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Heroin floods towns in Pa.

July 13, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - The rise in heroin use among young people in Waynesboro has been so fast and so dramatic that the head of the emergency room at Waynesboro Hospital said he feels compelled to speak out.

Dr. Bruce Foster said he doesn't remember a single case of heroin addiction in his 10 years in the ER until this spring. Since then, six cases have come in, all involving persons in their teens and early 20s, he said.

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"That's a dramatic increase, enough of a blip to call the community's attention to it," Foster said. "In the last 10 days we've had two near-fatal heroin overdoses."

Last year, a 20-year-old Waynesboro man died from an overdose of heroin and morphine.

"It's reached epidemic proportions," said James Rodgers of the Franklin-Fulton County Drug and Alcohol Program in Chambersburg, Pa.

"In the fiscal year that ended in June 1997, we sent two people for treatment. In the fiscal year that ended last month we had around 50. That's what I call an epidemic," he said.

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"We know there are a lot more cases out there from what the kids keep telling us. We have a lot of parents calling us saying their child is on heroin and asking us what they can do," he said.

Rodgers said the heroin invading Franklin County is 90 percent pure, making it easy to get hooked.

"By the time we see them, they're confirmed addicts," Foster said. "It's a disease with a very low cure rate. After-the-fact approaches to heroin addiction are extraordinarily ineffective. There's a high rate of recividism. They go back on it repeatedly, sometimes the same day," he said.

The new heroin addicts come mostly from middle- and upper-middle class backgrounds, Foster said. "You see a young person who looks like a vision of all-America - good grades, a good athlete, well-dressed, polite - and in a very short time, they start to resort to crime. The addiction process can be very speedy."

Rodgers said most cases are showing up in Chambersburg and Waynesboro, but the drug is starting to reach into rural communities.

He is convinced the epidemic is being planned by drug lords in Miami and Colombia who flood the market with pure, cheap heroin to get people hooked.

A bag of heroin with three "hits" only costs about $10, he said.

Rodgers said young people are attracted to the drug because of peer pressure, the thrill of "seeing what it's like," or because they're seeking relief from personal problems. "They want to escape reality," he said.

The arrest in June of three local heroin dealers has temporarily cut the local supply, Rodgers said.

Chief Michael DeFrank of the Chambersburg Police Department said the bust was made by the county's drug task force. He said while the dealers picked up were important, the supply won't be cut for long.

"It will rise again because it's pure and it's cheaper than crack," DeFrank said.

Most heroin in Franklin County comes from Philadelphia, he said.

"Heroin utterly destroys the life of the user," Foster said. "It also destroys the lives of their families and friends. Most cases lead to crime," he said.

"My role is to let the community know that heroin addiction is rapidly becoming a serious problem and that prevention is the only hope," Foster said. "We used to think we were safe here, but the evidence would show that we're not."

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