Heroin on the rise in Iowa, around rural Midwest - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Heroin on the rise in Iowa, around rural Midwest

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Heroin, Photo Courtesy: The US Drug Enforcement Administration Heroin, Photo Courtesy: The US Drug Enforcement Administration
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

Heroin is a dangerous, highly addictive and deadly drug -- and it's here in Iowa, according to law enforcement and health professionals.

Just this week, heroin took the life of Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. In July, a mixture of alcohol and heroin killed Cory Monteith, star of the TV show Glee.

Beyond the high-profile heroin-related deaths, however, thousands of heroin addicts die every year without so much as a mention of the cause in their local newspaper.

According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of people who have used heroin in the past 12 months rose from 373,000 in 2007 to 669,000 in 2012.

Angela Ross doesn't like that her son is part of that statistic.

"There's just this something else that has such a powerful control over him," Ross said. "I mean, it literally has rewired his brain."

She is co-administrator of a Facebook support page called I Hate Heroin, which has more than 58,000 members.

"In helping other people, I feel I'm somehow able to help my son," Ross said.

She moderates it along with a Dubuque mom, who declined to share her story publicly for fear of outing or hurting her three children, all of whom are battling heroin addiction.

Ross says her 6-foot, 3-inch-tall son Marty Barry was almost 300 pounds when he started using heroin during his senior year of high school.

Two years later, Ross says, Barry had lost nearly 100 of those pounds and was still using.

"Very thin," Ross said, looking at a photo of Barry from that time. "You can see that he's high there. You can see it in his eyes ... I hate that picture."

That's when his family staged an intervention, and Barry agreed to go to an intensive outpatient clinic.

"That failed miserably," Ross said. "Very quickly it failed."

Right after that, in early 2013, Ross said, Barry went from his home in Madison, Wis., to a rehab center in Florida, but that, too, failed to work.

Barry said he wanted to come home early.

"About a week after he had come home, he had actually overdosed, and he died," Ross said, tears gathering in her eyes. "Thankfully, at the hospital, they were able to bring him back. He was gone for a couple minutes."

She said her son was in and out of rehab all of last year, which proved to be an emotional journey for the entire family.

"'Is this my son's last day on earth?' You know, it's really hard, because that is literally what you live with every day of your life when you have an addict in your life that you love," Ross said.

Heroin is highly addictive. Once the drug enters the bloodstream, it binds to receptors in the brain and creates a rush of euphoria.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates nearly one out of every four people who use heroin become dependent on it.

Sgt. Gary Pape is director of the Dubuque Drug Task Force.

"It's here," Pape said. "Primary source for the heroin we get in Dubuque is Chicago."

He said heroin exploded onto the local scene in 2011.

"Since 2011, we've conducted over 68 heroin-related investigations," Pape said. "Those include anything from search warrants to drug buys."

He said the number of reported heroin overdoses reflects that trend.

"In 2011, we had five. The following year we had 20, in 2012," Pape said. "In 2013, we had 13 heroin overdoses -- that we know of."

The Dubuque area has also seen three reported heroin-related deaths, Pape said, though that doesn't mean there haven't been more.

"As far as family members go, I would be aware of -- if you see hypodermic needles, don't buy into the excuses," Pape said. "Don't be in denial. If someone needs help, get it for them. If they need someone to talk to them, talk to them."

Heroin is a narcotic, also known as an opioid, which is a group that includes prescription painkillers such as morphine and oxycodone.

Pape said prescription painkillers, when abused, can be a gateway to heroin, which is readily available.

"Oxycodone or hydrocodone pills, they can go anywhere from $15 to $25, up to $40 a pill," Pape said. "Your heroin, you can pay $100 and only get 0.2 grams of it, but that 0.2 grams goes a long way."

Heroin is so powerful, that many addicts build up a tolerance to the drug and continue to use just to avoid the withdrawal effects, described as several days of the most intense and horrible flu-like symptoms, followed by continued cravings.

People who are deeply addicted to heroin can find help at Cedar Valley Recovery Services, which offers medication-assisted treatment for opiate addiction. The clinical director there, Amy Ferin, said that, generally, is a last resort.

"You want to try different types of treatment, you know, outpatient treatment, residential treatment, before you come to a place where it's medication-assisted," Ferin said. "Most people who come to us have tried and tried and tried and tried, and they just can't seem to get past the withdrawal, get past the cravings in order to better their life."

She, too, said she sees a lot of heroin addicts who started by abusing prescription painkillers.

"For a lot of people, it's just cheaper to do the heroin," Ferin said.

Her clinic offers methadone, which is a synthetic opiate that allows the user to kick heroin without the cold-turkey withdrawal symptoms.

"The whole point is to help people not be ill so they can function to get their life back together," Ferin said.

It's a life Angela Ross hopes her now-21-year-old son, who is back at the Florida rehab center, can rebuild.

"I think he's doing really well. His attitude seems very different," Ross said.

Still, she said, she never could have imagined even just a year and a half ago she'd be carrying around a drug called Narcan, also known as Naloxone. It's a substance that can save the life of somebody overdosing on heroin.

Brian Allen is the administrator of Platteville (Wis.) Emergency Medical Service. He and his fellow EMS responders carry Narcan, and he says it saves lives.

"The Narcan binds to the receptors in the cells, and they actually will kick off the narcotic or the opiate so that they can't bind," Allen said. "Or it will stop them from binding with the cells ... so it stops the overdose. It actually reverses it."

He said a heroin overdose can kill somebody in a number of ways.

"Narcotics are usually, a lot of them are depressants, so it slows everything down and it just slows the heart down to where it just stops," Allen said. "Or the breathing. It'll slow the respiratory system down and they stop breathing, then causing the heart to stop."

The Wisconsin Department of Justice has launched a public awareness campaign about heroin, trying to curb the drug's use, especially among teenagers.

More on the Wisconsin DOJ's Fly Effect Prevention Campaign can be found HERE.

Heroin addicts -- or their concerned family members -- can call area treatment centers for help or resources.

Offices for the Substance Abuse Services Center, or SASC, are located in Dubuque (563-582-3784), Cedar Rapids (319-294-1599) and Manchester (563-927-5112).

Cedar Valley Recovery Services has an office in Cedar Falls (319-277-5808) and Marion (319-363-2678).

More information on heroin can be found HERE, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The I Hate Heroin Facebook page is HERE.

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