War on heroin intensifies after 5th death in Shoals - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

War on heroin intensifies after 5th death in Shoals

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A fifth death related to heroin use was reported this week in Colbert County. A fifth death related to heroin use was reported this week in Colbert County.
COLBERT COUNTY, AL (WAFF) -

Heroin overdoses are suspected to be the cause of five deaths in Lauderdale and Colbert Counties, and officials said that number could rise.

In the last two weeks, heroin is believed to be the cause of four deaths in Florence and one death in Colbert County. Officials said those stats are alarming, but so are these: Shoals ambulance officials said since March 1, they have run a total of 19 suspected illegal drug overdose calls. Of those, five patients were in full cardiac arrest from what they believe was heroin use.

Drug agents in Colbert County have seen their share of the drug pop up on their streets. They said addicts are turning to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to get than prescription pills.

"Obviously, the people that are dying aren't intending to die," said Curtis Burns of the Colbert County Drug Task Force. "They're all going to be accidental, but their addiction does not go away just because heroin is a more dangerous drug. This will continue as long as people keep using, and we'll keep having deaths. This is hitting our area, but it's all over the United States now."

The localized war on heroin also involves the fight for recovery. The increase in drug use means treatment facilities are seeing more people wanting help for their addiction.

The director of A New Beginning in Florence, Lucie Bowen, had a personal struggle with addiction. Through her journey, she feels compelled to help other women reach sobriety.

"I'm in recovery myself. In New York in the 1970s there was a heroin epidemic, as a matter of fact, and five of my brothers died from overdoses," Bowen said.

Wednesday, Bowen was all smiles as she talked with two women currently enrolled in her program.

"I love to see people's lives transform," she said. "They learn to live life on life's terms, and that's what addiction is - they refuse to live life on life's terms."

A New Beginning is a 12-step program designed to teach women how to live addiction-free. They teach women to become self-supportive and re-teach life skills. Counselors said it typically takes about 12 months for an addict to build a solid foundation to start over.

"I don't see what she is, because I realize someone with an active addiction is not the same person they are in recovery. I see the potential; I don't see them as they are," said Program Director Olivia Ikerd.

Ikerd started as a volunteer. She said it's hard to explain the joy of being able to help women create a life without addiction.

"I get to watch miracles every day with these women: watch them get their children back and watch them get relationships with their families," she said.

The women Bowen spoke to during our visit said every day they wake up with a choice, and with A New Beginning's help, they choose sobriety every morning.

Three months into the program, Jenna Gammill said she has found a new outlook on life.

"I have something to live for, there really is a good way of life without using. There is hope, and I can have relationships restored. I can really be happy without putting anything in. I love just waking up and not hurting or needing to put anything in. I just feel good naturally," Gammill said.

For women like Gammill and Nicole Watson enrolled at A New Beginning, they get more than just the do's-and-don'ts. Counselors are there to give them hope, to help them restore their lives and most importantly a chance to live life without addiction.

"I get a higher power; I get God, I get relationships restored, I get to learn how to live life on life's terms. I've never known how to do that," said Watson.

Both Nicole and Jenna hope to one day help inspire other women on their road to recovery.

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