Treatment vs. Punishment: A tale of two heroin stories

Published: Dec. 14, 2016 at 4:43 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 15, 2016 at 11:39 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Heroin deaths now outnumber gun homicides in the United States.

The battle rages on how to handle the crisis. We hear from officials all the time. Some want more treatment. Others favor longer punishment. WAVE 3 News recently talked with several parents who've endured the same problem but experienced very different outcomes.

"He was devastated by his addiction," Celina Acosta said of her son. "He didn't know how to stop, even though he went to rehab."

Her son made multiple trips to rehab for heroin addiction, had multiple stays in jail for related crimes and required multiple resuscitations from heroin overdoses.

"I remember sitting by his bed and saying, 'Sweetie, this is gonna kill you some day if you don't stop,'" Acosta said.

His reply?

"'I don't care,'" she recalled. "So I said, 'What should I do for your funeral? What do you want me to do?'"

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Acosta had to figure out what to do one year ago, on Dec. 15, 2015. Her son Daniel was found in a car in a parking lot on 34th Street. He was dead of a heroin overdose right after getting out of jail for the last time.

"He couldn't be normal," she said. "But he wasn't normal. He had a disease. And something that infuriates me is people will say 'Well he could've stopped at any time. All he had to do was walk away.'"

Rob Houchens faced the same problem when he discovered, on the same day, his daughter was addicted to heroin and had stolen more than $10,000 from the family.

"We moved forward with prosecuting our own daughter, which I almost puked that day that happened, prosecuting your own daughter," Houchens said.

His daughter had to undergo rigorous treatment hurdles to prove sobriety over two years to avoid stiff jail time.

"It's my belief having seen enough either die from the abuse, or ruin their lives or their family's lives, that it was worth the risk," Houchens said. "And there are worse things than jail time."

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What is the best approach with heroin? Treatment, or punishment?

WAVE 3 News analyzed 174 heroin arrests in Jefferson County over a two-month period this year, from felony possession to trafficking, and found very few serving prison time.

Houchens said the threat of serious consequences is the best approach.

"A lot of times the people are helping the addict not hit bottom," he said. "I really believe an addict has to hit bottom to make the choice and decide that's not the way to live."

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For Acosta's son, treatment didn't work. Neither did punishment.

"I've never seen an addict come out of jail," she said. "They might be clean when they come out. That's forced sobriety, not sobriety because they wanted it."

Acosta did what Houchens advises in the Monday night addiction support group he runs. She stopped enabling her son. But it didn't turn out the same way.

"I still love him," she said. "The only difference is, I don't worry about him anymore. All of the drama addiction brings is gone. I have my child back, but he's not with me."

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