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Updated: Friday, 17 Aug 2012, 7:25 PM EDT
Published : Friday, 17 Aug 2012, 7:21 PM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - Three days after a major drug bust in Indiana, experts are sounding a new alarm: heroin use is now approaching record high rates among Indiana teens.
According to IMPD reports compiled by Drug Free Marion County, heroin use increased by 21 percent between 2010 and 2011 in Marion County. Last year, it was the second most purchased drug by undercover Indiana State Police officers statewide. And, one Marion County treatment center reported a 300 percent increase in patients addicted to the drug over the last three months alone.
That’s despite busts like the one earlier this week, when officers in Wayne County stopped a man transporting 30 packages of heroin on I-70 on Tuesday.
The drugs had a street value of $1.5 million dollars.
For those hooked on the high, it’s no surprise.
“You really can't describe it unless you've done it. It's a euphoric feeling. It's better than anything. And, you always want more,” said Jason Crook, a heroin addict for 12 years.
Crook is now in treatment at the Salvation Army’s Indianapolis Harbor Lights Center.
“I’ve been clean for 48 days,” he proudly told 24-Hour News 8’s Troy Kehoe.
Then, the smile faded.
“But, I lost everything. I lost my house, my cars, my family and friends. You name it. I have to start over,” he said.
It’s an all too common story, with a common denominator: young teens in search of a cheap, easy high.
THE PERFECT STORM
Addiction specialists say the sudden jump in heroin is due to a "perfect storm" of sorts. Expensive prescription pills known as opiates like Oxycontin or Oxycodone and Vicodin have become the new "gateway drug," they say. When those pills run out, teens are turning to the cheaper version: heroin. Most don’t start by injecting the drug, as was popular decades ago. Instead, they smoke it or snort it.
The high may not be as quick or sometimes as potent, but it is just as addictive.
Asked how long it took before he was addicted, Crook shook his head.
"The first time,” he said. “I was like--yes. That's it.”
It started with pills.
“I was in a car accident just two days before my birthday. After a while, I had to have that better high,” he said.
“The more the painkillers were there, the more I took,” agreed Jason Siler, another heroin addict receiving treatment at the Harbor Lights Center. “I just kept on going with it. I always had to have more.”
Siler was 25 years old at the time.
Crook was 19—not even old enough to legally buy alcohol.
“They don’t card you for heroin,” he said with a shrug.
But, when Crook’s addiction began, the drug wasn’t always easy to find.
EASIER TO BUY THAN EVER
“I had one dealer,” Crook remembers of his early days as an addict. “Sometimes he’d have it, sometimes not. By the time I was done, I had maybe 50. At least 20 around at all times. Now, dealers do have heroin. Before, you'd have to wait for it until someone had it. Now, it seems like everyone has it.”
According to Drug Free Marion County, police and DEA agents say Indianapolis is now referred to by Mexican drug cartels as "the hub." All the interstates and transportation networks here have made it a distribution point to other large cities in the Midwest.
There's no doubt who the dealers are targeting.
The annual Indiana Prevention and Resource Center survey given to high school students across the state found 5 percent of Marion County high school seniors admitted to trying heroin at least once in 2011. That’s up from 3 percent just four years ago.
But, heroin is no longer just an urban or inner-city problem.
That same survey at Batesville Schools in rural Franklin County showed 1.6 percent of high school juniors had tried the drug in 2011. One grade level above, the number skyrocketed to 11 percent of seniors who had tried the drug there.
Batesville Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Roberts told 24-Hour News 8 that some of the inflated numbers may be attributed to a class of students who experimented with the drug together.
“But, it’s alarming either way. In Batesville, I would have been surprised if the numbers were one percent,” he said.
“We don't typically see that. That’s almost a 1000 percent increase. That's really alarming. But, approximately 90 percent [of heroin addicts] are white, suburban or rural young people. So, it's changed,” said Drug Free Marion County Executive Director Randy Miller.
Asked if the problem was manifesting itself in more urban areas too, Miller nodded.
“I talked with one treatment center the other day and they reported a 300 percent increase in teenage heroin addicts they’re treating,” Miller said.
“That’s from last year?” Kehoe asked.
“No. That’s since the last quarter. That’s over the last three months,” Miller answered.
WHY THE INCREASE?
Experts say with prescription pills now topping $80 a pop on the black market, price is the simple reason why heroin levels are spiking so suddenly. A single bag of heroin can be as cheap as $3-$5.
“These young kids can go in that medicine cabinet and have availability of [pills].
And that leads them right to heroin. And the reason they go to heroin is--it is cheap,” said Salvation Army Licensed Addiction Counselor Jamie Brown.
Brown, himself a former heroin and crack addict, says his treatment center has seen a clear shift in recent months.
“When I first came here, most patients were between 25 and 30--maybe even older. We have a lot of people come in here addicted to opiates now and they're only 19 years old. And, they’re addicted to it for 7 years already. It's astonishing. I'm telling you--it's an epidemic. It is an epidemic,” Brown said.
Far more concerning are those who don't get a shot at recovery.
Heroin overdose rates among those under the age of 24 has tripled over the last 10 years, according to DEA statistics. Some fear much stronger batches of heroin from outside the U.S. borders will soon make that number jump significantly again.
For those working to treat the growing problem, it's all a call to action. They're asking for help from parents, teachers, family and friends to notice the signs of heroin abuse and encourage addicts to seek help.
-Look for rapid behavior changes
90 percent of all users report using prescription pills before they ever try heroin. Heroin can mimics those depressive effects. Signs can also include droopy eyelids and rapid weight loss.
-Look for drug paraphernalia like foil, spoons or razor blades in a teen’s room, backpack or car.
-Look for flu-like symptoms. They can be signs of withdrawal.
Experts call intervention critical.
“ You've got a whole new group of folks who--as they are migrating from prescription painkillers and those kind of things—they don't know about the potential dangers and the addictive qualities of this drug. This is a problem that is at a critical point. My hope is that we won’t be sitting here having this same conversation next year. But, it will take a lot of work,” Miller said.
"If you're thinking about using... talk to somebody,” said Siler. “It’s a long, lonely road once you start.”
“If I could go back and tell any teen anything, I would say--don't throw your life away,” agreed Crook. “Give yourself a chance.”