The Breathitt County Heroin Epidemic
“You literally wouldn’t believe the people I have done Heroin with,...It would blow your mind.”
They walked into the office at the Times-Voice. They were both, literally, scared to death. The fact they arrived together was by chance. They knew each other, but not well.
“This is a small town,” each confided. “We all kind of know each other.”
One was a young woman presently hooked on Heroin. She described her habit as consuming. She wanted help.
The other was roughly the same age. While still an “addict;” she had recently done a medical detox. Her addiction was in remission, or so she reported.
They agreed to talk with the Times-Voice on condition we would protect their identities. Some of the facts of this story have been intentionally altered to protect the identity of our two sources.
They agreed to meet with us together. Each seemed to draw strength from getting to relate their singular experiences together.
Both ladies were mothers. Both ladies were raising children alone.
Both ladies wanted to tell this story, but neither lady wanted to “go on the record.” Both were terrified there would be consequences and reprisals visited upon them for what they were going to tell me.
For the purposes of this article, one of the ladies shall be referenced throughout as “Jane Doe.” Jane Doe is 26-years old, is a mother, and is a present addict with, according to her, a $200 per day Heroin habit.
The other lady, who we shall call, “Judy Smith,” is 25-years old. She is also a mother and had recently lost a loved one to an overdose. The death of her friend encouraged her to get help for her addiction.
Neither of these ladies knew the other aside from casually. Their showing up, close to simultaneously, was coincidence. They had not come together.
“Eighty-percent of the drug abusers in Breathitt County I hang with are doing Heroin now,” Jane Doe told us. “They have replaced their pain pills with Heroin. It is an infinitely more intense feeling.”
We asked her from where the supply is originating. “The Heroin is coming out of Lexington,” Jane Doe told us. “The local dealers are going to Lexington to get it and they are bringing it back to Breathitt County.”
Judy Smith appeared to agree with the 80% number. Judy also added, “People mix the Heroin with meth for an amped up ‘high.’ It’s called ‘Speed Balling.’” Judy also told us the Heroin, out of Lexington, is being cut with Vitamin-C powder and Fentanyl.
For those of you who don’t know, “Fentanyl" is a powerful synthetic opioid analgesic, similar to morphine. According to our online research of the subject, Fentanyl is 50 to 100-times more potent than Heroin. It is a controlled substance, Schedule II prescription narcotic.
Judy Smith, the lady who had recently lost a loved one to an overdose, told the Times-Voice, her loved one had a job which involved a ton of traveling. Her “friend” traveled all over the place constantly. One night, in a bar in California, her “friend” did some Heroin as a “pick me up” to compensate for the long hours. The “friend” was hooked.
Judy’s loved one brought back some of the Heroin to Breathitt County. Smith told us the substance was black, like tar. Judy’s friend overdosed. The cause of death was listed on the autopsy as “drug overdose.”
As she was telling us the story, her eyes swam with tears. The tears coursed down her cheeks staining her face. Her pain was palatable. Her pain was still so raw and visible.
We asked the two ladies just how pervasive the habit is, particularly in Breathitt County. Jane Doe told the Times-Voice, “You literally wouldn’t believe the people I have done Heroin with, some of them on a day-to-day basis. I have done Heroin with public figures, elected officials, one guy was a prosecutor in a county bordering Breathitt. It would blow your mind.”
“If I named names,” Jane told us, “we would both be run out of town and that is if we were lucky. It might get us both shot, particularly if you printed it in your newspaper.”
She laughed after saying this. It was an uneasy laugh, one born more from being uncomfortable than thinking anything was particularly “funny.”
Both ladies told me they came to the paper because they wanted to warn people. They both said they wanted to share their stories to keep people from traveling the same path. Jane Doe said, “It took me over before I even realized it. Four months in, and I wasn’t even the same person.”
That concluded our interview at that time. Both ladies seemed apprehensive about staying at our office any longer. Judy Smith told us she had more to tell but wanted to come back in alone, with her notes, and go into more depth. We, of course, told her we were at her disposal and to come on by anytime she wanted.
It is not a “news flash” to anyone we have a drug problem in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Anywhere you find poverty coupled with a citizenry struggling, so mightily, to provide basic sustenance for their families, you will find people willing to take substances. These people hope the substances may alter their realities. Absent that, at least these substances may change the person’s perspective from depression to euphoria.
Of course, it really doesn’t. It only makes matters worse. There is a low which follows every high. It’s our ability to handle both which makes life the journey it is.
Should Judy Smith come back to the Times-Voice, we will publish a second part to this article. Should she not, both of these ladies will remain in our prayers. Hopefully, they will be in yours too.