Heroin deaths skyrocketing in North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Jesse Bennett sat on a park bench, reflecting back on his dark past.

jesse bennett“Heroin it makes you numb to everything it really wipes away all everything”,” Bennett said. “Luckily I lived through it.” He started using drugs at age 14.

“At that point I really didn’t think I was an addict. I knew I did things extreme but I didn’t think it was too bad,” said Bennett.

His transition into adulthood happened on the streets and in and out of jail.

“I eventually landed in Raleigh, homeless, with a record, had nowhere to go. Still shooting heroin,” recalled Bennett.

He paid for his addiction with theft.

“What started out as snorting a bag a day, turned into a $300 a day habit. I mean the big problem was I went to treatment and then I was released back to my spot so there was really no after care,” he explained.

A Deadly Crisis

More and more stories like Jesse’s don’t end well.

heroin deaths“I know of 6 people personally, a couple close friends of mine, that have died in the past month and that’s all from heroin,” Bennett said.” I mean it’s an epidemic, it’s everywhere.”

It something the state health department keeps track of. CBS North Carolina Investigates pulled data from 2010 to 2014 and to say heroin overdoses are on the rise is an understatement.

The number of people dying just from heroin use has jumped up 584 percent.

See heroin overdose deaths by county here:

Keeping it out of the state

CBS North Carolina talked to Special Agent Michael Troster with the DEA about the heroin problem.

troster“There is a heroin crisis,” said Troster. “There’s not a law enforcement professional in the state of North Carolina that I’ve talked to, from chiefs to sheriffs that’s not concerned about heroin,” he explained.

Troster says the DEA doesn’t focus on users, but instead works to disrupt distribution networks. It’s a daily battle to keep drugs out our state.

“We’ve seen it smuggled in produce, inside cans, inside engine blocks, inside people,” he explained. “If you can think of a way it’s coming in, it’s coming in.”

He says our state has seen similar drug spikes before and the DEA is going after the people bringing it in.

“We’ll see them sooner or later. Sooner or later they always lose,” said Troster.

From prescriptions to needles

“If you think it’s not in your neighborhood, it is,” said Tessie Castillo. She helps run the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition.

“It’s absolutely an enormous problem in this state, “ Castillo said.

castilloTheir mission is simple: save lives.

Her job is to make sure users and their families know that there is help.

“When you vilify people who use drugs it’s easy to say that they’re just dispensable and that we can lock them up or just do nothing and watch them die,” said Castillo.

The recent spike in heroin abuse may stem from a much bigger issue.

“I think the consensus is it started with the abuse of prescription drugs,” said Troster.

“Heroin, OxyContin or any opioid: Percocet, fentanyl, they’re all pharmacologically the same thing,” explained Castillo
.
pill bottleOften, users where first prescribed prescription pain killers. Once their prescriptions ran out, they were left with an addiction.

“Once the medical professionals realized there was a problem and things started to change, it was an easy shift to heroin,” said Troster. “And it was cheaper.”

Castillo says people of all ages, races, and economic backgrounds are getting addicted.

“Most of the time these are people who say they would never use illegal drugs. They said they would never use a syringe, sometimes they’re afraid of needles, but little by little as that addiction becomes more sever they start doing things they said they’d never do before,” Castillo explained.

Combating the problem

It’s a problem even the White House is working on tackling. President Obama is proposing 1.1 billion in new funding to combat the nation-wide issue. Read more here

needleCBS North Carolina took the issue straight to US Senator Thom Tillis.

“It’s an epidemic,” said Tillis, “We need to talk about it because that’s how we save lives and that’s how we finally start taking back the ground that we lost to people who have succumb to addiction,” he said.

Tillis is co-sponsoring the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which passed the Senate in a 94-1 vote. The bill would provide more resources for treatment programs. CBS North Carolina talked to Tillis while he was touring TROSA, one of the current programs that help people in long term recovery. Find out more here.

“As I travel across North Carolina and meet with constituents, I repeatedly hear stories of how opioid addiction has taken a personal toll on families and communities. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act takes a big step in the right direction by providing grants to substance abuse agencies, local governments, and non-profit organizations in areas of North Carolina and the rest of the nation that are being hit the hardest by opioid abuse,” said Tillis.

Castillo says to battle the heroin crisis, more focus has to put on treatment.

“As this heroin epidemic is rising out of control, we’re shutting down the number of syringes we sell at pharmacies, we’re shutting down treatment centers, we’re not funding them, and we need to be doing the opposite,” Castillo said.

Overdose Reversal

One of the biggest life savers is a drug that comes in a tiny bottle. It’s called Naloxone.

naloxone“Naloxone can take someone who is stone cold, who is turning blue, not moving, not breathing…you give them Naloxone and they can stand up and talk to you in a matter of seconds,” said Castillo. “It’s an amazing drug.”

It can now even come in an auto injector and according to the NCHRC, 52 law enforcement agencies across the state are equipped with Naloxone.

“There’s a lot of it out there, but we’re nowhere near where we need to be and there are some counties when there is no Naloxone access at all,” said Castillo.

The Harm Reduction Coalition is also working on setting up the state’s first program that is treatment focused, rather than punishment focused. It will start in Fayetteville.

