Drug users are stereotyped ad nauseam — the “bum” begging for change on the side of the road, the bad apple in your high school class, the washed up rock star. If these things were ever true, they’re not anymore. With the rise of modern medicine came prescription drugs, and while helpful for millions, these drugs can leave some chasing a specific high forever. State College isn’t immune to this national crisis — it’s suffering in silence.
“Most people have a stereotypical idea of what a heroin addict looks like and I think this particular heroin and opioid crisis has changed that vision. It’s no longer the run down, skinny person on the street. It’s moved into school teachers, housewives, and grandmas. It has literally hit everyone across the board,” State College Police Officer Adam Salyards said.
The root of many heroin and opioid addictions isn’t illegal. Between 1991 and 2013, prescriptions of opioids in the United States rose from 76 million to 207 million, with the U.S. accounting for nearly 100% of worldwide hydrocodone use and 81% of oxycodone consumption, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. While safe when taken how prescribed, many patients have abused the drugs by taking too many or snorting and smoking the powder, causing the euphoric feeling that becmoes an itch.
When their prescription is done, users look to buy pills on the street, Salyards said. Pills on the street are expensive, however, and pill dealers will gladly begin selling heroin to opioid addicts because it’s cheaper and more potent. Heroin addicts even seek out dealers whose customers have overdosed because it means they have a strong batch. Salyards said Centre County is no stranger to this behavior:
Heroin and opioid overdoses in Centre County have ranged from a 21-year-old to a 69-year-old — it’s insanely difficult for police to realize what they should be paying attention to and this adds to the expansiveness of the problem.
“In the drug user community, they always looked down on heroin users because it was looked at as the dirty drug with needles. Now people are snorting it and ingesting it in other ways, not just injecting it,” he said. “Heroin has been an issue [in Pennsylvania] for a long time, this area seemed to be immune to what was going on in the rest of the state though. The socio-economic status of State College insulated it from the issue. Now its coming on pretty strong…that’s why we formed the H.O.P.E. Initiative.”
The Heroin and Opiate Prevention and Education Initiative is a new program that combines the efforts of local Centre County residents and seven law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania. The Centre County District Attorney, Coroner, Court of Common Pleas and Probation and Parole office, in conjunction with the US Attorney’s Office, the FBI and DEA, the Pennsylvania Police and Attorney General’s office, are hoping the initiative will curb the spread of heroin and opiate addictions.
The H.O.P.E. initiative aims to provide awareness of the substance abuse epidemic associated with both heroin and the misuse of prescription drugs, to reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse, and to make people aware that anyone can become addicted. It comes at a time when huge volumes of these drugs are finding their way into State College.
“What we are seeing here in State College is suppliers coming out of Philadelphia, Williamsport, some from Pittsburgh and Johnstown. So [drugs are] coming from bigger cities and being brought into our area. Someone can get their supply from Philadelphia, bring it to State College, and make a 200 percent profit. It’s very sad, a lot of people get into it because they see it as an easy way to make money,” Salyards said.
Last year alone proves Salyard’s point beyond a reasonable doubt, and one example sticks out. A man named Amir Robinson was arrested with 577 bags of heroin he had sold to an undercover police officer in March. Robinson had come to State College from Philadelphia. A few months later, in July, the Centre County Drug Task Force charged 17 individuals for allegedly possessing and distributing drugs– prescription opiates such as Vicodin and Clonazepam among the many substances allegedly involved.
“It’s unfortunate but you take 17 people off the street and it seems like 17 more people step into their places. It’s a never ending battle for us, no matter how many arrests are made the supply keeps coming into the area so it’s important that we keep making arrests and get closer to the sources,” Salyards said.
The sources, and not the users, are what the police are looking for. While users are a stepping stone to the sources, Salyards said the most important part of the process is helping users get over their addictions, whether they be to heroin or opioids. That’s the hope for the H.O.P.E. Initiative, and getting to future problems before they get to Centre County is the end goal. Anyone who needs help can find it here.