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Macomb County Sheriff: Outreach Needed for Heroin Prevention

Sheriff Anthony Wickersham says some heroin users in the county are as young as 13.

Heroin cases in Macomb County have changed--and are more numerous.

According to Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, many people who had heroin overdoses 15 to 20 years ago were “people living on the streets that would shoot it up.”

But that changed about seven years ago when heroin use started to rise in Macomb.

“Now you’re going in homes with good family structures, good students, star athletes, and we’re losing a lot of young people there,” Wickersham said.

Handcuffs to helping hand

To decrease heroin use in Macomb County, he said, arrested people need a good support system, so they don’t end up using again after they leave jail.

“We’ve tried over the years to arrest our way out of this problem, and it really doesn’t happen,” he said. “We’ve got to try to get out there and we’ve got to try to educate the whole community: the users, parents. We’ve got to identify the signs of use; the signs of addiction…So it hopefully doesn’t it take them to the point where they get arrested.”

In the fiscal year 2011, among people treated for detoxification, 34.8 percent of Macomb County residents reported heroin as their primary substance of abuse, compared to 29.5 percent reporting alcohol, according to the Michigan Bureau of Substance Abuse and Addiction Services.

How heroin hooks users

Wickersham said that many people who turn to heroin start abusing prescription painkillers at first, usually with a legitimate prescription. But after the prescription is gone, they try to find the pills on the street, and prescription opiates like OxyContin can range from $50-$80 a pill.

“So … they turn to a cheaper alternative, which is heroin,” he said. “And that drug has got them and they need it. That’s probably a good percentage of how people become addicted.”

Although Macomb County has heroin supply houses, most of the heroin comes from Detroit, where dealers sell it out of vacant homes, Wickersham said. And people as young as 13 years old are using it.

“We’ve seen it as young as ninth grade, 13-14, and middle school through high school … up to your mid-20s. But we’re not excluding the older group, too. I mean, adults are using it as an alternative also,” he said.

Drug addicts often commit crime

Many crimes in Macomb County are related to substance abuse. A high percentage of people in the county jail committed crimes because they are addicted to a substance, Wickersham said. He said that most of them start stealing items in their own homes. But when the parents start catching on, they find other ways to fund their habit.

“There is a direct correlation to home invasions, larceny from autos, theft-type crimes (and) even robbery-type crimes to fund that drug habit,” Wickersham said.

Resources for addicts, families

FAN, Families Against Narcotics, was founded several years ago from the collective frustration and concern amid family members of addicts.

On Thursday, FAN held it's first annual Fall Fest at Villa Penna in Clinton Township to raise money for the nonprofit dedicated to educating the community about drugs. It also offers families and addicts resources and counseling on substance abuse.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact FAN at 586-438-8500 or attend meetings from 7-9 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month at Christ United Methodist Church, 34385 Garfield Rd. in Fraser.

Macomb County is also home to 15 community anti-drug coalitions that work with city officials, law enforcement, business owners, school administrators and youth to raise awareness of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse in the community.

Visit the Macomb County Office of Substance Abuse website to locate your community coalition or to find additional resources to combat drug abuse.

Patch Local Editors Marina Cracchiolo and Jenny Whalen contributed to this report.

KEN October 08, 2012 at 01:00 PM
It will keep getting worse because the sherrifs dept is a big joke to the younger people. They drive around with there cars blasting music and the deputies must be told from higher up to ignore there noise. For years I have watched the same people not obey the laws and nothing ever changes. Well you come to us for help now!! This is why we need a change in the sheriff!!! Hopefully come Nov the change wil come and we as a society can have a more safe environment.
naabt.org October 08, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Get help for heroin or painkiller addiction in a doctor’s office with the prescription medication buprenorphine. Go to TreatmentMatch.org - a free and confidential way to find certified doctors who can help. Learn more about bupe at naabt.org
Romney2012 October 08, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Prescription painkillers are a real Gateway drug. Kids start with sugar and caffeine and then one day it's (schedule 2) painkillers and then (schedule 1) heroin. It is theoretically impossible for (schedule 1) Marijuana to be a gateway drug unless the gateway leads to an alternate dimension where the DEA has a Schedule ZERO? Saying, 'marijuana use leads to crack, meth or painkiller use' is no different than saying 'heroin use leads to alcohol use.' It is illogical, no? So keep telling Kids that the one drug you know they'll abuse first (pot) is worse than the one drug you absolutely don't want them to abuse (pharmaceutical grade heroin) and see what happens. I mean, why would a kid be afraid to use heroin if it's scheduled the same as pot? When large numbers of kids learn first hand that a schedule 1 drug is completely harmless, you've got a major problem on your hands. P.S. I applaud Sheriff Wickersham and Macomb County for fighting the opiate problem head on.
Mark Kilgore October 09, 2012 at 12:59 AM
Doctors are the biggest drug dealers. Many primary care physicians are not trained in how to treat substance abuse. The doctors also need to be educated about this epidemic.

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