Pubdate: Sat, 14 Jun 2014
Source: News Journal, The (Wilmington, DE)
Copyright: 2014 The News Journal
Author: David Ledford


The News Journal Begins A Three-Day Special Report On Heroin's Impact In 

Delaware And Across The Nation.

Delaware's Heroin Crisis

Delaware has for years lost a dozen residents each month to overdoses
of booze and drugs, including prescription drugs such as Percocet.
During the past eight months that number has risen to 15, and there's
a high probability that heroin laced with the powerful painkiller
fentanyl is killing more people.

The average age of the deceased is 41.3, but many have yet to hit
their 30th birthday. In each case a family is shattered - be it rich
or poor, suburban, inner city or rural, black, white or brown.

If we don't come together as a community to quickly reverse this
troubling trend, it's not difficult to imagine a very different
Delaware than the one we've longed cherished. On Tuesday night, we
take the first steps on that journey.

The News Journal partnered with Christiana Care to present a free,
community forum to help you see what's being done - and what's yet to
be done - to stop the flow of heroin in Delaware, to stem the tide of
deaths and to improve addiction treatment. You'll hear from seven
panelists with front-line experience.

And in the lobby of John Dickinson High School, where the forum will
be held, treatment experts from 15 different institutions will offer
private conversations to those struggling with addiction, or assist
others attempting to help a family member still using.

The News Journal also partnered with other Gannett papers and USA Today
to bring you a three-day special report about heroin's impact at home
and across the nation. Among the high-level trend lines in Delaware:

* Some children begin using heroin as early as age

* In spite of innovative and increased enforcement efforts, heroin is
plentiful in Delaware and 67 percent pure. A user can score a bag of
heroin for as little as $3 - compared to a single 30 milligram
Percocet that costs around $25.

* America has endured waves of heightened heroin use, in the late
1960s and 1970s, the 1990s and the period we're in now. But the heroin
inundating the East Coast today is attracting a different set of users
than did the epidemic of the late-1960s and 1970s, which created an
image of junkies, mostly black men, strung out and dying in big-city
shooting galleries. Today the typical user is a white suburbanite,
often from a middle class home. Many are women.

* A handful of Delaware families who lost a child to a heroin
overdose, or came close, have dedicated their lives to erasing the
"junkie" stigma against those fighting opiate dependence.

Parents become advocates

In their ongoing advocacy work, people like Don and Jeannie Keister,
Dave and Gail Humes, and Jack and Becky King relive the worst days of
their lives with the hope that they can save another lost in a fog of
addiction. These parents have heard countless times that using heroin
is a decision based on "free will." They have no argument with that
point - at least for the first few times a user wanders down this
dangerous path.

Yet they know that the cravings of heroin addiction overpower many -
who lie to and steal from people they love to get high - because once
they're hooked, getting high is what keeps them from getting sick.

Becky King remembers sitting on her bed with Jack the night her
daughter Stephanie explained she was not only using heroin, "but
shooting heroin." A frightening thought flashed through her mind: "I
will bury my daughter."

Today Stephanie is winning her war with addiction, having been clean
now for 19 months. She will be a panelist at Tuesday's forum. And her
parents are proud of her for turning her life around, and for speaking
publicly about the horrors of heroin.

Becky King is one of five Red Clay School District nurses who use a
forward-looking program to help students and parents see the corrosive
consequences of addiction. She passionately explains that heroin can
seep into any home, and that addiction is a disease, not a moral
issue. Families should fight it, she said, not shamefully hide from

Yet King acknowledges she was lost when initially forced to confront
the issue with her own child. And she hopes the forum and the
treatment experts do for other families what the Keisters and Humeses
did for her.

"I'm humbled in their presence," King said. "They buried their
children and I'm so grateful that I didn't have to. I'm a nurse. I
took an oath to help people.

"And I'm actually ashamed that I didn't feel so strongly about this
before, because it's so important. I didn't realize how many people,
how many families, are suffering."

In her new advocacy role, King expects the her parenting skills of
those of her husband to be questioned.

"I know some people are looking at us with disgust," she said. "But I
know we were great parents. We didn't raise her [Stephanie] like that.
It was a disease.

"I want people to recognize it early and get help. And I want people
to treat them [substance abusers] like people, not like criminals."

After sons die, a new mission

The Keisters lost their 24-year-old son Tyler in December of 2012 to
heroin overdose. They formed AtTAck Addiction - the capitalized
letters in the unusual spelling represent Tyler's first and middle
initials - to educate families about opiate addiction, and to increase
detox and treatment services in Delaware.

Monthly meetings are held at Caravel Academy in Bear, where Don
Keister is headmaster. He, too, is a panelist for Tuesday's forum.

