Tri-States becoming new focal point for heroin use

Heroin use in the Tri-States has spiked in recent years for several reasons, including cost and the highways that run through the area

Much of the drug discussion in the Tri-States centers on methamphetamine, but there is another problem drug that often goes unnoticed.

"So many people out there go to work every day and have a very good life, and they have no idea what's going on out there until it affects their family," Rev. Jerry Jenkins, executive director of Addicts Victorious in Quincy said. "It's one of the most devastating drugs we've ever dealt with."

Rev. Jenkins is talking about heroin use, which has been on the rise in the area for several years.

Lt. John Zerbonia with Hannibal Police Department said his agency first started seeing the increase about six years ago.

"Ten years ago we wouldn't have been having this conversation," he said.

The Hannibal Police Department may be the foremost expert on the subject. Sitting at the intersection of two major highways, America's Hometown has seen a steady increase in arrests and overdoses in the last two to three years.

"Since then, we've seized more heroin, we've actually made arrests for distribution of heroin. We've seen that it's become one of the drugs of choice," Zerbonia said.

The appeal

But with so many drugs available, what is it that makes heroin such an appealing option?

In short, the market for the drug is easy for almost anyone to get into.

"I've had people tell me they can buy it as cheap as $20 a hit," Jenkins said, noting that the cost in bigger cities can be as cheap as $40 or $50.

According to Zerbonia, the cheap price tag only amplifies the risk of a drug that is already incredibly potent.

"The possibility for an overdose with heroin use is potentially greater than other drugs: crack cocaine, methamphetamine, even prescription drugs," he said.

The drug can be injected, snorted, or smoked. Zerbonia said the pill form of the drug is what his department sees the most and that the heaviest use comes from people between the ages of 18 and 35.

Another trend that has made its way to the Tri-States combines other drugs with heroin.

A common practice is to lace heroin with fentanyl, a powerful painkiller that drastically increases the drug's lethality.

"Since it's a newer drug, most people that use it aren't familiar with the potency of it, or other drugs that it may have been cut with that are potentially dangerous as well," Zerbonia said.

Typically, the high from heroin use only lasts 20 to 30 minutes. It forces many addicts to the point where it's not the high they're looking for; rather, an escape from the withdrawals.

"The pain is so excruciating, you need another hit," Jenkins said.

Beating addiction

Jenkins estimates about 20 percent of all clients at Addicts Victorious are struggling with heroin use.

His agency uses a faith-based approach to beating addiction. He can list off numerous success stories he's seen, but he's not short on the opposite, either.

"They have to get to the point where they hate the thing that's destroying them. They have to hate whatever the drug is, they actually have to hate it and realize it is going to kill them," he said.

Both Jenkins and Zerbonia agree, it takes a whole community to help control the problem. Unfortunately, law enforcement can't do it alone.

"You can't arrest the problem away," Zerbonia said.

"Most of society thinks if they got that way themselves, let them get out of it themselves, and they can't do that," Jenkins said.