Scioto County may have battled through the years of pill mills and prescription pain pill abuse, but the streets of this crippled community continue to be plagued by rampant opiate addiction. This time, the devil has a new name, and that name is heroin.
“The guys and girls that come in here say you can find a heroin dealer every block,” Freedom Hall Recovery Center Administrator Angie Pelphrey stated. “They always say, ‘You don’t have to go far.’”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that heroin is an opioid (drugs such as oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl) made from morphine. It can be in the form of a brown or white powder or a black, sticky substance called tar. Heroin can be injected intravenously or snorted as a powder. Heroin use is similar to prescription opiate abuse in that it creates a euphoric feeling. 80 percent of people who use heroin admit to misusing prescription opiates. As with prescription opiates, heroin is highly addictive and withdrawals include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, depression, muscle cramps and spasms, sweating, shaking, nervousness, trouble sleeping, diarrhea, hot and cold flashes and agitation.
Pelphrey explained that 25 of the 32 men and 14 of the 16 women in recovery at Freedom Hall are there for treatment of heroin addiction. She added that the majority say they started with prescription opiate pain medications. As the pill mills were shut down, those pain pills became harder to find.
“What we see here is so different than when we started,” Pelphrey explained.
Freedom Hall started during the pain pill epidemic. Now, with the disease of heroin spreading, addiction is changing.
“They are walking in like dead men,” Pelphrey said. “They were 210 pounds. Now, they’re 140 pounds. They were the nicest person you ever met. They were your friend, your brother, your sister, but now they are nothing like themselves.”
Heroin was quick to replace pain pills. It was cheaper and easier to access.
“The dealers were bringing in so much supply that heroin was easier to get,” Pelphrey commented. “The majority of users that come in will tell you they couldn’t find anything else.”
With nothing but heroin on the streets and dope sickness knocking, the switch was quickly made. Additionally, pain pills were going on the streets for a dollar a milligram. So, a 30 mg oxycodone cost $30. Heroin is much cheaper. The cost varies by area, depending on where the heroin is coming from and how much heroin is already in the area. In Huntington, heroin sells for $100 a gram. In Butler County (between Dayton and Cincinnati), it sells for between $60 and $80 a gram. Dealers are supplied from Detroit, the Dayton area and Columbus.
Pelphrey explained that for a long time heroin users were those that started with pain pills; however, now that pain pills have been difficult to find for several years and are becoming more obsolete, new addicts are going straight to heroin.
Pelphrey explained that Freedom Hall recently took in a 17-year-old boy who had never tried pain pills. He had tried marijuana, spice (also referred to as bath salt) and then started using heroin that he got at school.
“The guys and girls here say heroin has taken over. Heroin has taken over everything,” Pelphrey confirmed.
Pelphrey added that she has some in recovery that are scared to go on outings and even refuse to go back to their hometowns because they fear scoring some heroin would be as easy as going through the drive-thru of a fast food restaurant and the food service worker dropping some in the bag.
“It’s that easy,” Pelphrey stated.
She added that there are a variety of people selling.
“It’s not just the large tattooed man,” she explained. “You’ll find grandmas, grandpas, school teachers. You would be surprised who is selling because of the money.”
Because heroin is an opioite similar to oxycodone, withdrawals are the same. However, Pelphrey says she is seeing a phenomenon that makes them worse.
“If they know they are going to treatment, they try to ween themselves down with Suboxone (a prescription opiate/opiate analgesic combination that is used in the treatment of addiction), but the Suboxone withdrawals are so much worse than heroin that its causing a lot of issues. The majority of people that come in here will be positive for both heroin and Suboxone. After they’ve been on the Suboxone for so long, the withdrawals are so bad that they regret doing that.”
As Pelphrey watches heroin terrorize this area, she says that though the pain pill epidemic was a nightmare, this one is worse.
“I think the change is death,” she stated. “With pain pills, you knew what you took. You knew what was in it and the dosage. With heroin, you don’t know what they’re putting in it. You have absolutely no idea what you’re getting.”
Pelphrey explained that two weeks ago she had drug tests come back on a man who was at Freedom Hall for heroin treatment. The tests came back showing he had also been using fentanyl, a synthetic pain medication that is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine. The man was shocked to tears with news, thinking he had been using pure heroin.
“The fentanyl was so high when he got here that it was tapering down with each drug test,” Pelphrey commented.
The man had overdosed three times in one week and could not understand why. Fentanyl laced heroin nearly killed him.
She added that heroin is now also being laced with an even more powerful drug – Carfentanil, a deadly opiate that is 10,000 times more potent than morphine.
“We’re hearing more about that in Portsmouth,” Pelphrey commented.
She added that Carfentanil is also being sold by itself.
Often, heroin is laced with drugs such as fentanyl for a variety of reasons. Doing so may bring down the cost to make the heroin but it also creates a more powerful effect or high.
“A lot of heroin addicts, if they hear you overdosed on something and came back out and are okay, they want to try that because they want that next best high. They’re saying that’s the good dope,” Pelphrey explained.
As tolerance builds up, most heroin addicts use more to function and feel normal, but also to avoid being sick. They no longer get the euphoric high that first hooked them. Chasing that high, they are eager to find something more powerful each time.
“They don’t realize when it’s killing them,” Pelphrey said.
Freedom Hall has dedicated several parts of the building to the dead. There is an entire room where they write the names of those they have lost. All four walls of the room are nearly filled with names and even some photos. At the front entrance, there is a bell. They ring the bell seven times each time someone dies. However, Pelphrey also asks that anyone leaving treatment rings the bell three times and realize that they may be sounding the bell of their own death.
Pelphrey explained that anytime the bell is rang, everyone stops what they are doing to see if someone they care about is leaving or if someone they care about has died.
“They’re wondering, ‘Is it my friend? Is it my family member?’” she stated. “We want them to hear it. We want them to see it.”
News of heroin overdoses have become nearly a daily thing for much of the area.
“We are trying to stop that,” Pelphrey said.
Freedom Hall Recover Center is a non-profit rehabilitation center in Piketon that is operated through New Beginnings Outreach Ministries. For more information about Freedom Hall or New Beginnings, call (740) 289-4317 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: This is the first story in a continuous heroin series that will be featured every Friday.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930.