Heroin use skyrockets impacting families, community

Published: Feb. 11, 2013 at 3:46 PM EST|Updated: Jun. 3, 2013 at 2:46 PM EDT
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Catherine Felts
Catherine Felts
Lieutenant J.T. Duncan
Lieutenant J.T. Duncan
Max Douglas
Max Douglas

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A killer is back on our streets. A staggering rise in heroin use is tearing families apart and sending ripple effects through every corner of our community. The numbers are jaw dropping and lots of people are paying the price, but none more so than the families of people who get hooked.

John Douglas never figured to be an addict. A graduate of Fern Creek High School, he grew up in bible school, then the boy scouts.

Three years ago he became a father to a beautiful daughter named Tera Rose.

John suffered from chronic pain brought on by scoliosis and carpel tunnel syndrome. When doctors stopped prescribing the powerful narcotic hydrocodone to treat the symptoms, he turned to heroin. Six months later, he was in the hospital and within a year, he was dead of an apparent overdose.

John's mother found his body in January when she went to check on him at his apartment.

"He was lying on the couch and she waved at me to come," said John's father Max Douglas, who was also there. "It's terrible to find your son that way."

Louisville has found itself in the grips of heroin epidemic that is so bad, the statistics are hard to fathom. According to the Louisville Metro Police Department, heroin arrests have skyrocketed 2,334 percent, from 32 in 2008 to 779 in 2012. Seizures of the drug are up a ridiculous 6,688 percent over that same period - from 104.4 grams in 2008 to 7,087 grams in 2012.

"To me, it's crazy," said Lieutenant J.T. Duncan, a member of LMPD's narcotics unit. Duncan said law enforcement did such a good job cracking down on the illegal sale of prescription painkillers addicts turned to heroin. It is now cheaper and easier to get than pills like oxycontin, vicodin and hyrdrocodone.

"I personally would not have seen that coming," Duncan said.

LMPD is scrambling to shut the floodgates working with state police and the border patrol to cut off supply lines. Duncan said Mexican cartels are smuggling heroin into the country over the Texas border, bringing it up to Minneapolis, then south east to Chicago and Indianapolis before hitting the streets of Louisville.

The heroin resurgence is bringing a crime wave with it. Some LMPD districts now blame 80 percent of burglaries and thefts on heroin addicts trying to get money.

Meanwhile, heroin users are overwhelming local treatment centers. At the Jefferson Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center downtown, director Diane Hague said 90 percent of calls are now heroin related.

"Most of my calls are heroin users," Hague said. "It's rare that we have a non-IV user that calls, or someone who is just using pills, alcohol, or cocaine."

JADAC has specifically designed a medical detox, treatment and relapse prevention program to assist with the opiate epidemic.  

John Douglas's sister, Catherine Felts, said her big brother tried to kick the habit. She thinks he was off heroin for almost six months.

"He fought it hard," Felts said. "And the demon won."

And after picking up again, John's battle with heroin ended like so many do.

"It's just been a bad sense of emptiness," Max Douglas said of his son's death. "We miss his calls," Max said, breaking down into tears.

Lt. Duncan said police believe they can't arrest their way out of the heroin problem and treatment is key. But treatment can be tough because heroin is the most addictive drug out there.

If you're worried about a family member look for the signs of heroin use. They include wearing long sleeves in warm weather to hide needle marks, change in attitude, lying and borrowing money.

If you think a loved one needs help call a treatment center. Here's a list of facilities in Louisville Metro:

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