“{Offenders} will be diverted instead of jail, to a social service program where someone can really address those issues that are underlying the addition,” Castillo explained.

“When you have law enforcement on board and trying to divert people away from jails and into treatment, that’s a big step,” said Bennett.

Redemption

It’s a world many of us may never see firsthand, but out of the dark can come redemption.

redemptionFor Jesse Bennett, it came with care after treatment.  “Just because someone is in active addiction doesn’t mean we toss them to the side,” said Bennett. “I mean nobody tossed me to the side, I think that’s what drives me, my passion,” he said.

Bennet has now put the needles down, got married and had son. He got his associates degree from Wake Tech, is working on a Masters in social work at NC State. He is president for Collegiate Recovery Communities at NCSU, co-chair for the Capital Area Rally for Recovery, and a volunteer for the NC Harm Reduction Coalition.

“We need the stories to get out that these are real people that they absolutely have a shot to get better,” said Castillo. “Really the only person who you can say will never get better is a dead person.”

“There is hope and there is help out there,” said Bennett. “We just want to keep them alive.”

NC Law Enforcement Agencies Carrying Naloxone:

(Source: NCHRC)
1.    Alcohol Law Enforcement (Statewide, Started 10/15/14, Use Nasal Naloxone)
2.    App State University Police (Started July 2015)
3.    Ayden Police, NC  (Informed they are carrying naloxone, but have not confirmed with NCHRC)
4.    Bethel PD, NC
5.    Boiling Springs Lake PD, NC (Started 2/2016)
6.    Brevard PD, NC (Started 2015)
7.    Brunswick County Sheriff (Started 12/2015, first rescue 2/1/2016, 2nd rescue 2/10/2016)
8.    Butner Dept. of Public Safety, NC (Started 12/2015)
9.    Canton PD, NC (Started July 2015)
10.    Carolina Beach PD, NC (Started 3/2016)
11.    Carrboro Police, NC 1st OD reversal and 1st reversal in NC on 1/12/2015, 2nd Reversal 2/20/2015, Use Nasal Naloxone)
12.    Clyde PD, NC (Started July 2015)
13.    Cramerton PD, NC  (1 rescue, started in 2015)
14.    Dare County Sheriff, NC (Started 12/2015, two reversals 12/2015)
15.    East Carolina University Police, NC
16.    Fayetteville PD, NC (1 rescue on 6/2/2015, 2 rescues in 24 hourson 7/2/2015, 3 more rescues in July, 2 more in September 2015, 1 in October, 1 in November- 10 TOTAL)
17.    Fletcher PD, NC (Started in 2015, reported start of program to community advocate)
18.    Graham County Sheriff’s Detention Center (Started Nov 2015)
19.    Greenville Police, NC (4 reversals-all in 24 hour period in March 2015)
20.    Guilford County Sheriff, NC (1 reversal 6/1/2015 reported by EMS to NCHRC)
21.    Halifax County Sheriff’s Office (Started in 2015)
22.    Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, NC (Started July 2015)
23.    Henderson County Sheriff (1 reversal in June 2015)
24.    Highlands PD, NC (Started 12/2015)
25.    High Point PD, NC  (Started 12/2015)
26.    Hot Springs PD, NC (Started 2015)
27.    Hyde County Sheriff Office (Looking to start 2/16/2016)
28.    Jacksonville PD, NC (Unknown Start Date)
29.    Kinston Police (Started July 2015)
30.    Lenoir County Sheriff, NC (Started July 2015)
31.    Madison County Sheriff, NC (Started in 2015)
32.    Maggie Valley PD, NC (Started July 2015)
33.    Marshall PD, NC (Started 2015)
34.    Mount Holly PD, NC (Started Sept. 2015)
35.    Nags Head PD, NC (Started 12/2015, first rescue 2/2016)
36.    New Hanover Sheriff Dept. (Started 12/2015, first rescue 12/2015)
37.    Orange County Sheriff’s Office
38.    Pitt County Sheriff, NC (1 reversals in April 2015, 2 rescues in Sept. 2015-3 total)
39.    Roanoke Rapids PD, NC
40.    Rutherfordton PD, NC (Started Summer 2015)
41.    State Bureau of Investigation, NC (Contact is Donnie Varnell)
42.    Statesville PD, NC (Started 12/2015, 2 rescues)
43.    Town of Duck PD, NC (Started 12/2015)
44.    Town of Pink Hill PD, NC
45.    Transylvania County Sheriff, NC
46.    University of North Carolina-Wilmington Police, NC (Started 12/2015)
47.    Warren Wilson Campus Police, NC (Started 9/2015)
48.    Watauga Sheriff, NC (Started July 2015, 4 rescues)
49.    Waynesville PD, NC (Started July 2015, 1 rescue)
50.    Winston Salem PD, NC (Started summer of 2015, 1st rescue October 2015-Nasal naloxone, 2nd/3rd/4th Rescue November 2015 with EVZIO, 5th reversal in Dec 2015 with EVZIO, 6th Reversal January 2016)
51.    Lenoir Police Dept.
52.    Stanley Police Dept.

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