More than 10,000 Americans died from heroin-related overdoses in 2014. According to the Center for Disease Control, that's more than triple the amount in 2010.
In Georgia, in 2016, 86 people.
We honed in on the numbers in Central Georgia, and the GBI says in 2014, 8 people died from heroin related deaths. In 2015, 6. Claire Davis spoke with one man who lost his son from heroin and why some say the drug is creeping its way into Central Georgia.
Timothy Little holds onto keepsakes of his son Matthew. “Matthew was everything that I couldn't do. I did the Army and Matt was just a good soul. He could play the guitar like nothing else,” said Little.
In March, Matthew's friends reached out to Little on social media. “I kind of got a feeling, you know, that something was up with my son, so I messaged them and talked to them and found out that my son was using heroin,” said Little.
Little says the news was shocking and he wasn't prepared to deal with it. “I didn't handle it well. I was upset. When you find out that your kid is on something like this, you already start mourning them,” said Little.
Ultimately, Little says, he talked to his son about the drug and says Matthew tried to find help, but it was too late. “I got a call from his friend and I knew what it was as soon as I saw the phone call. I’ll be honest -- I answered the kid and he told me and I hung up on him,” said Little.
Little says Matthew was found dead on May 7. He assumed his son died after shooting up heroin, but he was wrong. “It was fentanyl that killed Matt. That's what's listed on his death certificate. They don't even have heroin on there, just fentanyl,” said Little.
Kyle James is a National Certified Addiction Counselor for Coliseum Behavioral Health. “I don't think a lot of people, especially in the Macon area, realize how much heroin is here in Macon,” said James.
James says she sees 13 patients a day, 5 addicted to heroin. “The younger kids, 17, 18, 19 years old, they're not coming in on cocaine and marijuana. They're coming in on OxyContin, they're coming in on heroin, they're eating fentanyl patches,” said James.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid; Kyle says it's prescribed to long-term cancer patients to help with pain. “What we're seeing now are extreme overdoses. We're seeing with the heroin that it's mixed with fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times harder than morphine,” said James.
She says drug dealers are disguising fentanyl as heroin.
Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones says when he's called to a scene of a heroin-related death. “You can't really tell that unless you have some evidence, and most of the time, the crime lab is there and the evidence that we see is needles,” said Jones.
And the people who hurt most, ”It’s the family that goes through the trauma of me ringing your doorbell at 3 o'clock in the morning to tell you your daughter or your son has been found dead,” said Jones.
Tim Little is from Macon, but now lives in Arizona. Just days before our interview, Little says Matthew's best friend, 25-year-old Dustyn Archer, died after an addiction to heroin. We asked the Maricopa County coroner’s office about that. They said they're still waiting on toxicology to pinpoint the exact cause. When we interviewed Little, he was actually here in Macon for Archer's funeral, just 5 months after his own son's death.
5 things to know to save a heroin addict
The shame that comes with heroin addiction keeps people from making informed decisions about their own addictions or those of loved ones. Here's a list of five key ideas that can help save a life.
1) The window for recovery from addiction is three to five years, not two weeks.
That's according to Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, a government research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. NIDA is a part of the National Institutes of Health.
During those three to five years, a recovering addict needs to be connected to an ongoing support group (a 12-step or other program with professional support services) and monitoring, meaning urine testing and someone checking to see if appointments are being kept. Medication-Assisted Treatment, such as treatment with methadone, is one option. Even someone who appears to be doing well in life remains at serious risk of relapsing without that structure, and that means at serious risk of dying.
An addict's brain is wired to use a substance as a short-term fix for stress. It takes three to five years for the brain's reward centers to be rewired through sobriety.
Getting through that period of time does not mean an addict is cured, Compton said. But their chances of remaining sober for the next 10 years rises dramatically. Some people take longer than that window of time.
2) The most dangerous time for an addict is right after getting abstinent or after a period of abstinence and then going on with life: after leaving a rehabilitation clinic, a detox center, or self detox, or right after leaving jail or prison. The body's tolerance to opioids drops and those relapsing frequently guess at the correct dose - or take the same as their last fix. It is often a fatal mistake. And that fatal mistake is occurring more frequently now that the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl is turning up more often in heroin packets.
3) "People, places and things" associated with an addiction can kill. That's because memories are a critical part of addictions, research on the brain shows. Drifting back to old friends, significant others, bars, workplaces or other things that led to or furthered an addiction is a red flag to a relapse.
4) Silence kills: The stigma surrounding drug addiction is a steep challenge to getting people help. There can be real consequences for disclosing a loved one's addiction or one's own. But the trade-off can be death. Not speaking about it limits the information getting to addicts, their families and their friends that could save their lives. And silence perpetuates the stigma.
5) Have the overdose antidote naloxone on hand in the home. It is available without a prescription at CVS and Walgreens. Paul Ressler, the executive director of TOPAC, The Overdose Prevention Agency in Hamilton, suggests buying two, two-pack packages. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin, is turning up in more heroin samples and is killing scores of people in New Jersey. It could take that many doses of naloxone to revive someone from an overdose involving fentanyl, he said. TOPAC trains groups and individuals in the use of naloxone. TOPAC can be reached at 609-581-0600.
(Info from the Courier-Post)
Substance abuse resources:
Coliseum Behavioral Health: Website: http://coliseumhealthsystem.com/service/behavioral-health | Phone: (478) 741-1355
River Edge Behavioral Health Center: Website: https://www.river-edge.org/substance-abuse.cms | Phone: (478) 803-7600
The Phoenix Center: Website: http://www.phoenixcenterbhs.com/ | Phone: (478) 988-1222
GPA Treatment of Macon: Website: http://www.gpaofmacon.com/ | Phone: (478) 215-0247
HealthQwest: Website: http://healthqwest.us/ | Phone: Macon (478) 330-7164, Warner Robins (478) 225-9860