at the Wake County Justice Center poring through arrest reports from overnight. I first started noticing an increase in the number of arrests related to heroin several months ago.
I was used to seeing arrests related to trafficking or possessing marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine, crack and prescription drugs, but this was new to me. In addition to arrests related to heroin, many of the search warrants I read detailed cases where someone had overdosed on heroin, and this led police to make the arrests.
I began speaking with my law enforcement sources in and around the Triangle who told me that, in fact, heroin was making a comeback. The reason they told me was twofold.
Heroin mimics the effects of prescription painkillers. In the past decade, addiction to pharmaceuticals has skyrocketed, according to drug abuse counselors I’ve spoken with. But due to changes in the law regarding how these prescriptions are doled out by pharmacies, painkillers are becoming harder to get on the street. As a result, the price of these drugs on the street has skyrocketed while the price of heroin remains low. So, easier access to heroin and an affordable price are making it the drug of choice for many people formerly hooked on pharmaceuticals.
I spoke with a local doctor who told me the frightening thing about this phenomenon is that she is seeing younger and younger people addicted to heroin, people in their teens and early 20s. She told me that several of the parents she treats have shared with her horror stories about their children and heroin addiction. And there appear to be no socioeconomic or racial barriers to the addiction – young and old, low-income to upper/middle class, black and white – heroin is a dangerous, seductive mistress that knows no boundaries.
Tad Clodfleter, who runs Southlight Healthcare, told me that every morning several hundred clients come to their facility to get methadone, a drug that helps people kick the heroin addiction, before going to work. He says Southlight’s clients come from all walks of life, which include doctors, lawyers, and CEOs. Certainly, the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, a wealthy, famous, supremely talented actor, highlights the reality that heroin permeates all levels of society.
I interviewed two recovering addicts for my piece that runs tonight on WRAL-TV. One was a man in his 40s who had been in recovery for 20 years. The other was a woman whose addiction started at 19 years old and who just reached four months of sobriety. Both spoke about heroin as a powerful drug that draws you in immediately and makes you think of nothing else but wanting more. They told me that people addicted to heroin leave their jobs, their families and their responsibilities by the wayside and focus solely on scoring more of the drug.
The woman who most recently beat her habit told me she hid her addiction from her family for five months, telling them the track marks on her arms were scratches from her dog. She finally came clean and got clean, but she tells me the addiction will always be with her for the rest of her life. In order to beat it, she must never be around the drug again or, she says, she will be tempted to dive back in to her addiction.
The other recovering addict, Bernie Reardon, who is now a program manager for the Raleigh Methadone Treatment Center, told me coming off of heroin involves both a physical and psychological withdraw. He says the symptoms of withdraw are like having the worst case of the flu you can imagine. For this reason, many people choose not to withdraw or turn to methadone clinics for help.
The supply of heroin, which comes into our country from a plethora of places including Canada and Mexico, is only going to increase as the demand increases. Law enforcement officers tell me decreasing the demand is truly the only way to solve the problem, which means helping people kick their addictions and preventing others from falling into addiction in the first place. It’s a tall order, but it’s one as a community we must take on, because trying heroin, even one time, can have deadly consequences.
Watch my story tonight on WRAL-TV at 5:30 p.m.