At a recent meeting - where young people, parents and grandparents sat
in tiny chairs around tables built for kindergarten students - Keister
explained the group's approach on new initiatives. He talked about
legislation being pursued, and outlined logistics for a trip to
Washington members will make to lobby for change in the way federal
agencies handle opioid addiction.

Others presented sobriety reports on themselves or people they love.
Applause erupted when an anguished story ended with the hopeful sign
about someone remaining 'clean.' But all know that an addict is never
out of danger, because heroin can lure them back into a fatal relapse
at any moment.

The Humeses lost their 24-year-old son, Greg, in 2012 to a heroin
overdose. He had been clean for 17 months. Greg died in his own car
outside a hospital where the friends he had been partying with left
him because they were afraid of being busted for drug use had they
rushed into the emergency room.

After Greg's death, Humes shut down his computer business and he and
Gail joined the Keisters' mission with AtTAck Addiction. Based on the
strength of Greg's story, the General Assembly last year passed the
Good Samaritan law that prohibits people from being charged with a
crime when they assist another who has overdosed on drugs.

The group now is pushing legislation to provide access beyond
emergency medical technicians to naloxone, a drug that reverses the
effects of opiate overdose. It unanimously passed the Senate last week
and is expected to sail through the House this coming week.

'I knew I was dying, but couldn't stop'

Joey Arrowood, who grew up in Port Penn, listens carefully to AtTAck
Addiction updates while sitting at a tiny table with his grandmother,
who he credits with helping save his life. Arrowood turned 30 in
April, "a birthday most people who knew me never thought I would live
to see."

He proudly notes that on July 24 he will celebrate one year of
sobriety - a triumph given he's struggled with addiction since age 15,
spending time in and out of jail, detox centers and rehab treatment

Last year Arrowood was in a "very dark place." He was losing touch
with reality, seeing things that weren't there - "hands reaching
through the window trying to get me, people moving around outside my
door. I heard noises, like people banging on the walls of my house,
but no one was there."

He wanted to escape, but the only way out appeared to be the next fix.
He lost his job, he was quickly losing his family, and his health was

"I did whatever it took to feed my addiction - manipulated, liked,
stole, even from those who loved me =C2=85 I knew I was dying, but couldn

Many of Arrowood's closest friends have died from overdoses and
drug-related issues such as car accidents, and he began thinking
"death was the only way out of the hell I was living in."

At the end of June last year, he once again found himself in jail. One
night while in the shower, Arrowood cried out to God in

"His answer came in a feeling of peace and release that is difficult
to describe, but I knew He had heard my cries."

A few days later a family member bailed him out of jail on the
condition that he check into the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation
Center in Wilmington, a program built on a spiritual model that does
not use medication like methadone to ease the transition off heroin.

He has graduated from the program and lives at Oxford House in north
Wilmington. Arrowood is happy to share his story of redemption.

"My recovery journey is a spiritual one," said Arrowood, who attends
church every Sunday morning and bible study every Thursday at
Rebuilders Church in Bear, where his counselor, Morgan Ikonne, is pastor.

Better response to epidemic sought

James Harrison, director of operations for Brandywine Counseling and
Community Services in Wilmington, said Arrowood's story is a classic
tale among addicts who hit the bottom hard before being pulled out of
the abyss by their faith.

"I'm right there with him," said Harrison, whose arms are permanently
scarred from years of shooting heroin in the 1960s and 1970s. "It's
almost like something grabs hold of you and you're truly different.
All the changes in the sober lifestyle, finding housing, getting a
job, you contribute to a higher power."

Harrison, one of the most senior team members at Brandywine
Counseling, a nonprofit organization that works with about 3,000
clients seeking opioid treatment, will serve as a panelist Tuesday

Statistically speaking, he said, addicts whose recovery was based on
faith have the best success rates for remaining clean.

Yet Harrison, who has been clean 29 years, doesn't believe nationwide
progress will be made against the epidemic until public officials and
ordinary citizens acknowledge that heroin addiction is as serious an
issue as an infectious disease such as HIV-AIDS.

"Like in the early days of the AIDS crisis, there isn't a response
commensurate with the scope of the problem. While we have not
eradicated AIDS, awareness is far better.

"And it got that way because people understood that the pandemic
wasn't just affecting gay people, it was affecting every walk of life
- - young, old, mothers and children. That's the way it is with heroin."

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Join the discussion

WHAT: Imagine Delaware open-to-the-public forum on heroin in Delaware,
moderated by David Ledford, executive editor of The News Journal

WHEN: 6:30-8 pm. Tuesday

WHERE: Dickinson High School auditorium, 1801 Milltown Road,

COST: Free

REGISTRATION: Go to; call (302) 324-2632;
or email your name, phone number, email address and the name of your
guest(s) to AFTER THE FORUM: Families can have private conversations with
treatment experts.

Special Report: Heroin: Delaware's deadly crisis:
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