Pubdate: Tue, 18 Mar 2014
Source: Star-News (Wilmington, NC)
Copyright: 2014 Wilmington Morning Star


Heroin has made a comeback, and it is destroying lives in the Cape
Fear region. It's cheap, plentiful, addictive - and deadly. What is
most discouraging is that the experts admit demand for the opiate will
ensure a steady supply, even as police take down major dealers and
traffickers. Arresting key players disrupts the market for a while,
but soon other suppliers will take their place.

StarNews reporters Mike Voorheis and Adam Wagner dug beneath the
surface for a grim look into Wilmington's heroin problem and the
people who can't function without it. It was a stark look at just how
easy it is to get heroin, and how tough it is to kick the habit.

Heroin addiction isn't just an urban problem, or a poverty-related
problem, although Wilmington's police chief notes the overlap between
heroin busts and low-income neighborhoods, including public housing.
Junkies come from towns big and small. They are rich, middle class and
poor; old and young. Many of them hold down jobs and seem to function
normally, while behind the facade their addiction controls their
lives. Often, they started with a less potent drug, or prescription

High-quality heroin can be had for less than the price of a movie
ticket - $35 a day sustains the hardcore yet high-functioning addict
Voorheis interviewed for the three-day series. And it tends to be much
stronger than the heroin that flowed into Wilmington during a
resurgence two decades ago. The drug trade frustrates law officers,
who make arrest after arrest and confiscate both money and product,
but who cannot seem to make a dent in the supply. As long as people
want heroin, criminals will find a way to bring it to them. It's a
sordid example of the free market at work. It takes a heavy toll on
our justice system and turns many otherwise decent people into

A large percentage of prison inmates are there at least in part
because of a substance addiction. Users who are arrested often do
not receive adequate help beating their addictions. Drug treatment
courts sponsored in New Hanover and Brunswick counties have worked
successfully with addicts and alcoholics charged with crimes, but only
a select few qualify for the demanding program. Treatment helps, for
those who are serious about recovery. But they will always be
susceptible to a relapse - actor Philip Seymour Hoffman succumbed
after 23 years clean and sober.

Coastal Horizons, a nonprofit that provides substance abuse treatment,
reports some success in helping users stay clean, or at least turn to
a legal, medically controlled alternative such as methadone. Some
programs also use Vivitrol, which dulls the effect of heroin's high
and has been effective in helping those who are determined to remain
clean. But it is expensive, and resources for drug treatment programs
are limited, especially for the uninsured.

Law enforcement is doing its job. Drug treatment experts are doing
theirs, to the extent that resources are available. Drug prevention
efforts are underfunded but plentiful, particularly in the public
schools. Yet this cancer grows, devouring lives and fueling crime. We
have not yet come up with a workable solution.

More frequent forced intervention, particularly for those who come
into contact with the court system, might be effective but also
costly. Then again, substance abuse also comes at a high cost - to our
government resources, to families, to society. We are paying either
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