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Special Report: Hooked on Heroin

WEST MICHIGAN (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - The potentially deadly drug Heroin has become a bigger plague on West Michigan than ever before.

The Kalamazoo County Substance Abuse Task Force has just released some startling new statistics on the subject.

In the last three years, the two age groups with the most fatal heroin overdoses were people in their 30's and 40's.

"I knew that I liked it; the whole rush and everything that went with it," said former heroin addict David Foster. "It was like nothing I'd ever felt before."

It took Foster just a few seconds to become hooked on heroin.

"It's like this warm feeling that goes over your whole body and nothing can stop you. Any fear, any depression anything you've ever had--any anxiety--it's all gone. You're just like...wow," he said.

But it took him a decade to beat the addiction.

"I lost absolutely everything," Foster said. "When I started, I had an apartment, I had a truck, I had a job. By the time I was done, I had nothing. The clothes on my back. I was homeless in Kalamazoo."

Foster hit rock bottom one day on South Westnedge Avenue, kneeling down to scoop gasoline-tinged water out of a puddle to cook the drug.

"I realized, this is the worst time," he said. "This has gone way too far."

But in the end, Foster lived to tell about the horrors of heroin. Nancy King's daughter Marissa did not.

"I just wish I had a second chance," Nancy said. "Maybe I would have been able to get through to her...but the drug is thicker than blood--it's thicker than family."

21-year-old Marissa King died of a heroin overdose in January of 2012.

She'd dealt with mental health issues all her life, but recently had seemed to improve and had re-enrolled in college.

Nancy had just given her money to buy books.

"I actually had talked to her that morning, and transferred money into her bank account," she said. "And that's the day she died. And it was always my biggest fear that I'd given her the money that killed her."

Both Nancy and David have been very nearly destroyed by heroin.

And there are many more like them. This powerful opiate has become an epidemic in West Michigan.

Local police say heroin is taking the place of prescription pain killers like Oxycontin and Vicodin. Far cheaper--and far more potent.

Borgess emergency room physician David Rossi says the recent resurgence of heroin abuse and overdoses is undeniable.

"There's been a significant increase...perhaps a 30 percent increase each year," he said.

And at the Gilmore Community Healing Center, where drug addicts come for medically assisted detox, they estimate 90 percent of their clients will be opiate or heroin users this year--as opposed to 63% in 2012.

"We see people come in, sometimes at their very worst. And then we also get to see the transformation - as they get well," said Residential Therapist Joyce Pines, with the Gilmore Community Healing Center.

Pines says heroin addiction is crossing over into the middle class and middle age, but usually starts with young people hooked on those prescription pain meds.

"I'm talking to a lot more parents than I used to," Pines said. "Parents who are like...I don't know what to do. How do I deal with this..."

And although help for heroin addiction is here, many addicts are too busy searching out the drug to fend off sickness to search out help.

Foster was one of the lucky ones. He went through rehab and he's getting a degree in social work. He's also counseling other recovering addicts and has a home and a family again.

It's a long way from hitting rock bottom on South Westnedge.

"I had no desires or dreams either. But when I came from the bottom and started working my way back up, I realized that I was pretty smart and I could do some things," Foster said.

"There just so much in my life now," he added. "I have a full life now."

As for Nancy, she wants to save other moms from the pain she's endured at the hands of heroin.

"The sooner we get to them, the better chance that they're going to have for a recovery," she said.

Nancy recently testified before the State Senate in favor of the NARCAN Bill. That would allow the family and friends of heroin addicts to administer a life-saving shot that can reverse the effects of an overdose--without fear of criminal prosecution.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has already approved the bill, and the House is expected to take it up Thursday morning.

To learn more about the signs of heroin addiction and treatment, there's a free program every Tuesday night at the Gilmore Community Healing Center.

For more information, click here.