Raise your hand if you are an addict and know someone who has overdosed and died. Chances are you are raising your hand. Even if you are not an addict, you probably know someone who has died or know someone who knew someone who died. For every addict they say there are ten people touched by the addiction. And most of these addicts, especially those who are addicted to heroin, have overdosed or been near death. Yet, it isn’t enough to get them to seek help, it usually never is.
“It is amazing. It is incredible, the power of opiates. It controls you. You do not control it,” said Mike Hirst, who lost his son to heroin in 2010 and now does much heroin-related education and community outreach.
He and others have gained some ground, but the problem persists in Jackson and elsewhere, affecting people across a broad spectrum of classes and circumstances.
“It’s not going away,” Michigan State Police Detective Lt. Dave Cook said of the drug.
“It’s cheap, and it’s the best fix out there.”
Twice a week, officers or informants working for the Jackson Narcotics Enforcement Team buy heroin Jackson County, said Cook, who heads the team.
Since 2009, 3,047 grams of heroin have been seized in the county. This number increased every year from 2009 to 2011, and then it took a big jump because of large bust. Last year, the narcotics team removed less heroin from t he streets than any of the previous three years, but Cook said this doesn’t mean the drug isn’t any issue, they just aren’t finding it.
On occasion, officers arrest a significant trafficker, but the take down never slows down the supply for long, he said. The heroin train is one that can’t be stopped. As long as there is a demand, there will always be a supply. And as long as human beings are well, just that, human beings, there will always be a demand.
“The sad truth is we are not going to put them out of business. As long as there is a need, these guys are going to be slinging heroin because there is a lot of money to be made in it,” Cook said.
He said the drug made a resurgence from 2000 to 2005, and its use and prevalence has not slowed. “I’d say it picked up.”
There were twice the number of people in the United States who were dependent on or abuse heroin in 2012 than there were in 20012, according to the most recent statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the addiction to heroin is difficult to treat. Addiction in and of itself is hard to treat.
Jackson County has a Recovery Court, which aims to help felony offenders with drug or alcohol dependencies, and has the least success with those who are struggling with an opiate addiction. They require more intensive treatment the court doesn’t always have the resources to provide. And this is usually the case. No one can get the quality or length of treatment they need.
The program has had some success with users who were older and more mature, those who had more to lose, said Newell Turpel, court recovery coach. “Young people are our hardest target population.” And young people are those with rising numbers for heroin use. Most individuals with an addiction are in their 20s, recovery court officials say and we already knew this.
Usually the troubles of addicts start with prescription drugs such as Vicodin or Oxycontin. Then they move on to heroin once the pills become too expensive or unavailable.
Until communities have a handle on the prescription drug problem, the heroin problem will persist, said Hirst, who speaks at schools and, with his family, started a nonprofit foundation, Andy’s Angels, in honor of his son. “Everybody has access to prescription drugs anymore.”
From 1999 to 2012, the latest included year, there were 2,033 heroin-related deaths in Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. The number from 2010 to 2012 was 728, up from the 271 reported from 1999 to 2002.
In Jackson County, there have been five such deaths from 1999 to 2012, the agency reports, but local information suggests there have been far more.
Hirst knows of as many as four heroin deaths in the last three months.