Heroin use and deaths on the rise

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) Thirty six. That’s how many families are in mourning following the death of their loved ones due to heroin overdoses. And that is just here in Jefferson County this year. The numbers are even more staggering when you go back three years and add in the overdose deaths from Shelby and Tuscaloosa counties. And whether you’re in Vestavia, Homewood or Irondale, officers say heroin use is just as rampant as the inner city.

Smack, H, tar, junk, white, brown, there are many names for heroin. None make the drug any less addictive or deadly.

“Most of the heroin users that we see and unfortunately the heroin overdose death victims, are coming from the suburbs,” Clay Morris. “They’re coming into Birmingham, acquiring their heroin here and sometimes their place of death is in Birmingham because they literally get their heroin, and immediately inject it into their arm, and then they die or they overdose.”

Most of these users are young, college or high school age and they’re from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

“The increase started about five years ago with the sharpest increase about two to three years ago,” says Lt. J.M. Davis of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics unit. “What this has done is it has opened the market up to a wide range of people that might never have tried heroin because now it can be snorted when you first try it. And there are a lot of college age kids that aren’t ready to stick a needle in their arm but they’ll snort just about anything.”

But before they get here they’re starting at home.

“They’re getting a pill from their friends or their family,” says Morris. “And their family may not even know what they’re getting out of the medicine cabinet. And they start abusing those opioid pills and that is going to lead to heroin abuse.”

Even worse the heroin on the streets these days is so strong it’s killing people, sometimes on their very first try.

“Traditionally over ten or fifteen years, heroin we have seized has been in the single digit purity range,” claims Morris. “Well here in Birmingham the highest purity level we’ve seen is 92.6 percent pure. You’re not going to survive an injection of 92 percent heroin. No one is.”

But there is hope for parents.

“The best way to arm your children is with knowledge,” says Davis. “You need to have frank, open discussions about drugs and drug use. They need to hear the reality of drug use from a parent, from somebody they trust. As opposed to a friend or someone who has ulterior motives.

Officials say most heroin users are with other people when they use drugs but overdose victims are usually found alone. They are working to get laws changed so anyone reporting a drug user in medical distress would not face prosecution and would be more likely to get them help instead of letting them die.

To help our community better address the growing epidemic several agencies are coming together to host a heroin summit. It’s Tuesday, June 10th from 8:30 to 4:30 at the UAB National Alumni Society House. Everyone in the community – from parents to educators to medical professionals is encouraged to attend. It is free and open to the public.

Copyright 2014 WIAT 42 NEWS

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