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Heroin: The Epidemic

by Justin Platek

Doing heroin was the worst decision I ever made in my life.

Dumon Coleman knows the pain, the power and potency of a heroin addiction.

He doesn't even flinch when he thinks about what could have happened to him.

"I could have died. There was a possibility I could have died many times," he said.

Coleman started using drugs and alcohol when he was just 12-years-old. He was quickly introduced to heroin, and by the age of 17, he overdosed twice.

Coleman grew up in Westmont, an affluent suburb just outside Johnstown.

Heroin addiction is not an inner city problem, said Michele Thomas, a certified addiction counselor in Cambria County.

"There's no typical drug user. Heroin, actually, we see it's affecting...the middle class," she said.

Detective Kevin Price, a member of the Cambria County Drug Task Force, said heroin usage has exploded, largely because of prescription drug abuse.

"We are convinced prescription pills and heroin go hand-in-hand," he said.

"They can't afford bying buying pills on the street for $60 or $70 a pop," Thomas said, "so they start using heroin, and for $15 a bag, you can get a high."

Although heroin is cheaper than prescription drugs, it can be sold in West-Central Pennsylvania towns for more money than in the big cities.

Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said dealers can make three times as much money locally than in places like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia.

It's not just the drug that's a problem; it's the crimes that come along with it, according to Clearfield County District Attorney Bill Shaw.

"When I first started in the D.A.'s office Office 17 years ago, you'd never see a burglary or home invasion," he said. "Now you see them regularly. And every one of them is directly linked to the drug problem. People will risk breaking into your house to steal a jar of quarters off your TV stand so they can go out and buy a stamp bag of heroin to satisfy their fix for the day."

The demand for heroin means it knows no boundaries, geographically or otherwise.

Price said undercover officers recently bought heroin from the Walmart parking lot in Richland Township.

"[The dealer] was selling thousands of dollars worth of heroin a day," Price said, even when people were walking from their cars to the store.

"Being addicted to heroin is a trap," Coleman said. "What killed me personally was not being able to get off the couch and be a normal person."

At the height of his addiction, Coleman was spending nearly every cent he had on heroin. He was also selling drugs to support his $700-a-day habit.

"It's very deadly," Thomas said. "The outlook for heroin users to get clean and stay clean is not good."

Thomas said preventing heroin addiction starts with parents. She said parents need to be involved in their kids' lives and speak up with something seems wrong.

"Your child is gonna die," she said. "You're going to be burying your child over this addiction."

Coleman was able to get help, but it didn't come easy.

"The wake-up moment for me was realizing how much of my life I had wasted. I was 25-years-old. I had no career, no relationship with my family," he said.

It took him six stints in rehab before he finally got clean.

Now, four years sober, he said he had to make a total life change. He wears different clothes, has new friends, even works a full-time job.

"My life free from drugs and alcohol is priceless. It's a priceless gift to be sober today, to not rely on any substance, to be myself, to function on a daily routine. It's priceless. Being sober is truly priceless. Some people won't get it. Some people will die a drug addict," he said.

 
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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times

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