Before the story airs: Heroin making a comeback in NC

Posted February 18, 2014

Amanda Lamb

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.


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  • W. Clifton Barnes Feb 19, 2014
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    Heroin, Mexico Becomes The Largest Exporter To United States Drug Addicts http://slowdecline.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/heroin-mexico-becomes-the-largest-exporter-to-united-states-drug-addicts/

  • Lisa Grabowski Feb 18, 2014
    user avatar

    I'm glad that attention is finally being brought to this. I will be 25 next week, but sadly, many of my peers are still living like they're in their teens: Living with their parents, working dead end jobs and get excited about hourly pay over $10/hr, no savings, sometimes no vehicle, getting into legal trouble... All part of their addiction to heroin that started over 4 years ago.

    Most of the public praised the movement to bottleneck the supply of pharmaceutical pain killers, but those who had any economical common sense knew that this would be trouble.

    Immediately, people went from taking a couple pain pills, to doing heroin multiple times a day. While it's an opiate, heroin is different from something like Oxycodone -- it produces a less clean, more cloudy-minded high, dramatically affecting the person's mood / personality. It has a devastating impact on the user's quality of life, ten fold than the impact of using "regular" pain pills ever had.

    Also, while many people started ta

  • Joseph Smith Feb 18, 2014
    user avatar

    Two comments.
    1. I started hearing about this 18+ months ago.
    2. Heroin is cheap because of the massive crop being grown/harvested in Afghanistan. Google it and you'll see who the key players are.

  • mafiamic Feb 18, 2014

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    While you are doing things like that or any drug or alcohol you do not know what it does to you until after you are off of it.
    When someone dies they don't spend etrnity thinking what mistakes they made in the physical plane.They are moving on to the next stage.
    It hurts the people around them like with any death,it affects the people around and still here then the departed.
    Everything is a matter of choice.The meaning of Love is acceptance,Love/Accept your fellow man without anger,without judgment,without hatred.We are all each learning what we need to learn on our paths.
    Yes it is sorrorwful and heartening to look at and see what people do to their lives but they do it to escape what society and everyone has laid on them.
    If your mission was to help them then help them,but if it was to judge and condemn them for what they are doing because you personally do not like it then people need to change a new path.

  • itsyoureternalsoul Feb 18, 2014

    I did not know I needed heroin until many years of politicians -instead of leaders --filled the White House

  • ziva Feb 18, 2014

    If you have ever seen someone close to you die from their addition, you know what their choice can do to them as well as to those that love them. Sure, it is their choice, but that does not mean that we should not give a hoot.

  • Obamacare rises again Feb 18, 2014

    You only live once. Enjoy the heroin if you so choose.

  • mafiamic Feb 18, 2014

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    They also said that about having 1 cigarette.I smoked for years and i'm healthy, Dr said I'm amazing .many people are in their 80s and 90s who have smoked and drank most of their lives.

  • Allen Reeves Feb 18, 2014
    user avatar

    "because trying heroin (sex), even one time, can have deadly consequences"

    They told us the same thing about having sex back in the late 80's early 90's with the HIV virus. Didn't stop many from doing it.

  • A person Feb 18, 2014

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    As did most people's ancestors. I know mine did while they were living in Europe before immigrating to the USA