Heroin in the Heartland

Heroin in the Heartland

Heroin and opioid addictions are at epidemic proportions in areas of the U.S. While not at that point yet in the four states, the existing small amounts of heroin in Joplin are breeding grounds for a massive problem.

“I did not realize that Joplin had such a huge drug problem. I was ignorant to that fact,” recovering addict Greg Autry said.

Autry fell off a chair and broke his knee in his college days, when his doctors wrote him a prescription for morphine and loratab. He became addicted, and when the habit became too expensive, he dabbled in heroin. Heroin is one of the more deadly yet more expensive opioids.

“The problem with heroin is you don’t know exactly what’s in it. Or what its cut with. Or what’s going on,” Autry said.

Heroin is primarily brought to Joplin from two major points: St. Louis and Springfield, via I-44.

“We know heroine comes from worldwide sources, and we may have even seen heroin from Afghanistan at this point in Joplin. So tracking sources is going to have to be something that we will have to develop over time as we start seeing more of it and working the cases,” Capt. Bob Higginbotham of Joplin Police said.

Joplin Police gauge what drugs are problematic in the community by monitoring seizures on the streets by officers as well as overdose calls. Last year, JPD only seized about 20 grams of heroin, but that’s a figure they expect to triple this year.

Heroin has a strong hold.

“You literally want to die. I mean vomiting, diarrhea, hot flashes, cold sweats, not being able to sleep, and so when that happens, you’re going to do whatever you can to get that next fix,” Autry said.

Addiction begins a pattern of crime to support the habit, often leading addicts to living dangerous lives.

“That’s a whole different set of issues. Like needles, getting STD’s, stuff like that. After awhile, you know, after, destroying my reputation and doing so many bad things to my family, my friends, losing just about everyone I had, I had nothing left to lose: I needed help,” one anonymous addict said.

Several clinics in Joplin offer help for abusers, but one clinic is focused on a long-term solution for each of its patients.

The BHG (Behavioral Health Group) clinic sits quietly in a strip mall on 4th street by Rangeline. About 200 addicts come in and out of their doors, all searching for a way out of addiction.

“Usually by the time they come here, the glamour part of addiction is gone, the chasing the high is gone, it’s just trying not to be sick.// it allows them to have their life back, so they can start piecing back the pieces that are broken from when they were actively using,” Jason Bowers, BHG program director said.

BHG uses a treatment model that includes medications like methadone and saboxone coupled with counseling and education for addicts. It’s the only place in Joplin of its kind. Some clinics have an inpatient detox program, but Bowers is not a fan.

“It’s not very effective with this kind of addiction, because the withdrawal sickness can last for up to four months or longer. It can be so severe that they end up in the emergency room, or even some people have died from it,” Bowers said.

At BHG, doctors watch patients ingest a liquid anti-addiction drugs to ensure the drugs aren’t sold to others.

“We have certain fail-safes in place to make sure that the medication is not diverted or sold or anything like that. You can’t get high from this medication, but it a person is desperate not to be sick, they would probably pay a pretty penny for it on the street,” Bowers said.

Since Bowers took over in September, BHG has seen a 40 percent increase in patients. Likely due to his increased emphasis on care and marketing of services.

The cost for treatment at BHG is $80/week.

“Every single person I’ve ever met here are good decent people who, you know, fell into an addiction, they weren’t seeking for the problem. They just kind of fell into it. A lot of people had car accidents, dental work, surgeries, a job injury, went to a doctor for a legitimate reason and were given pain medication just like so many people are then from there, you know, it just escalated,” Bowers said.

We asked the recovering addicts what they could tell someone who was in their shoes.

“My heart goes out to you, and I hope you finally realize at this point that you need help. And it may not seem like the best thing to do but it is. It’s better than just trying to fight it yourself,” anonymous addict said.

As for Autry, he is forever thankful.

“In fact, I can definitively say, that if it wasn’t for the methadone clinic, I would be dead or in prison right now,” Autry said.

BHG accepts patients year-round. With 37 clinics in the U.S., they are the second largest provider of medication assisted treatment for opioid addiction.