Spike in heroin use in Tri-Cities

Spike in heroin use in Tri-Cities »Play Video
TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- The spike in heroin use continues to make national headlines. Now we have learned thousands of people are likely addicted to opiates right here in the Tri-Cities. What's changing is the percentage of users switching from prescription pills to heroin. We looked into the reasons why and talked to a recovering addict.

An unimaginable struggle for many is a lifelong reality to 54-year-old Mary Burkhead.

"I still specifically remember that first time of using and the feeling it gave me: the feeling of warmth and the feeling of calm," she said.

Mary has been a heroin addict since she was 17 years old.

"I've lived it; I've lived it, if you can imagine such a thing, for 37 years," she said. "They say there's no such thing as an old junkie. We're either in prison or we're dead. I'm living proof. I'm not dead and I'm not in prison."

Mary says heroin won every time throughout her life. It ruined three marriages.

"It's taken everything I've ever loved, ever wanted or ever had desires for, it's taken away from me."

So it was time she got some help. She's one of hundreds getting help at Ideal Option in Kennewick. It's the only local opiate addiction-focused treatment clinic, which is now backed up with dozens on their waiting list.

"It's extremely common, it's much more common than the general public realizes," said Dr. Jeffrey Allgaier.

It used to be that 15 percent of opiate addicts were using heroin, while the other 85% were doing prescription pills. In recent years, that percentage has skyrocketed to half of all opiate users using heroin.

"To some extent, we as doctors have actually created this problem," said Dr. Allgaier.

The doctor says they've overprescribed opiates for a long time. They got a lot of people addicted, and now, all of a sudden, they're cracking down -pushing people to heroin.

"I would sell my soul - I did, sold my soul to the devil for it," said Mary.

Now she is on her road to recovery. A month into treatment, she's never felt better.

"It feels like I've been walking around with a 100-pound pack of bricks on my back and somebody just lifted it up and ran off with it," she said.

As the number of heroin users rise, Mary hopes she can save one or two people from going down the trail she did. Then, she says, it would all be worth it.

The local clinic took in five new patients Monday. Four are heroin users. In the next few weeks, they will be adding 140 new patients. The doctor expects the spots will fill up in one day.

The government calls the spike in heroin use an "urgent public health crisis."

KEPR will take part in a national town hall on the topic next Wednesday beginning at 4 p.m. The live stream will be found only on keprtv.com.