Elk River Teen Treatment Program

Deaths from Heroin Overdoses Exceed Gun Homicides

Heroin: Not a problem limited to large metropolitan areas anymore.

Heroin Epidemic Grows to Smaller Cities

December 14, 2016

Huntsville, AL - December 14, 2016 - Heroin has spread beyond the city limits of large metropolitan areas. More than 18 heroin overdoses, one resulting in death, were recently reported by local officials in Walker County Alabama. The Daily Mountain Eagle newspaper in Jasper, AL published the report.

Jasper Police Chief J.C. Poe said his department responded to 22 overdose calls in a three-day span, including 11 on Friday. In one case, two individuals traveling in a vehicle with a 3-year-old overdosed at the same time and wrecked, according to the newspaper report. “We had three [overdoses] going on at one time that we were responding to,” Poe said. Many of the overdoses were linked to a single dealer. Poe said an investigation is ongoing and arrests are expected. 

Heroin Popularity Rises

Heroin has become increasingly popular in Walker County since 2014. At the same time, federal and local law enforcement agencies have been cracking down on “pill mills” where painkiller prescriptions are readily available. The escalating cost of opioid prescription pills has converted many addicts to heroin which is less expensive and apparently more available than pills.

The Daily Mountain Eagle reported that two nearby counties also experienced a spike in heroin overdoses last week. In North Alabama at the Elk River Treatment Program (ERTP) for adolescents, counselors report few heroin-related admissions. "We do get calls from parents who have discovered that their child has been abusing prescription pain medication," said Admission Director Kathy DeMellier, who has an associate license in counseling and is under the supervision of ERTP's Clinical Director Penny Baker, LPC-S. 

Research indicates that many addicted to heroin started using prescription pain medication. Halting any drug or alcohol abuse as early as possible is imperative to saving lives, according to counselors at ERTP. “We don’t simply treat the unhealthy symptoms that a child is presenting; we incorporate evidence-based treatment modalities to assist the child in uncovering the source of the symptom. So we can treat the source and the symptom while the child is in a safe, residential treatment environment,” DeMellier said. ERTP has treated thousands of adolescents ages 12 to 18 since opening in 2006.

Rise in Opioid Overdose Deaths

In 2015, there were more than 33,000 opioid overdose deaths, the most in recent history, according to data released Thursday by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Heroin caused more deaths than opioid painkillers such as hydrocodone or oxycodone. 

Dealers are known to mix other substances with heroin to increase its potency, but not knowing what is injected into their body can be an addict's last mistake. Many overdose deaths nationwide have been attributed to fentanyl-laced heroin. Fentanyl is an anesthesia drug that is the most potent opioid available for medical use. Heroin laced with fentanyl is potentially lethal even in low dosages, according to the DEA.

In March 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a nationwide alert in response to a surge in overdose deaths from heroin laced with fentanyl. Just recently the CDC released data that more people died from heroin-related causes than from gun homicides in 2015. As recently as 2007, gun homicides outnumbered heroin deaths by more than 5 to 1.