Over the past 11 years, Webb Weekly has prided itself on being a family-oriented newspaper. We have made it our goal to bring you all of the news about the good people doing good things for our community.
The subject of heroin is not in our typical wheelhouse; however, this issue has come to affect so many families in our area that I feel we’d be doing our community a disservice if we ignored the situation.
I really feel that the biggest step that we as a community can take in helping to end the heroin problem is to be educated. There is no ‘typical’ heroin user, so I ask you to learn everything you can about the drug and educate yourself, your loved ones and especially your children. According to drugfree.org, the heroin trend is being driven largely by young adults 18-25, so by talking to your kids today, you can be the first line of defense against future users and turn the tide of heroin abuse in our area.
Heroin is running rampant all over the country. As of 2011 4.2 million people age 12 and older had tried heroin at least once. It’s estimated that 23% of individuals who use heroin will become addicted. Almost every police department across the country is dealing with this issue, including our own. According to Assistant Chief of Police Tim Miller, heroin makes up 80% of the drugs that the department is seeing.
So I set out to learn as much as I could about the drug and its effects and find the answers to the questions I had about heroin.
What is heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which is obtained from the opium poppy. It is a “downer” or depressant that affects the brain’s pleasure systems and interferes with the brain’s ability to perceive pain.
Short-term effects include a surge of pleasurable sensation or ‘rush’, dry mouth, a heavy feeling in the extremities, suppression of pain, depressed respiration and may be accompanied by nausea and itching. After the initial rush, users will be lethargic for a few hours, mental function is clouded, the heartbeat – as well as breathing slow – which can be life threatening.
Long-term use can lead to liver and kidney disease, arthritis, infection in the lining and valves of the heart, collapsed veins, and infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B and C stemming from needle sharing.
What does heroin look like?
Heroin is a light powder with an off-white or brownish tint.
How is heroin used?
Officer Miller said that it can be snorted, but more often than not it is injected. The powder is placed on a spoon with a drop of water, it is then heated until the heroin liquefies, and the liquid is then pulled into a syringe and injected.
How much does heroin cost?
At this point, we’ve all heard that you can buy heroin for as little as $8 per bag. This may lead one to believe that heroin is an inexpensive habit, but this isn’t the truth. The truth is that $8 bag only contains about a ¼ of a gram of heroin. To put this in perspective, that’s about 1/20 of a teaspoon. Miller said heroin is often sold in ‘bundles’ that is (10) $8 bags. Each bundle can run from $70-$80. Heroin addicts can go through as much as two bundles per day. So that $8 bag just became a $140/day habit. Not so cheap now. According to Miller, while the price of heroin has fallen, people aren’t saving any money. They are just getting more heroin.
What are signs of heroin abuse?
According to Miller, the signs of heroin abuse can be difficult to spot, but here are a few things to keep an eye out for: newly developed lethargy - heroin users are often prone to nodding off at inappropriate times.
Keep an eye out for small black rubber bands; these are used to keep bundles of heroin together.
Also, needle caps. An addict may remember to get rid of a needle, but may miss the cap. Speaking of needles - ‘track marks’ are now a somewhat antiquated notion. Needles today are very small and fine, and with the exception of very heavy users, are often not visible on users.
Take notice of missing cash or jewelry. Many addicts take to theft to support their habit.
The biggest thing you can do is trust your intuition. If something feels off it probably is. If you are seeing behavior out of the norm, say something. If you suspect a loved one is using heroin, don’t wait to intervene. Miller said, “Get involved. Don’t hesitate. Seconds count.” In order to hook people more quickly, drug cartels are peddling heroin that is getting more and more pure every day. So the amount of heroin an addict used today can literally kill them tomorrow. Interceding as soon as possible may mean the difference between life and death.
What is the best way to talk to your kids?
Miller said, “Be proactive. I’ve talked to my kids about heroin. They know what it is; they know what it can do. I think too many parents are afraid to talk to children when they are young, but if they don’t hear it from us, they are going to hear it from someone.” Don’t be afraid to be frank with your children and make them aware of the consequences of heroin. The tragedy of an overdose can be turned into a talking point for your family. Children need to understand how dangerous this drug is.
Talking to children early and often seems to be at the root of preventing heroin addiction. County Coroner Charles Kiessling said, “Obviously the number of prescription medication and illicit drug deaths is continuing to increase in Lycoming County. According to the 2011 PA Youth Survey children as young as the 6th grade have admitted to using prescription medications that were not prescribed for them or using illicit drugs such as heroin, cocaine or other substances. Parents and grandparents need to be sure to keep prescriptions secured and out of the hands of children. Tragically the misuse of prescription drugs can lead to long-term addiction to other prescription medications and/or illicit drugs. Frequently the end result is with the addicted individual being arrested or dead! If they are fortunate enough to be arrested and forced into a drug rehabilitation program through sentencing, they may be able to break this addiction. In more than 35 years of working in Emergency Services and the Coroner’s Office I have seen firsthand the tragic results of drug and alcohol abuse. We do not have reset buttons on our lives. Children need to understand this before they decide to abuse prescription medications and illicit drugs.”
What can we, as a community, do to help with the heroin problem?
According to Miller, “Stand shoulder to shoulder with local law enforcement. Know we are doing everything we can, but we can’t be everywhere all the time. Help be our eyes and ears. If you see drug activity, report it.” It is not uncommon for addicts to shoot up in pharmacy parking lots, in their cars – wherever it is convenient. It is not inconceivable that you could see someone shooting up in your neighborhood, so if you see something suspicious, contact the police department.
There has been an increase in violence locally in connection with heroin. What can citizens do to ensure their safety?
Miller said one of the biggest things citizens can do, is to make sure they are practicing responsible gun ownership. Addicts are often stealing guns to trade to dealers for more heroin. Always know where your guns are and keep them locked up properly.
I think the bottom line on heroin is this. The problem is bigger than the police department. It is bigger than our community. It is bigger than our state. As a country we need to stand together and educate ourselves. We need to get into the schools and educate our children; make them acutely aware of the dangers of heroin. Give them cold, hard and yes, scary facts. The cycle of heroin abuse stops with the education of the next generation.
It may seem like too much, but I honestly think kids need to know that 19 people from right here in Williamsport lost their lives last year to drugs. Eight of those were directly connected to heroin. According to Lycoming County Coroner Charles Kiessling, this is a significant increase from previous years.
They also need to know that more people were killed in Lycoming County from drug overdoses in the last year than violent crime.
Assistant Chief Miller compared heroin to terrorism. He said people think he’s crazy when he says that. I don’t think he’s crazy at all. Heroin causes mass fear and hysteria – just like terrorism. It kills our brothers, fathers, sisters, aunts and friends – just like terrorism. And much like terrorism, the first line of defense is when you and I report to law enforcement when we see something that isn’t right in our neighborhoods.
Everyone needs to know and understand that there is no race, gender or socioeconomic background associated with heroin addiction. This is a problem that faces every single one of us. East End, West End, Center City, Loyalsock, South Williamsport, Cogan Station, Trout Run, Montoursville, Jersey Shore, Hugheville, Muncy, Montgomery…it doesn’t matter. There is heroin in your neighborhood, there are dealers looking to hook your children and young adults seeing dealers making upwards of $15,000 per week and thinking that it looks like a pretty good deal. If we don’t work together – in our schools, as a community and with local law enforcement, we will lose the war against heroin.
If you or someone you know has a problem with heroin, I beg you to seek help as soon as possible. There are many local facilities that can help you, or help you help someone you love.