Chasing the Dragon: Hometown heroin; shattered lives

(FOX19) - According to the Ohio Department of Health, fatal drug overdoses have more than quadrupled in the past ten years in the state of Ohio.

In 2007, drug overdoses surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death. In 2008 and 2009, more people died from overdoses in Ohio than in the World Trade Center attack.

The Heroin epidemic is taking our state by storm.

According to the Governor's office, the Department of Health and Law Enforcement, heroin addicts no longer live in one exclusive area, and they don't belong to one particular social group.

Adam Pendleton, 26, is from outside the city limits. He tried heroin for the first time at age 16. He said he never thought you could find it in his neck of the woods, much less become addicted.

"It started off a weekend thing...three days a week...then four days, five in a row. You're telling yourself that you're just getting high...or you're just having fun," said Adam Pendleton, a recovering heroin addict.

Heroine landed Adam in prison twice. He now has a list of felonies on his record. He has lost years he says he can't get back. Adam was a user for five and a half years. He will celebrate five years sobriety in September, with his wife and two precious daughters.

"Cailey" has chosen to not use her real name to protect her identity and her family's. " [I] just thought it would be fun to experiment...the was accepted to do what everyone else was doing. It never crossed my mind that I'd become an addict," said Cailey.

Cailey's eyes sparkle when she shares life growing up in the city. A loving family, lots of friends and a straight "A" student. With heroin everywhere and cheap, Cailey could find a fix in twenty minutes and as cheap as $10.

Cailey takes a breath, grinning from ear to ear. Her smile tells a story of triumph, one more day clean under her belt, but not without the help of Dr. Stuckert and the staff at a place called The Ridge in Clermont County. Cailey is just finishing 28 days in their inpatient program.

"This is an actual disease of the brain like candy...a chronic disease. Like asthma or heart disease. Like asthma or heart disease affects both the structure and the function of the brain...the changes that take place during an addiction...promote the contamination...the continuation of that disease," said Dr. Jeffery Stuckert at The Ridge.

Dr. Stuckert is the Chief Medical Officer at The Ridge, a physician directed residential treatment program, treating people from all walks of life and all ages.

The youngest patient at The Ridge is 18, their oldest is 63. Some of the patients hold professional jobs, some are parents.

"Sarah's" story is a little different from Cailey's. Growing up Sarah's life was not so happy. Her parents divorced at a young age. Her brother was in a car accident. She turned to opiates to mask the pain from home, she became addicted to heroin.

For "Sarah," the decision to go clean was brutal to her body. "It felt like I had really bad flu; cold sweats. I couldn't move. I couldn't take care of my children the way they should have been taken care of. I was sick and then I went thru the detox, soboxin, cramps, chills...horrible," said Sarah.

"We take them out of their environment. We give them a fresh start; work on physical, spiritual component, psychological so they can get a clean start. What life will be without their addiction," said Steve Gifford, the Clinical Program Director at The Ridge.>

While Adam, Cailey and Sara's stories are unique, there is one similarity. They made a choice to try heroin. That first time turned into a second, and third and the rest is history, changing their lives forever. They are, however, part of a much bigger number.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, the number of addicts using heroin and other opiates who are now seeking help continues to rise. In the past 10 years, there has been a 300 percent increase in drug addicts seeking help across the state.

In an exclusive interview with the Governor John Kaisch, he told FOX19 the war on drugs is far from over, but is thrilled to say that it has begun.

"Alcohol, mental health operations, locally, have pulled their resources to draw this money down. So this money, federal dollars, which we've never done before," said Governor John Kasich, (R) Ohio. "We were AWOL on the war against opiates. We now have the dollars and are able to set the programs up, particularly treatment, mental health, combining with law enforcement...bureau of workers comp Department of Public Safety's not just education but a crackdown program."

Governor Kasich recently announced $36 million in Federal funds are being poured into the State to fight the war on drugs. Twenty three task forces are being created.

Governor Kasich said that in no way do we have this problem fixed, but by staring and working together with agencies in surrounding states, we can eventually win the battle on drug addiction that is on pace to saturate every county in this state, and neighboring states.

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