Addicted in Alaska: Part 2 in a Series on Heroin Use in the State
Heroin's cheap and easy high creates more addicts, drug counselors say. State health officials say it's a public health concern.
ANCHORAGE — On the night of December 22, as most of Anchorage scrambled to finish holiday shopping, in Midtown, police said, a 14-year-old girl lay, unconscious, in a grown man's bed, as those around her got high.
”They actually saw Sean Warner take his belt off, use it as a tourniquet and inject her with about 25 to 30 units of heroin,” said Anita Shell, a spokesperson for the Anchorage Police Department.
Jena Dolstad died a week later—two days before her 15th birthday.
“This is clearly something that is a pretty major problem for Alaska,” said Jim McLaughlin of the state’s Department of Health and Social Services behavioral health division.
Meagan Leon was 17 when she said she tried heroin.
The illicit drug is not just an escape for troubled teens, but middle-class moms, as well.
“I had, like, three platinum credit cards that were maxed out,” said a 28-year-old mother of three who asked that her name not be used.
In Alaska, more people are dying from overdosing on drugs like heroin than in car and motorcycle crashes combined.
”Deaths from opiates, we're fifth in the nation in that,” McLaughlin said.
According to police, the heroin supply in Anchorage consists primarily of Mexican black tar. About 10 grams of the stuff, seized from a case recently closed, is worth at least $800 on Anchorage streets, police said.
“You can go down to Portland and buy an ounce of heroin for $1200,” said an undercover detective with APD’s vice unit who asked that his name be withheld. “You can turn that same ounce here for $5,000.”
It’s a profitable business because increasingly more Alaskans are getting hooked on heroin, police said.
"Ninety-plus percent of the young women on the streets of Anchorage that are prostituting themselves aren't doing it because they enjoy that,” said the detective. “They're doing it because they're feeding an addiction. Nine times out of 10, that addiction is heroin.”
But the path to the illegal drug often begins in a perfectly legal way.
“One of the concerns around the increase in heroin use is the amount of folks that are using prescription meds,” said McLaughlin.
Leon’s first high came from her family's medicine cabinet.
”I was 11 first trying opiates—Oxycontins,” Leon said. “My mother had quite a few medical issues, so I was getting into those.”
Six years later, she was hooked on heroin.
“It's like a demon,” Leon said. “I just gave in and let it tell me what to do.”
But even before Leon could legally drink, she said she was regularly using cocaine, heroin and prescription painkillers.
“I knew that was my survival—to get high and feel better and numb a lot of painful things that happened in my childhood growing up,” Leon said. “And to cover a lot of shame and guilt.”
In recent years, state health officials have seen a 50 percent spike in the number of people like Leon, fighting a losing battle alone.
“It was so hard to just quit,” she said. “It was so hard to just quit. After you spend all your rent money and you go, 'What am I going to do? Or you find yourself lonely and crying some nights and you go, 'What am I doing? Then you get $50, and that's [heroin] the first thing you think about.”
Leon said she was about eight weeks pregnant when she realized she needed to get help.
“I wanted to have a healthy daughter and give her everything she deserved,” she said. “When I found out there was an actual clinic to give you the methadone to taper off of your opiate addiction, I thought, ‘Gosh, if I could just have a chance at that.’”
Leon did get that opportunity when she was accepted into the treatment program at Center for Drug Problems on East 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage.
Leon’s “been clean and sober since July 18,” and she says her month-old baby is doing well.
But Leon is one of the lucky ones.
Drug counselors and police say others will likely die, hooked on heroin, waiting for help.
Tomorrow night: What’s the solution? The last of our three-part series, Addicted in Alaska, airs at 10 p.m. Thursday on KTVA CBS 11 News.