Pubdate: Sun, 06 Apr 2014
Source: News-Item, The (PA)
Page: A1
Copyright: 2014 The News Item
Author: Amy Forliti, Dan Sewell and Nigel Duara, Associated Press


'We're All Paying' For This Scourge

On a beautiful Sunday last October, Detective Dan Douglas stood in a
suburban Minnesota home and looked downat a lifeless 20-year-old - a
needle mark in his arm, a syringe in his pocket. It didn't take long
for Douglas to realize that the man, fresh out of treatment, was his
second heroin overdose that day.

"You just drive away and go, 'Well, here we go again,"' says the
veteran cop.

In Butler County, Ohio, heroin overdose calls are so common that the
long time EMS coordinator likens the situation to "coming in and
eating breakfast-you just kind of expect it to occur." Alocal rehab
facility has a six-month wait. One school recently referred an
11-year-old boy who was shooting up intravenously.

Sheriff Richard Jones has seen crack, methamphetamine and pills plague
his southwestern Ohio community but calls heroin a bigger scourge.
Children have been forced into foster care because of addicted
parents; shoplifting rings have formed to raise money to buy fixes.

"There are so many residual effects," he says. "And we're all paying
for it."

Heroin is spreading its misery across America. And communities
everywhere are indeed paying.

The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman spotlighted the reality that
heroin is no longer limited to the back alleys of American life. Once
mainly a city phenomenon, the drug has spread-gripping postcard
villages in Vermont, middle-class enclaves outside Chicago, the sleek
urban core of Portland, Ore., and places in between and beyond.

Cocaine, painkillers and tranquilizers are all used more than heroin,
and the latest federal overdose statistics showthat in 2010 the vast
majority of drug overdose deaths involved pharmaceuticals, with heroin
accounting for less than 10 percent. But heroin's escalation is
troubling. Last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the 45
percent increase in heroin overdose deaths between 2006 and 2010 an
"urgent and growing public health crisis."

In 2007, there were an estimated 373,000 heroin users in the U.S. By
2012, the number was 669,000, with the greatest increases among those
18 to 25. First-time users nearly doubled in a six-year period ending
in 2012, from 90,000 to 156,000.

Experts note that many users turned to heroin after a crackdown on
prescription drug "pill mills" made painkillers such as OxyContin
harder to find and more costly. It's killing because it can be
extremely pure or laced with other powerful narcotics. That, coupled
with a low tolerance once people start using again after treatment, is
catching addicts off guard.

In hard-hit places, police, doctors, parents and former users are
struggling to find solutions and save lives.

"I thought my suburban, middle-class family was immune to drugs such
as this," says Valerie Pap, who lost her son, Tanner, to heroin in
2012 in Anoka County, Minn., and speaks out to try and help others.
"I've come to realize that we are not immune. ... Heroin will welcome
anyone into its grasp."

Message in Minnesota

The night before Valentine'sDay, some 250 people filed into a church
in Spring Lake Park, Minn. There were moms and dads of addicts, as
well as children whose parents brought them in hopes of scaring them
away from smack.

 From the stage, Dan Douglas gripped a microphone as a photograph
appeared overhead on a screen: A woman in the fetal position on a
bathroom floor. Then another: A woman "on the nod"- passed out with
drug paraphernalia and a shoe near her face.

"You just don't win with heroin," Douglas told the crowd. "You die or
you go to jail."

It was the third such forum held over two weeks in Anoka County, home
to 335,000 people north of Minneapolis. Since 1999, 55 Anoka County
residents have died from heroin-related causes. Only one other
Minnesota county reported more heroin-related deaths- 58 - and it has
a population three-and-a-half times greater than Anoka's.

Five years ago, county officials were focused on stamping out meth
labs. Then investigators noticed a climb in pharmacy robberies, and
started finding Percocet and OxyContin during routine marijuana busts.

As prescription drug abuse rose, so, too, did crackdowns aimed at
shutting down pill mills and increasing tracking of prescriptions and
pharmacy-hopping pill seekers. Users turned to heroin. "It hit us in
the face in the form of dead bodies," says Douglas.

Authorities are working to educate doctors about the dangers of
overprescribing painkillers and are fighting to get heroin off the
streets. The idea for the forums came not from police but rather from
Pap, a third grade teacher whose youngest son died of a heroin overdose.

Tanner graduated from high school with honors. In the fall of 2012, he
was pursuing a psychology degree at the University of Minnesota, and
dreamed of becoming a drug counselor. He had not, to his mother's
knowledge, ever used drugs- and certainly not heroin.

Then one day Tanner's roommates found the 21year-old unconscious in
his bedroom.

Amid her grief, Pap realized something needed to be done to educate
others. She met with county officials, and soon after the community
forums were developed. At each, Pap shared her family's story.

"Our lives have been forever changed," she told the crowd in Spring
Lake Park. "Heroin took it all away,"

Antidote offers hope

Brakes screech. The hospital door flies open. A panicked voice shouts:
"Help my friend!" An unconscious young man, in the throes of a heroin
overdose, is lifted onto a gurney.

It's known as a "drive-up, drop-off," and it's happened repeatedly at
Ohio's Fort Hamilton Hospital. The staff's quick response and a dose
of naloxone, an opiate-reversing drug, bring most patients back. Some
are put on ventilators. A few never revive.

"We've certainly had our share of deaths," says Dr. Marcus Romanello,
head of the ER. "At least five died that I am acutely aware of ...
because I personally cared for them."

Romanello joined the hospital about two years ago, just as the rise of
heroin was becoming noticeable in Hamilton, a blue-collar city of
60,000 people. Now it seems to be reaching into nearly every part of
daily life.

"If you stood next to somebody and just started a conversation about
heroin, you'd hear: 'Oh yeah, my nephew's on heroin. My next-door
neighbor's on heroin,"' says Candy Murray Abbott, who helped her own
27-year-old son through withdrawal.  
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