Heroin is Growing, Deadly Problem in Centre County
The recent arrest of two alleged burglars that police say are heroin-users and the seven deaths in Centre County last year are evidence that heroin is a growing and deadly problem from which no one is immune.
It doesn't matter the profession, salary, social status or geographic location. Heroin addiction can be found anywhere – including State College.
The number of heroin-related deaths in Centre County more than doubled in 2013. Seven people died from the drug in the first eight months of the year compared to three deaths in all of 2012, according to figures obtained from the Centre County Coroner's office.
At the same time, between 2009 and 2011 no more than two people died annually from heroin, with two deaths in 2009, zero in 2010 and one in 2011.
This week, State College police arrested two men believed to be responsible for dozens of area burglaries as part of an effort to fund their heroin habit.
Meanwhile, Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman recently died from an apparent heroin overdose.
The increase matches what local rehabilitation centers are seeing, including Rehab After Work on Walker Drive in State College. Executive Director Seth Kaminksy says the trends at the State College facility match the national trend of growing heroin use.
Kaminksy says the increase can be attributed to those who get hooked on prescription opiate pain medications, such as Oxycontin and Vicodin. Once someone is unable to get such prescriptions filled, they may seek these medications from other unscrupulous sources.
"Pills are expensive and increasingly difficult to find leaving those addicted individuals to choose between painful withdrawal symptoms or other options, possibly heroin," he says.
Kaminksy says one of the major reasons people use any drug is to self-medicate the pain caused by mental health issues or some other psychological pain.
"Nobody ever wakes up in the morning saying 'I could see myself down the road using heroin," Kaminksy says. "It's a slow insidious process that usually develops over time."
Heroin has an immediate impact with a rush followed by sense of drowsiness, clouded mental clarity, dramatically slowed vital signs and breathing, a flushing of the skin, dry mouth, heaviness of arms and legs, vomiting and itching.
Long-term effects are much more damaging, including collapsed veins for intravenous users, infections, abscesses, cardiac issues and arthritis.
"With heroin that dependence on the substance really develops quite quickly requiring the individual to use increased amounts because they often are not experiencing the desired effect they were looking for," says Kaminksy.
Within 24 to 48 hours, a user can feel withdrawal symptoms that can last up to one week. Those symptoms include restlessness, muscle pain, sleeplessness, diarrhea, vomiting.
Relapse is part of recovery in many regards, Kaminksy says. It is very common in early recovery.
"Recovery from heroin is very challenging. There are a lot of factors that go into that. Withdrawal patterns are very profound ... and those symptoms often lead people back to use in the short-term," Kaminksy says. "It is a very difficult drug to become recovered from."
Also critical to recovery is who the recovering addict spends time with. If the addict continues to spend time with other users, recovery rates drop to almost zero.
The success rate of recovery also varies dramatically, depending on the addict's support system, whether they received treatment and are going to 12-step meetings.
"The longer people are in treatment the better they do long-term and the more likely they are to maintain long-term sobriety, long-term recovery," says Kaminksy.
What can hurt recover is when an addict swaps one addiction for another. For example, the person might give up heroin, but start drinking alcohol.
"That would be a relapse in the world of recovery," says Kaminksy.
Rehab After Work has 23 offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Services include intensive outpatient and outpatient programs that focus on group therapy, family therapy and individual therapy as well as psychiatry services. The center takes a 12-step, total abstinence approach.
Rehab After Work accepts most major insurance carriers and can be reached at 1-800-238-4357.
The Drug and Alcohol office with the Human Services Department is a county-administered program responsible for identifying, evaluating, and treating individuals with a drug or alcohol problem. Through caseworkers, the office connects alcohol and drug abusers with the services they need.
The office has funding available to help those who need treatment, but do not have health insurance or the financial means to pay for services. The Drug and Alcohol office can be reached at 814-355-6744.