Heroin's Comeback: A WAFF 48 News Special Report

By Trang Do - Bio | Email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - It's known as 'smack,' 'junk' or even 'horse.' It's been found in North Alabama and it's more potent than ever.

23-year-old Amanda was just 13 when she first abused heroin.

"It numbs you from everything," she said. "It's a feeling I can't describe. It takes everything away you don't care about anything anymore. You think you're happy. But it's a false sense of happiness."

The thought of a 13-year-old using heroin is shocking to many of us, but statistics show more teens than you might think have tried the drug.

A 2009 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of 1400 Alabama students found nearly four percent had used heroin at least once.

[Click here to read facts about heroin abuse (PDF)]

"It's a highly, highly addictive drug," said Mike McLemore, executive director of The Pathfinder, a residential substance abuse rehabilitation center in Huntsville.

McLemore said these teens have no idea what they're getting into.

"People do not set out to do heroin thinking they're going to become addicted," he said. "Usually they set out to do heroin for fun, for the euphoric-like effect if brings after continued use it becomes a dependency for them."

From Afghani brown to China white and black tar, these heroin varieties have evolved over time.

"The potency is what we hear," McLemore said. "That's there's a high potency to the heroin that it's just not what it once was."

Amanda bears the scars of injecting heroin into her veins on and off for a decade. The drug can also be snorted, sniffed or smoked.

But McLemore said teens are finding other ways to abuse it - by ingesting it.

"The cherry Tylenol, mixed with smaller amounts of heroin, it was going for $2 to $5 a piece," he said.

Though heroin is more readily available in large, urban areas, it has been found in North Alabama.

"Over the last year, we've seen it a few times," said Sgt. Dewayne McCarver, supervisor of the Madison-Morgan County Strategic Counter Drug Team.

In March, Madison County drug agents raided a suspected heroin house in Huntsville, finding 21 grams of pure heroin.

In May, several agencies served arrest warrants to 107 suspected drug dealers across Morgan County, confiscating a litany of drugs, including heroin.

But Sgt. McCarver said the bigger problem drug agents are seeing is synthetic opiate abuse, prescription pills that have the same dangerous effects as heroin without the stigma.

"If you hear somebody with a pocketful of heroin, you tend to view that as a much more serious offense than if you caught someone with a pocketful of prescription pills," he said. "That's just the natural tendency."

Amanda is in treatment for her addiction. She survived two overdoses. Now she's speaking out in hopes others won't destroy their lives.

"It's mentally addicting, physically addicting, emotionally addicting," Amanda said. "It's nothing to mess with. I'm really lucky to still be alive."

McLemore said treatment does work but that Alabama ranks near the bottom in terms of money for treatment or prevention of substance abuse.

For every $100 Alabama spends on substance abuse and addiction, just 60 cents goes towards treatment, prevention and research.

The rest goes to cleaning up the mess substance abuse leaves behind.

©2010 WAFF. All rights reserved.